Can Mindfulness Affect Your Happiness?

New studies look at the impact of mindfulness on pain, parenting, brain performance, happiness and more.

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Happiness in the present moment?

Living in the present moment is one thing, and accepting it is another. Happiness, a new study finds, may be tied to the latter. A team of researchers randomly assigned 153 adults to 8 weeks of training in monitoring and accepting their experience, or just monitoring without acceptance, or no instruction. Positive mood increased only in the group that learned acceptance skills, though groups who learned to monitor their experience also reported fewer negative moods.

Managing chronic disease

People with chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, cancer, and heart disease often experience anxiety and depression. Both can interfere with self-regulation, which makes managing medications and maintaining healthy habits challenging. Researchers in Boston asked 92 adults with a chronic illness combined with anxiety and depression to participate in an 8-week program that included mindfulness, self-compassion, mindfulness-oriented behavior skills, and developing a self-management action plan. At the end of 8 weeks participants showed significant improvements in disease management compared to a wait-list control group. Even better, the program was covered by health insurance. 

Mindful parenting pays off

For a study examining how mindful parenting affects teens, more than 400 families of 6th- and 7th-grade students either attended a mindfulness program designed for parents and families, or were asked to read two parenting booklets. After seven weeks, increases in mom’s and dad’s mindful parenting were linked to more positive parenting and higher quality parent–teen relationships across groups. Looking at moms and dads separately, fathers in the mindful parenting group showed significant gains in emotional awareness of their teens. The teenage children of more mindful dads were also less aggressive. 

“Changes in positive parenting strategies can enhance relationships at a time when parent-child interactions typically increase in conflict,” said the study’s lead author, Doug Coatsworth, PhD, professor and director of the Applied Developmental Science Program at Colorado State University.

“The biggest thing that a parent can do to be more mindful is to pay careful attention to what their child is saying and doing, but also to their own reactions.” 

A mindful brain boost

We’re often told that people who are inherently mindful are better at focusing their attention. Although a number of studies show that mindfulness is related to functional and structural changes in brain regions related to attention, few studies link those brain changes to behavior. To bridge that gap, researchers at Michigan State University asked 63 female college students with no prior mindfulness training to rate their level of mindfulness. They then measured the students’ brain activity and had them complete a computerized attention test. The goal was to see if students’ mindfulness correlated to attention-related brain activity and better performance on tasks requiring focused attention. That’s exactly what they found. More mindful individuals demonstrated greater speed and accuracy on tests requiring focus. Their brain activity was also more efficient, meaning they were less distractible and took less effort to complete the tests. This suggests that mindfulness may boost both our brain’s efficiency and performance on undertakings that require heightened focus.