So I signed up for a class recently at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Answering questions like what is the science behind mindfulness? Would it work in psychotherapy? How could it be integrated? Why is it useful? All these big types of questions I was interested in both personally and professionally.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Some have described it as a state, a trait or a practice. In the research it’s been referred to as a receptive attention to and awareness of present events and experience (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Professor of Medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center of Mindfulness, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about mindfulness, meditation, zen, peace, etc. I mean doesn’t everyone say they just want world peace? Well, what does that actually look like? Well, this growing interest was pointed out so perfectly at the beginning of our first class where the instructor showed the proliferation of mindfulness research. In 1992, there were only 9 research articles on mindfulness, and as of the last couple years, that number has exponentially grown to over 550. Why people have grown so interested? I’m not really sure, but either way, it’s something I’m looking into.
Whatever way you define it, there does seem to be benefits to it. A greater sense of mindfulness has been associated with greater openness to experience, positive affect, self-esteem, vitality, and secure attachment. Now compared to those who have less mindfulness, they have greater rumination, levels of neuroticism, depression, anxiety and negative affect. Lower levels of mindfulness have been found in those with addiction, ADHD, and anxiety.
In a study of 2250 adults, individuals were texted 3 different messages saying “How are you feeling right now? What are you doing right now? Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”. They found that where the attention was for an individual was a better predictor happiness than what they were necessarily doing. What people were thinking was also a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing. They go on to conclude that “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost” (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). Interesting, huh? Perhaps if we more fully engage in what we are doing and immerse ourself in the present moment, we will find the happiness we all ultimately seek? I don’t know, but food for thought.
This all got me thinking…Is there something to this mindfulness craze that is blowing up both in the scientific community and out in the world? Maybe it’s time to start integrating this more? Maybe some people would benefit from it…perhaps not everyone, but maybe some. There’s only been one class so far of this seminar, so I’m still learning more about it, but there could something there that’s worth exploring. This is an interesting topic that I’m starting to gather a lot of notes on and will definitely be sharing more.