When talking to mindfulness adepts, I am often confronted with the question on the relationship between mindfulness and positive psychology. Do they actually have anything in common?
Mindfulness is a state of mind, a philosophy, a practice, and a way of being in the world. Mindfulness is the conscious way we capture moment to moment experiences through heightened awareness of sensations, feelings, processing of influencing information. The cultivation of mindfulness is a central component of Eastern meditation traditions and lies at the heart of Buddhist teachings about the nature of reality and human experience. What does it have to do with positive psychology, an American born discipline that is hardly 20 years old?
So, it may come as a surprise to realise that mindfulness is one of the major interventions promoted by positive psychology. How? First of all, because mindfulness is an intentional activity. Secondly, because it promotes well-being. And finally, because it has an exceptional evidence base. Let’s consider these in turn.
Given that about 40% of our happiness is open to change, positive psychology is fond of interventions (think daily gratitude, forgiveness, strengths identification). Mindfulness is one such intervention that cultivates human characteristics central to positive psychology, but it does so through acceptance-based rather than change-based methods.
The second link between mindfulness and positive psychology is that mindfulness increases well-being and positive mental qualities, including hope and compassion. Mindfulness-based meditation has been used in compassion training, which would result in increased sensitivity to one’s self and others’ needs. By being empathetic, we would be more motivated to help others. In return, this facilitates greater compassion and gives us feelings of joy and satisfaction. In other words, they create a circle of joy.
We know that thanks to the neuro-psychological studies that demonstrate that mindfulness meditation produces changes in brain activation associated with reductions in negative affect and increases in positive affect. They also reveal a clear link between meditation and immune function, physical health and attentional capacities. The weight of evidence around mindfulness effectiveness is what further qualifies it as an effective intervention, given that positive psychology is a scientific discipline.
Thus, from the perspective of positive psychology, mindfulness is both a great tool and sister discipline. Why not try a meditation on the quality of joy, positive reminiscence, forgiveness, auto-compassion or strengths?