2 Learn About Mindfulness
Matt Killingsworth's research suggests that strengthening our ability to focus on the present moment--to "be here now"--is vital to our happiness. How do we build that capacity? That's where mindfulness comes in.
In this next video, Emiliana goes into greater detail about what mindfulness is and how it speaks to Killingsworth's research findings. In doing so, she also teases apart the relationship between mindfulness and mind-wandering. After watching this video, move on to the reading in the next unit, in which neuroscientist Wendy Hasenkamp offers research-based insights into how to focus a wandering mind.
As you watch this video and read Dr. Hasenkamp's article, consider: Do you think mind-wandering is always detrimental to your happiness? Do you think there are different kinds of mind-wandering, and might they affect your happiness in different ways? Could mind-wandering even be compatible with mindfulness in certain circumstances? Share your thoughts in the discussion unit after Dr. Hasenkamp's article.
By Wendy Hasenkamp
Read this essay on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Do Dr. Killingsworth's and Dr. Hasenkamp's findings ring true for you--do you find that you are happier when your mind is focused on what you are doing or experiencing in the present moment? Do you think mind-wandering is always detrimental to your happiness? Could mind-wandering even be compatible with mindfulness in certain ways?
You have learned that mindfulness is good for your happiness. But how mindful are you?
You can get one answer by taking the Greater Good Science Center's mindfulness quiz on the GGSC website. The quiz is based on a scientific scale developed by researchers at La Salle University and Drexel University, led by psychology professor Lee Ann Cardaciotto.
After you take the quiz, you will learn more about mindfulness, how much you practice it, and how you can increase and promote mindfulness in your life.
2. What is Mindfulness?
If you would like to learn more about the definition, science, or practice of mindfulness, here are some additional resources.
The Mindfulness Definition page on the Greater Good Science Center's website.
More videos of Jon Kabat-Zinn, hosted on the GGSC website.
"Becoming Conscious: The Science of Mindfulness": Video of a discussion hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences, featuring Jon Kabat-Zinn and neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha.
"Train Your Brain for Happiness and More": Video of a discussion between Dr. Davidson and journalist Dan Harris, author of the New York Times bestseller 10% Happier, hosted by Mindful magazine.
Dr. Davidson's Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, founded by Dr. Kabat-Zinn.
The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA.
Mindful magazine, which offers ongoing coverage of efforts to make mindfulness a way of life, as well as new discoveries in mindfulness research.
3. Happiness Practice: Mindful Breathing
Below, Dacher introduces the first practice of the week and fifth Happiness Practices of the course: Mindful Breathing, which is perhaps the most elementary form of practicing mindfulness, integral to many other mindfulness practices and programs.
After watching this video, click to the next unit to learn more about how to practice mindful breathing, aided by audio of a guided meditation.
Then in the next subsection, we will introduce the sixth happiness practice, the Body Scan.
Happiness Practice: Mindful Breathing
“Mindfulness” refers to the ability to observe one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad; it’s the skill of paying careful attention to the present moment. Research links mindfulness to lower stress and higher well-being. But how do you cultivate mindfulness? A basic method is to focus your attention on your own breathing. After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you should find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life—an important skill to help you deal with stress, negative emotions, and sharpen your skills of concentration.
15 minutes daily for at least a week (though evidence suggests that mindfulness increases the more you practice it).
- Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.
- Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe, soften.
- Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends the next breath begins.
- Now as you do this you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, this is not a problem. It's very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
- Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
- After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.
Evidence That It Works
Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(12), 1849-1858.
Participants who completed a 15-minute focused breathing exercise (similar to the mindful breathing exercise described above) reported less negative emotion in response to a series of slides that displayed negative images, compared with people who didn’t complete the exercise. These results suggest that the focused breathing exercise helps to improve participants’ ability to regulate their emotions.
Why It Works
Mindfulness gives people distance from their thoughts and feelings, which can help them tolerate and work through unpleasant feelings rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindful breathing in particular is helpful because it gives people an anchor for their awareness that they can return to when they find themselves carried away by a stressful thought. Mindful breathing also helps people stay “present” in the moment, rather than being distracted by regrets in the past or worries about the future.
This week identifies many different benefits of practicing mindfulness. But even after you learn of those benefits, it can be hard to start and maintain your own mindfulness practice.
That's why we're encouraging "Science of Happiness" students to sign up for the new "21-Day Mindfulness Challenge," hosted by our friends at KindSpring, an entirely volunteer-run global nonprofit.
This challenge is similar to the "Kindness Challenge" we featured during Week 3--but a difference is that KindSpring has created this "mindfulness challenge" especially for you and your fellow "Science of Happiness" students. Starting on October 20, KindSpring will send you inspiring reminders to practice mindfulness. You and fellow participants from around the world will all be doing these mindfulness practices in concert with one another and will be able to share your stories.
You can sign up for the GG101x 21-Day Mindfulness Challenge on the KindSpring website. We also encourage you to learn more about other KindSpring 21-Day Challenges, such as on gratitude and kindness, and to explore how you can even create your own 21-day challenge for your community.