The Science Behind How Mindfulness Can Help You Work and Live Better
Studies from around the world illustrate the benefits of the practice.
That’s according to a small study of healthcare workers at a Spanish hospital, which found that a three-week Mindfulness Based Intervention (MBI) programme improved employee happiness, work engagement and performance.
Doctoral candidate Cristián Coo, lead author of the study, told Thrive Global, “Mindfulness is of great importance for our everyday lives because it helps us to connect with the wonders available in the domain of the present moment, focus on what’s really important to us and consciously commit to positive growth and thriving.”
What Is Mindfulness?
A common definition is that mindfulness is a form of awareness derived from attending to the present moment in a non-judgmental and accepting manner.
Coo says that mindfulness is best achieved by paying attention in a kind and playful manner to your five senses, thoughts and emotions, “especially how they manifest as feelings in your body, such as the rhythm and tactile feeling of your breath or the different sensations that arise in different parts of your body when you experience thoughts and emotions.”
The MBI in Spain was offered to hospital staff to help promote healthcare workers’ psychosocial health. Nineteen employees undertook three weekly 150-minute sessions, including a talk from a trained teacher; a group chat; a guided meditation/mindfulness exercise; and a CD to encourage practice. A control group of 15 employees didn’t undertake MBI.
The researchers conducted evaluations of participants’ mindfulness, work engagement, happiness and performance before and after the MBI. Each of these indicators were boosted after taking part in the mindfulness programme.
Writing in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the researchers acknowledge the limitations of the study, based on its size and other factors. Future research, they say, will require “high-standard controlled trials with larger samples and active control group intervention programs.”
Nevertheless, their results echoed other findings. They cited an eight-week Mindful Awareness Training course that lowered work-related stress and raised job satisfaction and job performance; a Taiwanese study of tech company workers which found “an employee meditation experience was positively associated with self-directed learning, organizational innovativeness, and organizational performance”; and a United Kingdom-based company, where an 8-week mindfulness training programme “improved scores on measures of well-being, satisfaction with life, hope, and diminished scores of anxiety.”
Applications of Mindfulness
Research shows that the practice of mindfulness boosts our physical and mental health. For example, a Dutch study of 94 adolescent asthmatics, published in the August 2017 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, found a relationship between mindfulness and asthma-related quality of life, raising “the possibility that an intervention aimed at increasing mindfulness could be a promising tool to improve asthma-related quality of life in adolescents via a decrease in asthma-specific stress.”
A study in the October 2017 issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences examined 247 Chinese adolescents who survived the 2016 Yancheng tornado. It found that those who were well disposed toward mindfulness were less prone to academic burnout and had fewer negative post-traumatic beliefs. The researchers also highlighted studies showing “that for non-traumatized people, mindfulness was related to cognitive improvement and less negative cognition…”
Professor Terry Hyland, philosophy lecturer at the Free University of Ireland and teacher at The Mindfulness Centre, wrote in The Journal of Philosophy of Education, “the efficacy of mindfulness practices in the historically neglected domain of the education of the emotions…in itself provides a powerful justification for the introduction of MBIs into schools and colleges.”
However, in March 2017, Hyland, writing in the Journal of Transformative Education, warns that the rise in MBIs over recent years “has resulted in a marketisation and commodification of practice—popularly labeled ‘McMindfulness’—which divorces mindfulness from its spiritual and ethical origins in Buddhist traditions.”
Hyland believes that mindfulness should be grounded in an ethical and educational foundation informed by Buddhist principles, and thinks that without this underpinning, “mindfulness becomes just another fashionable self-help gimmick that is unlikely to be of any lasting individual or social benefit.”
Despite Hyland’s reservations, evidence shows that MBIs are both effective and worthwhile. Coo and his co-author, psychologist and professor Marisa Salanova points out that Jon Kabat-Zinn, who played a role in mindfulness’s current popularityby establishing the first mindfulness training programme at the Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, said that it’s a skill that can only be developed by continuous practice: “Comparing it with a muscle, he explains that mindfulness can only grow, become stronger, and become more flexible when we continuously work on it and challenge it.”
As Coo told Thrive Global, “The key is to become aware of the beauty and transcendence present in every moment of life. As Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, ‘The real miracle is not walking on water but walking on earth.’”