Mindfulness Cultivates Foundational Skills for Wellbeing

Photo by Jamie Ginsberg

A consistent practice of mindfulness helps cultivate many of the fundamental skills and inner determinants of wellbeing. We can intentionally practice these skills through formal meditation and integrating mindfulness into daily life. Click on the following skills and determinants to read more about them and link to the research supporting their correlation with mindfulness:

  • attentional control – intentionally sustaining and shifting attention is essential to all the important skills that allow us to thrive and flourish because we can’t understand and respond to what we don’t notice. Attention is necessary for conscious awareness.
  • body awareness – the body often provides the first signals that something needs to be attended to. Good interoceptive awareness is important for self-regulation and wise decision-making.
  • emotional regulation – our ability to understand and manage emotions is positively correlated with mental health, job performance, strong relationships, and leadership skills.
  • cognitive flexibility and creativity – flexibility of thought is necessary for the divergent thinking that characterizes creativity, which in turn gives us the ability to generate new ideas and possibilities.
  • gratitude and contentment – thankfulness is correlated with a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, more positive emotions including joy, optimism, and happiness, greater generosity and compassion, and decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation. Knowing when we have enough keeps us off the “hedonic treadmill” that motivates overconsumption and causes chronic dissatisfaction.
  • compassion (for self and others), altruism and kindness – these skills offer opportunities for joy, provide a buffer against stress,  increase our sense of connection with others, and are correlated with a number of health benefits.
  • prosocial behavior and strong relationships – sharing and cooperating, helping and comforting,  empathy and concern for others’ rights, feelings, and welfare elicits pleasant feelings, strengthens interpersonal connections, and contributes to the overall wellbeing of society.
  • living in greater alignment with values – when our lives are in congruence with what is right and just, we experience a sense of purpose or meaning and we are less vulnerable to unscrupulous manipulation.
  • distress tolerance and resilience –  a generous window of tolerance and healthy coping strategies enable us to survive and even thrive in the face of adversity.

Happiness doesn’t mean apathy nor does it mean the absence of struggle. Nor am I speaking about a euphoric pleasant emotion. It means that I am doing the work of trusting myself. When I am able to trust myself, I develop more wisdom in how to trust others while becoming a skillful agent of liberation especially in times of crisis. My happiness holds my suffering and the troubles of the world and I can step out on compassion to confront the suffering of the world being held by my happiness.Lama Rod Owens

In tandem with and relationship to the growth of these foundational skills, the impact of some categories of harmful conditioning and certain unskillful habits tend to decline. The benefits of this include decreases in:

  • reactivity – our unexamined, instinctive and impulsive reactions can cause trouble for ourselves and others, but mindfulness can help us be less reactive.
  • bias – misguided instincts, ignorance, and assumptions can cause us to miss opportunities, misjudge situations, make poor choices, and mistreat people. Mindfulness can help reduce social and cognitive biases.
  • comparison mind – our human tendency to compare can create unhappiness and social unrest when we’re faced with differences and inequities. Mindfulness can buffer the negative effects of social comparisons, while self-compassion can help us relate to ourselves and others with kindness.
  • othering – when we recognize our deep interconnection, we’re less likely to judge others as “less or better than” and we see our own wellbeing as interdependent with that of all beings and the health of our planet.

Building the foundational skills underlying wellbeing and decreasing harmful conditioning/habits not only benefits us individually, it also resources us for the outer work of collectively contributing to a thriving world. Fortunately, many of the beneficial qualities and behaviors are socially contagious – as we engage mindfully with the world around us, our personal practice becomes a benefactor, contributing to the greater good.

…as mindfulness is a way of being aware, we can bring it to bear within and upon whatever frameworks shape our world. Including, if we wish, the perspective of ourselves as distinct, responsible and engaged individuals embedded in a social context.Jamie Bristow

Additional Resources

Langer, E., et. al. (2010). The Mindlessness of Social Comparisons. Psychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts 4(2):68-74

Noah, S., & Mangun, G. R. (2020). Recent evidence that attention is necessary, but not sufficient, for conscious perception. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1464(1), 52–63.

Payne, H. (2020). Embodiment, learning and wellbeing. University of Hertfordshire Link. Volume 5, Issue 1.

Treves, I.N., Tello, L.Y., Davidson, R.J. et al. (2019). The relationship between mindfulness and objective measures of body awareness: A meta-analysis. Sci Rep 9, 17386.

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