The Bottom Line: Mindfulness & Positive thinking are herein derived from two main attributes optimism and gratitude. Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news. Gratitude is associated with optimism and has been determined that grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed.
Optimism is a trait that should become more common, judging by Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result.
Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability. Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable. Of course, optimism, like other psychological states and characteristics, exists on a continuum. People can also change their levels of optimism depending on the situations they are in. For simplicity’s sake, the studies discussed herein will talk about people at the higher end of the spectrum as optimists and people on the lower end as pessimists. This section will review what is known about the benefits of optimism and evidence suggesting optimism is a learnable skill.
Optimistic Explanatory Style: Making Sense of Bad Events
Imagine two students who receive the same poor grade on an exam. The first student thinks, “I’m such a failure! I always do poorly in this subject. I can’t do anything right!” The second student thinks, “This test was difficult! Oh well, it’s just one test in one class. I tend to do well in other subjects.” These students are exhibiting two types of what psychologists call “explanatory styles”. Explanatory styles reflect three attributions that a person forms about a recent event. Did it happen because of me (internal) or something or someone else (external)? Will this always happen to me (stable) or can I change what caused it (unstable)? Is this something that affects all aspects of my life (pervasive) or was it a solitary occurrence (limited)? Pessimistic people tend to view problems as internal, unchangeable, and pervasive, whereas optimistic people are the opposite. Pessimism has been linked with depression, stress, and anxiety (Kamen & Seligman, 1987), whereas optimism has been shown to serve as a protective factor against depression, as well as a number of serious medical problems, including coronary heart disease (Tindle et al., 2009). Optimistic mothers even deliver healthier, heavier babies (Lobel, DeVincent, Kaminer, & Meyer, 2000)! Optimism seems to have a tremendous number of benefits; consider several detailed below.
Optimism and Physical Health
Few outcomes are more important than staying alive, and optimism is linked to life longevity. Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord (2000) examined whether explanatory styles served as risk factors for early death. With a large longitudinal sample collected in the mid-1960s, the researchers categorized medical patients as optimistic, mixed, or pessimistic. Optimism was operationalized using parts of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. The researchers found that for every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%. Considering that, for a middle-aged person of average health, the difference between sudden death risk factors for smokers and non-smokers is 5-10%, the protective effect of optimism found in this study is massive.
Optimism also plays a role in the recovery from illness and disease. Multiple studies have investigated the role of optimism in people undergoing treatment for cancer (e.g., Carver et al., 1993; Schou, Ekeberg, & Ruland, 2005). These studies have found that optimistic people experience less distress when faced with potentially life-threatening cancer diagnoses. For example, Schou and colleagues (2005) found that a superior “fighting spirit” found in optimists predicted substantially better quality of life one year after breast cancer surgery. Optimism also predicted less disruption of normal life, distress, and fatigue in one study of women who were undergoing painful treatment for breast cancer (Carver, Lehman, & Antoni, 2003). In this case, optimism appeared to protect against an urge to withdraw from social activities, which may be important for healing. People who tend to be more optimistic and more mindful had an increase in sleep quality (Howell et al. 2008). There is also evidence that optimism can protect against the development of chronic diseases. A sample of middle-aged women was tested for precursors to atherosclerosis at a baseline and three years later. The women who endorsed greater levels of pessimism at the baseline assessment were significantly more likely to experience thickening arteries, while optimistic women experienced no such increase in thickness (Matthews, Raikkonen, Sutton-Tyrell, & Kuller, 2004).
Optimism can have an effect on a person’s immune system, as well. In one study, elderly adults were immunized for influenza (Kohut, Cooper, Nickolaus, Russell, & Cunnick, 2002). Two weeks later, their immune response to the vaccination was measured. Greater optimism predicted greater antibody production and better immune outcomes. Five studies have also investigated optimism and disease progression in people infected with HIV. Ironson and colleagues (2005) found, in a large sample, that optimism and positive HIV immune response were linearly related: people highest in optimism had the best suppression of viral load and a greater number of helper T cells, both important parts of the progression of HIV. Furthermore, another study found that optimistic men who were HIV-positive had lower mortality over a longitudinal study (Blomkvist et al., 1994). Another study that examined the link between optimism and immune system functioning was conducted by Segerstrom and Sephton (2010). This study examined a sample of entering law students over five time points in their first year of law school. Dispositional optimism (the tendency to be generally optimistic about your life) and optimism about law school, in particular, were assessed, along with measures of positive and negative affect (to determine whether any relationships between optimism and immune system functioning could be better explained through positive or negative affect). This study found that optimism predicted superior cell-mediated immunity, an important part of the immune system’s response to infectious agents. Furthermore, an individual’s changes in optimism levels from time point to time point were associated with changes in immune functioning: as optimism increased from one time point to another, immune function increased, as well. Furthermore, negative affect did not predict changes in immune function. What this means is that optimism appears to have a unique value among the factors that compose a person’s immune system. Taylor and colleagues (1992) found that optimism predicted better psychological coping post-HIV-diagnosis, as well as more perceived control over personal health and well-being. Thus, it appears that an optimistic outlook appears not only to be strongly positively related to a healthy immune system but also to better outcomes for people with compromised immune systems.
Optimism has also been investigated in health-related behaviors. In examining the risk of developing alcohol dependence, one study found that optimism protected against drinking problems in people with a family history of alcoholism (Ohannessian, Hesselbrock, Tennen, & Affleck, 1993). As family history is one of the greatest risk factors for developing substance dependence, optimism’s protective effects against its influence may be very important for public health efforts. Beyond helping to prevent substance use problems from developing, optimism may predict better outcomes from efforts to quit using. In a study by Strack, Carver, and Blaney (1987), optimism predicted greater success in treatment for alcohol abuse, with optimistic people more likely to remain in treatment and abstinent than pessimists. Pregnant women who are higher in optimism have been shown to be less likely to abuse substances while pregnant (Park, Moore, Turner, & Adler, 1997). Optimism appears to be an important factor in risky health behaviors: both whether people choose to engage in them and whether they choose to quit.
The studies described above share a common theme: optimism can have profound effects on a person’s physical health. The mere act of expecting positive outcomes and being hopeful can boost a person’s immune system, protect against harmful behaviors, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope following troubling news. Optimism can even predict a longer life. Among psychological constructs, optimism may be one of the most important predictors of physical health.
Optimism and Psychological Health
Evidence suggests that optimism is important in coping with difficult life events. Optimism has been linked to better responses to various difficulties, from the more mundane (e.g., transition to college [Brissette, Scheier, & Carver, 2002]) to the more extreme (e.g., coping with missile attacks [Zeidner & Hammer, 1992]). Optimism appears to play a protective role, assisting people in coping with extraordinarily trying incidents. Furthermore, optimism has been found to correlate positively with life satisfaction and self-esteem (Lucas, Diener, & Suh, 1996). Segerstrom and Sephton (2010) also examined whether optimism predicted positive affect. Their hypothesis that changes in optimism would predict changes in positive affect was borne out, as increases in optimism were associated with increased positive affect, and vice versa. Interestingly, changes in optimism were not related to changes in negative affect. Thus, it appears that optimism is uniquely related to positive affect. This means that optimists are generally happier with their lives than pessimists.
Optimists are also able to recover from disappointments more quickly by attending to positive outcomes to a greater extent than negative ones. Litt and colleagues (1992) examined optimism and pessimism in couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts. In this study, 41 women and their husbands were interviewed two weeks prior to the IVF attempt and two weeks after a subsequent pregnancy test. Among the women who received a negative pregnancy test, optimists were better able than pessimists to cope with failed fertilization attempts by endorsing thoughts like “this experience has made our relationship stronger”. Pessimists were more likely to develop depressive symptoms and to feel personally responsible for the failure of the IVF attempt. This study suggests that optimists are better able to cope with disappointment by attending to positive aspects of the setback.
Optimists are also more likely to engage in problem solving when faced with difficulties, which is itself associated with increased psychological well-being (e.g., Taylor et al., 1992). HIV-positive patients who were more optimistic were more likely to plan their recoveries, seek further information, and avoid self-blame and escapism (both of which are associated with worse psychological functioning). Optimists also tend to accept the reality of difficult situations while also framing them in the best possible light (Carver et al., 1993). While pessimists tend to cope through denial and abandoning impeded goals, optimists rely on acceptance and the use of humor. Optimism may even play a role in the well-being of caregivers for people with chronic illnesses. Caring for a loved one with a severe, terminal illness can have serious negative effects on psychological well-being. However, optimism appears to protect against the worst of these effects, as optimism has been associated with less depression and greater well-being in studies of people caring for others with cancer (Given et al., 1993), Alzheimer’s (Hooker et al., 1992), and mental disorders (Singh et al., 2004). The association between optimism and coping with other, less extreme difficulties has been investigated, as well. For example, in one study of college freshman, measures of optimism, hope, and well-being were administered immediately upon beginning college (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992). At the end of the semester, measures of well-being were again administered. Optimism at the beginning of college predicted a smoother, psychologically healthier transition to college life, as well as larger groups of new friends.
With all of the research presented above, it is clear that optimism is a powerful tool in our repertoire to keep us healthy, happy, and alive. This news is great for people who are “natural” optimists, but what about others who don’t generally “look on the bright side”? Can “natural” pessimists learn to become more optimistic?
Can a Pessimist Become an Optimist?
Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, began his career studying depression, stress, and anxiety. From his work in these areas, he discovered that the optimistic explanatory style described above acted as a protective factor against the development of depression when faced with difficult circumstances. For a psychologist, understanding what makes some people more immune to suffering is beneficial, but it’s also somewhat unsatisfying if those benefits cannot be extended to other people. Thus, Seligman set out to understand whether or not optimism could be learned. Various studies on changing explanatory styles were conducted, and the general theme of their findings was that optimism could, indeed, be learned (Gillham, Reivich, Jaycox, & Seligman, 1995). Following this line of research, a curriculum was developed for school children to attempt to inculcate in them an optimistic explanatory style. Children were selected as the population of interest as their personalities are more malleable than adults, as they are still forming and have not “solidified”. Thus, they represent a perfect population for testing the idea that psychological interventions can modify a person’s personality. The program, called the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), operates under the idea that instilling optimism in young people might serve to protect them from developing depressive symptoms in the future as sort of a “psychological immunization”. It relies on teachers and school counselors to administer 12 sessions of intervention, in which students are taught, among other things, how to change the types of thoughts that are consistent with the pessimistic explanatory style. Multiple studies have used strict randomized controlled trial criteria to evaluate the efficacy of this program. One study (Gillham et al., 2007) examined the use of the PRP in nearly 700 middle school students across three schools. Children were assigned to the PRP, to a program (Penn Enhancement Program [PEP]) that focused on stressors common in adolescent life, including self-esteem, peer pressure, and family conflict, or to a control condition in which students received no intervention. Students were assessed on measures of depressive symptoms and well-being two weeks after the final session and then every six months for the subsequent three years. In two of the three schools, 20% fewer students in the PRP condition reported elevated depressive symptoms three years post-intervention when compared to the control group, and nearly 10% fewer when compared to the PEP. This evidence seems to support the idea that optimism can be developed and nurtured in young people, though similar programs have not been developed for adults. More research is necessary, but it appears that optimism can be trained or learned. Thus, there is a promising argument to be made that anyone can learn to derive the numerous benefits of optimism.
Optimism Conclusions: Where do we go from here?
Countless studies have been conducted on optimism, and the vast majority of them support the same conclusions: optimism is healthy! Optimists live longer, have better functioning immune systems, cope better with difficult circumstances, and even have healthier babies. Are there downsides? There are a few. For instance, there is some evidence that under certain circumstances, optimism can actually suppress immune functioning. For a certain subset of the law student sample profiled in Segerstrom and Sephton (2010), more difficult stressors coupled with higher levels of optimism actually predicted worse immune functioning (Segerstrom, 2006). The reasons for this are unclear, but one explanation might be that optimism was mostly linked to negative outcomes in law students who stayed close to home for law school. For these students, there might be greater competing pressures between social goals (spending time with friends and loved ones) and performing optimally in graduate school. With a finite amount of time and energy, coupled with the tendency of optimists to persevere in the face of difficulty, these students might simply be exhausting their body’s resources. Optimism has also been linked to health behaviors that can have negative consequences. For example, one study found that optimistic teenage girls were less likely than less optimistic peers to seek information about HIV testing. Furthermore, they were less likely to actually get tested (Goodman, Chesney, & Tipton, 1995). These examples indicate that optimism may have its downsides, but the good outcomes related to it far outweigh the negatives.
It’s apparent from the PRP studies that optimism can be nurtured in children, but what about adults? Studies that have investigated this question have relied on one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy to improve levels of optimism, but no large-scale intervention has yet been developed. Further research is necessary to determine whether non-clinical interventions can be used to foster optimism. It stands to reason that changing automatic negative thoughts should be possible in PRP-style interventions for adults, but this is a question that will need to be answered with solid data.
Ultimately, there is a large, scientifically valid body of research that indicates that optimistic people are generally better off in life than pessimists. This is a growing area of research, and the future of positive thinking research is promising.
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Gratitude: Parent of all virtues
The great Roman orator Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Indeed, all of us can think of times in our lives when we’ve expressed heartfelt thanks to others for gifts of time and effort. Being grateful feels good. Gratitude, the state or feeling of being thankful, is an almost universal concept among world cultures. In fact, nearly all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of giving thanks to benefactors, supernatural or otherwise (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000†). Robert Emmons, a leader in the field of gratitude research, defines gratitude as the feeling that occurs when a person attributes a benefit they have received to another (Emmons, 2004). Feeling grateful has a number of benefits. Feelings of gratitude are associated with less frequent negative emotions and more frequent positive emotions such as feeling energized, alert, and enthusiastic (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Beyond emotions, there is evidence that gratitude is associated with pleasant physical sensations, as well. Algoe and Haidt (2009) found that people experienced pleasant muscle relaxation when recalling situations in which they’d felt grateful. It is apparent that the mere act of giving thanks can have remarkable impact on a person’s well-being.
Taking time to appreciate your mother for all the care she provided growing up; reconnecting with an old friend to express your gratitude for always being there for you; seeking out and thanking a favorite teacher who helped you grow – specific acts of gratitude can have a variety of positive consequences, but what about people who are more grateful by nature than others? Given the centrality of thanksgiving in religious traditions, grateful people tend to be more spiritual than their less-grateful counterparts. People who are generally grateful report being more agreeable and less narcissistic compared with less grateful people. People who are more grateful also report being happier (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003).
Characteristics of grateful people
What separates more grateful people from less grateful people? Recent evidence shows that a lot of the differences may be in how grateful people approach situations in which they’ve received some form of aid. When presented with the same short stories in which participants are told they’ve received help from another people, more grateful people tend to see their benefactors as more selfless and having exerted more effort to help, as well as placing higher value on the help they received (Wood, Maltby, Stewart, Linley, & Joseph, 2008). To further support this hypothesis, these authors sought to replicate their findings in people’s daily lives. Students kept diaries of moments in their everyday environment when they were helped by another person and then asked to rate how selfless and sincere was the benefactor, how much effort did the benefactor expend, how grateful did they feel toward their benefactor, and how valuable was the help received Findings from these random moments in everyday life supported the hypothesis that more grateful people rate all of these factors higher than less grateful people. These findings suggest that grateful people interpret events in a unique way, and this interpretation style might account for the benefits extracted from gift giving experiences.
Extrapolating from the interpretations that differentiate more and less grateful people, Wood and colleagues (2008) used a longitudinal design to investigate how gratitude related to social support, stress, and depression. Longitudinal studies follow the same group of people over time, which allows researchers to examine temporal relationships between different variables. This has the benefit of strengthening hypotheses about causal relationships between variables. In this study, the researchers asked people to rate the overall gratitude, social support, depression, and stress in their life. Everyone was contacted again to complete the same questionnaires three months later. How grateful people initially felt predicted greater feelings of social support and less stress and depression three months later. Thus, it appears that grateful people find themselves feeling a sense of belonging and a relative absence of stress and depression. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that perceptions are more important than objective reality and grateful people possess benign interpretations of themselves, other people, and the world.
There are interpersonal benefits associated with gratitude, as well. Feelings of gratitude are associated with increased feelings of closeness and a desire to build or strengthen relationships with a benefactor (Algoe & Haidt, 2009). Acts of gratitude require us to admire good characteristics of other people. Doing so encourages us to become closer to them. It has the added benefit of improving mood: reflecting upon the good another had done for them elevated the moods of participants in Algoe and Haidt’s (2009) study, who were asked to recall a time in which another person had assisted them in an exemplary way. In addition, the act of contemplating times in which another person had helped these participants resulted in participants expressing a desire for moral growth and to help others, themselves. Thus, it appears that being grateful can actually encourage people to do something good for another person. Gratitude, therefore, might have important benefits to society as a whole.
It has become clear that there are a number of advantages associated with being grateful. Among other things, grateful people are happier, have stronger feelings of social support, and feel less stressed and depressed. As being grateful has so many positive attributes, it seems that intervening to increase people’s levels of gratitude may be a good way to increase their feelings of well-being. In the next section, we discuss the research that has attempted to do just that.
Becoming more grateful: Does it work?
While it’s clear that gratitude and well-being are connected, the research presented above is correlational in nature. What this means is that, while those studies tell us there is a connection between being grateful and being happy, it is impossible to say which one leads to the other. Based on that evidence, it could simply be that people who are already happier are more grateful. To better identify a causal relationship, carefully controlled experiments are required.
Fortunately, there has been an abundance of such research in the last decade. Emmons and McCullough (2003) conducted some of the first experimental studies of the effects of gratitude on well-being. In one study, college students were randomly placed into one of three conditions, (gratitude, hassles, or events), each of which lasted for nine weeks. Participants were given weekly packets in which they were to write down different things depending on their condition. In the gratitude condition, students were asked to write down several experiences for which they were grateful. In the hassles condition, students wrote down annoyances they experienced in the previous week. Finally, in the events condition, students wrote down a number of events that affected them in the past week. No instruction was given about what types of events to include, and responses ranged from “learned CPR” to “cleaned out my shoe closet”. The events condition acted as a neutral control condition to which the other two were compared. Students also completed a series of measures assessing physical symptoms and overall well-being. Students in the grateful condition reported significantly greater life satisfaction, greater optimism for the upcoming week, fewer physical symptoms, and, perhaps most surprisingly, exercised significantly more than students in either the events condition or the hassles condition. However, the gratitude intervention did not have a significant impact on positive or negative emotions. Thus, while being grateful caused students to assess their lives as more satisfying and made them more optimistic about their futures, it didn’t change the overall emotional tone of their daily lives.
A subsequent study replaced the weekly exercises from the previous study with daily diaries that were used for two weeks. This study kept the gratitude and hassles conditions, but replaced the events condition with instructions to write about ways in which the students were better off than other people. This study found a significant difference in levels of positive affect between people in the gratitude condition and people in the hassles condition, which is a bit like comparing healthiness between people who have eaten fruits and vegetables for a week with people who have eaten only cheeseburgers and fries. Based on these two studies, the causal link between gratitude and well-being is clearly present. However, it is thus far difficult to make the claim that being grateful makes a person happier.
While the research by Emmons and McCullough (2003) suggests that being more grateful doesn’t necessarily increase positive emotions more than not doing anything at all, that study was conducted with a sample of undergraduates. Perhaps children, whose brains and personalities are more malleable than those of college students, would derive greater benefit from grateful acts. To investigate this, Froh and colleagues (2008) examined the effects of counting blessings in a sample of sixth and seventh graders. Classes were assigned to the same conditions as in Emmons and McCullough (2003). Findings were similar to that study, as well, with the gratitude intervention resulting in happier students when compared to the students who wrote about their hassles, but not when compared to the neutral control students. However, these researchers examined other outcomes, as well. Froh and colleagues found that students who were told to be grateful were more excited about and satisfied with school than the students in the other conditions. Given the importance of school satisfaction in academic performance, this is a promising area of research for researchers and educators alike.
The studies covered thus far have shown a number of benefits associated with increasing gratitude in people of different ages. What they have not yet shown, however, is that making people more grateful makes them happier. To further investigate this area, Froh and colleagues (2009) hypothesized that gratitude interventions weren’t increasing levels of positive affect because many of the people who composed the samples in previous research were already happy. Perhaps people who are happier reach a “ceiling” point, beyond which it is very difficult to become even happier. This theory is consistent with research by social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who found that people adapt quickly to positive changes in their lives and thus derive diminishing happiness returns from them. Perhaps, for people who are less happy to begin with, feelings of gratitude are more novel, and thus less happy people experience a greater benefit from gratitude exercises. Froh and colleagues (2009) examined the effects of expressed gratitude in students ranging from third to twelfth grade. Their findings indicated that the students with the lowest levels of positive affect received substantial benefits from expressing gratitude when compared to a neutral control condition. In other words, the students who had the most to gain in terms of positive emotion gained the most positive emotion, a surprising and exciting result. Furthermore, it’s possible that people with greater positive emotions to begin with are more open and receptive to changing their life orientation and enhancing their existing relationships. This includes being in a state of mind to be better attuned to positive events and more open to savoring them, integrating these experiences into their visions of how their overall lives appear. Taken in this context, it appears that, while nearly everyone derives benefits from giving thanks, different people experience different rewards.
Altogether, the studies profiled here have shown that gratitude can be increased through targeted interventions and that those increases have important implications for people’s well-being. But the question remains: can encouraging people to be more grateful really make them happier? Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) set out to answer this question with a four-week experimental study. In this study, students were asked to either count their blessings everyday or write about details of their lives. At two-week and four-week intervals, the participants completed “check-ups”, in which they rated their levels of well-being, positive emotions, and negative emotions. The most exciting result from this study is that people in the gratitude condition increased in positive affect when compared to the control condition. This is a novel result, as prior research had shown only that gratitude interventions were effective in increasing positive affect compared to exercises that asked people to write about bad things that had happened to them. However, a caveat applies: in these analyses, the gratitude condition was paired with another experimental condition, in which students were asked to envision their “best possible selves” in their ideal future lives. Both of these interventions resulted in higher levels of positive affect, but there was no difference between them. Furthermore, all conditions experienced a decrease in negative affect across the four weeks of the study, with no significant differences between them. While these results are exciting, it would be advantageous to attempt to replicate them in other samples to more fully establish an effect.
There is a possibility that the way in which the gratitude intervention is delivered matters. Lyubomirsky and colleagues (2005) conducted a study in which they asked participants in the experimental condition to contemplate “things for which they are grateful” over the course of six weeks. Participants in the control condition completed only assessments of their happiness levels. In addition to the experimental and control condition, participants were asked either to complete the tasks once a week or three times a week. Results indicated that participants who completed the tasks only once a week showed increases in levels of well-being compared to the control group, but participants who completed the tasks three times a week showed no difference in happiness. A possible explanation for this could be that people who “counted their blessings” multiple times per week became bored with the intervention, and it thus lost its ability to increase happiness.
Each of the above studies has used multiple gratitude exercises to attempt to effect change. However, one study has examined the effects of a single gratitude-enhancing event: the letter of gratitude. Seligman and colleagues (2005) asked visitors to their website to write a letter to a person that they felt they had never properly thanked for a past kindness. These people were then asked to deliver this letter in person to their benefactor. These people experienced a substantial increase in happiness compared to people who wrote about their early memories. Furthermore, the increase was significant through one month post-intervention. These findings are perhaps the most excited yet profiled. However, that excitement must be tempered by the fact that the sample used in this study was visitors to a website about happiness. These people might be especially motivated to complete the exercise, or there may be important differences in people who seek out such tasks. While these results are promising, it will be important to attempt to replicate these findings in more typical samples. Fortunately, one can take away a positive spin from this study, as well: this experiment found substantial increases in happiness from a single intense gratitude-enhancing activity. While the increase in happiness was relatively short-lived, it suggests that there might be ways to use gratitude to improve happiness long term.
The take-home message from these studies is this: gratitude interventions have a number of positive effects, ranging from improving people’s feelings of thankfulness to increasing levels of school satisfaction. Each of these outcomes is valuable in its own right. However, the answer to the question, “Do gratitude interventions make people happier?” remains an (optimistic) “Maybe, but we don’t know for sure.”
Conclusions: Where do we go from here?
Of all the areas studied in the relatively young field of positive psychology, gratitude has perhaps the widest body of research. Grateful people have been shown to have greater levels of positive affect, a greater sense of belonging, and lower levels of depression and stress. Furthermore, efforts to make people more grateful have their own benefits. Gratitude is clearly an important part of a “good life”, and it therefore demands further careful research. Each of the studies profiled here has strong scientific merit, and their results should give us a sense of cautious optimism as we move forward in the study of thanksgiving.
Here are comprehensive reviews of each key study:
Burpee, L. C., & Langer, E. J. (2005). Mindfulness and Marital Satisfaction. Journal of Adult Development, 12(1), 43–51. doi:10.1007/s10804-005-1281-6. Introduction: This study examines if mindfulness is correlated with overall marital satisfaction and compare this relationship with previously studied variables, such as perceived spouse similarities and various demographic factors.
Prevalent theories and multiple earlier studies have postulated, that both personality and behavioral congruency in couple are strong indicators for marital satisfaction, as these spouses share similar personality characteristics and tend to be less argumentative. Burpee and Langer’s 2005 study takes a novel approach to the existing theoretical explanations for marital bliss, suggesting that mindfulness may explain perceived congruence fully, since mindful individuals are characterized by the ability to consider alternative perspectives, draw novel distinctions across situations, reevaluate their stance and question automatic behavior, defying the limits of categories and premature cognitive commitments” (p.45). The authors further hypothesize that the fundamental quality of open-mindedness that is related to the construct of mindfulness could be strongly related to developing a positive and satisfying relationship and possibly increasing general well-being.
Method: The study consisted of 95 married participants (55 women and 40 men) between the ages of 25 and 74, who provided extensive demographic information, life satisfaction and marital satisfaction questionnaires and a mindfulness scale. The measure of of mindfulness was based a scale developed by Langer (2001) and assessed four dimensions: novelty seeking, novelty producing, flexibility and engagement.
Results: The mean normalized marital satisfaction score was 80.16 (SD=6.62) and the mean normalized mindfulness score was 69.76 (SD=8.28) and a further analyses identified a positive correlation between mindfulness and marital satisfaction. Interestingly, perceived spouse similarities were not associated with marital satisfaction.
A predictive equation analysis indicated that nearly 8% of marital satisfaction was due to mindfulness. The authors then examine if the four dimensions of mindfulness identified with the scale hold different correlations with marital satisfaction. The novelty producing (M = 48.15, SD = 8.50; r = .26, r2 = .07, p < .05) and novelty seeking variables (M = 57.51, SD = 7.83; r = .22, r2 = .09, p < .01) were both statistically significant and positively correlated with satisfaction in marriage, whereas flexibility scores did not indicate significant relationship. Demographic variables combined accounted for 20% of marital satisfaction (R=.45, R2=.198, p<.05). When separate demographic variables were analyzed, regression analyses revealed that mindfulness is particularly important among certain demographic subgroups: participants older than 40 years of age, those married only once and for more than 9 years, participants with children, those with pets, those with none ore one sibling, and those with no older siblings.
Conclusion: There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and marital satisfaction, which shows that spouses who are open to new experiences, mentally engaged with overall high mindfulness scores have more satisfying relationships. Mindfulness was also more likely to contribute to less arguments for the couple. There was no significant relationship between marital satisfaction and perceived personality similarities. Burpee and Langer discuss possible explanations for the importance of mindfulness to smooth marital interactions, hypothesizing that mindful individuals are less threatened by change, less likely to react impulsively to conflict, but rather reevaluate situations.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: The researchers mention how married couples with children experience less marital satisfaction, but are not equipped to examine possible explanations. For a future study they could look more closely at the relation to children and marital happiness. Further, the article provides no mention of alternative explanations for the findings or attempts to account for confounding variables. It is possible that mindful individuals exhibit certain personality traits or behavioral tendencies that contribute to general relationship satisfaction. Future studies should attempt to examine personality traits more closely. In addition, it is important to question if mindfulness improves relationships across the board or affects marital satisfaction specifically.
Caprara, G. V., Steca, P., Gerbino, M., Paciello, M., & Vecchio, G. M. (2006). Looking for adolescents’ well-being: Self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of positive thinking and happiness. Epidemiologia e psichiatria sociale, 15(01), 30–43. Introduction: Researchers have been interested in subjective well-being (SWB) for a long time. Over the last decade there has been an increased interest in the relationship between positive thinking, happiness and SWB. The authors of this study recognize the importance of these constructs and their relationship but they also suggest that self-esteem and optimism should be included as constructs of interest. Both these variables have been found to be correlated with psychosocial well-being and various other positive outcomes. Another important variable that they find crucial is self-efficacy, which is pivital in adolescents as well as in young adults and contributes to learning, work, sports, health, social adjustment, and well-being.
The study is valuable it utilizes both a longitudinal design for a large number of adolescent subjects and the impact of self efficacy, happiness and SWB in a critical developmental period. Such a longitudinal design can provide insights about optimal adolescent development and youth’s happiness in relation to other social and psychological constructs. Further, the study examines the concurrent impact of a number of factors on adolescent happiness and how it is experiences in daily events over a period of time.
Method: Participants in the study were 664 Italian adolescents with the mean age of 16.73 years, with widely diverse socioeconomic status. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires at two different times. The self efficacy measures (affective self-efficacy beliefs, interpersonal-social self-efficacy beliefs and psychometric characteristics of self-efficacy) were only administered at Time 1. The remaining measures were subjective well-being, self-esteem, optimism, life satisfaction and happiness.
Results: Boys had a stronger sense of efficacy in managing negative affect (F=23.10, p<.001). They also had higher levels of self-esteem at TI (F=11.96, p<.01). Girls had a stronger sense of efficacy in regulating positive affect (F=8.91, p<.01). Positive thinking at both times represented a hidden factor pertaining to self-esteem, optimism, and life satisfaction. Positive thinking and self-efficacy were stable and both times, but related.
Conclusion: “Perceived self-efficacy for affect regulation and for the management of interpersonal relationships influence adolescents’ subjective well-being.” Both affective and interpersonal self-efficacy play a role in subjective well-being and increase positive thinking of both themselves and their lives. The data also indicated that managing appropriate affect with their relationship with family and friends contributes to subjective well-being.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: One limitation discussed by the researchers is the use of self-reports, which can be unreliable or invalid in its subjectivity. The fact that data was collected from Italian adolescents alone questions the external validity of the study, as findings may not be generalizable to adolescents in other parts of the world. Future development of standardized inventories with tested validity and reliability can help compare findings across nations.
Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2007). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33. doi:10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7. Introduction: There is a vast amount of research supporting the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness training, but he number of identified facets of mindfulness varies between studies. An exploratory factor analysis of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) by Baer et al. (2006) has specifically identified the five factors with the highest loading: observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experiences and non-reactivity to inner-experiences. These five facets have shown good internal consistency and correlations to variables, known to be related to mindfulness, such as emotional intelligence, openness to experience, experiential avoidance and thought suppression. The study examines the effects of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) and in-home mindfulness training on psychological wellbeing and stress reduction.
The study demonstrates a rigorous scientific analyses based on self-report measures in a pre- and post-treatment conditions. While the method is not a controlled experiment with a control group and random assignment, it provides a valuable insight about practical clinical applications of mindfulness and its tendency to increase subjective well-being. The authors provide a detailed account of methodology and statistical analyses, as well as subject exclusion criteria and demographics, managing to capture implications of specific mindfulness training methods for a well-defined population sample. The use of standardized measures allows future studies to replicate the study.
Method: Participants in the study were 174 adults (63% female) from the University of Massachusetts Medical School MBSR program who had suffered from a range of chronic pain, anxiety and stress. The average age of the participants was 47 years (SD=10.26). The participants attended 8 instructional sessions, filling a questionnaire after each session. The measures used in the study were demographics questionnaire, mindfulness inventory (FFMQ), home mindfulness practice (assessed with homework logs), psychological symptoms (Brief Symptom Inventory, BSI), medical symptoms (Medical Symptom Checklist, MSCL), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale, PSS), and psychological well-being (Scales of Psychological Well-Being) (p.26). One goal of the researchers was to measure mindfulness pre- and post-MBRS, as well as effects of home mindfulness practice. Effects on well being pre- and post-mindfulness training were also examined.
Results: Practicing the body scan was associated with higher levels of mindfulness. Yoga practice had an association with changes to four to five facets: well-being, perceived stress level, and sever psychological symptoms. Sitting and meditating was associated with increase of two of mindfulness facets: awareness and non-reactivity. These findings show that greater practice is associated with more mindfulness and well-being, as well as decrease in stress and its symptoms. “Meditation practice time was a significant predictor of decrease in psychological symptoms (R = .30, F = 11.39, p < .01), and of increase in mindfulness (R = .42, F = 21.95, p < .001). Increase in mindfulness also was a significant predictor of decrease in symptoms (R = .49, F = 46.50; p < .001)” (p.30). Meditation practice time was a significant predictor of decrease in perceived stress (R = .26, F = 8.30, p < .01) and of increase in mindfulness (R = .42, F = 46.50, p < .001). Meditation practice time was a significant predictor of well-being (R = .42, F = 24.14, p < .001).
Conclusion: The results show that mindfulness increased over the course of MBSR and indicate that home practice meditation exercises (body scan, yoga, sitting) were significantly correlated to most facets of mindfulness, and several measures of symptoms and well-being. The increase in mindfulness was associated with decrease in psychological symptoms and decreased stress, pointing to the overall beneficial effect of mindfulness on well-being.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: A noted limitation of the study is the fact that the participants were well educated and and financial resourceful which limits the generalizability of the findings. There is also a possibility that the participants did not complete the practice forms on days that they were not assigned homework. The lack of true experimental design with control group and random assignment poses a limitation for the internal validity of the results. Future study designs should attempts to compare mindfulness training with alternative approaches, whether therapy, standard medical treatments, self-help groups and no interventions to establish if mindfulness is a truly unique and successful in promoting well-being, or comparable to other approaches.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological science, 13(2), 172–175. Introduction: Positive emotions make people feel better. The researchers believe that this is not the only reason to care about positive emotions. They argue that positive emotions make you feel good in the present and will also make you feel good in the future. The research is based on Frederickson’s broaden-and-build theory (1998, 2001) suggesting that negative emotions narrow thought action repertoires while positive emotions broaden the parameters of creative thinking, attention and cognition, thus increasing emotional well-being. This study examines of positive emotions do trigger an upward spiral towards well-being.
The study is important in the way that it tests and expands an existing theoretical model that discusses the relationship between emotional content and subsequent emotional well-being, suggesting the longitudinal effects of emotional states.
Methods: Participants were 138 undergraduate students (mean age of 20, SD=1.3; 71% Caucasian; 54% female), who completed measures of affect and coping in two sessions, five weeks apart. The measures used were the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) and the Coping Responses Inventory (CRI; Moos, 1988).
Results: Consistent with their first hypothesized, Fredrickson and Joiner observed that positive affect (PA), but not negative affect (NA) enhanced broad-minded coping between the two testing sessions. PA at T1 was significantly related to changes in broad-minded coping between sessions (pr=.19), t(134)=2.25, p=.05, but T1 NA was not. The second research question examined if the relationship between PA and broad-minded coping works in both directions, so that this type of coping can be associate with increase PA, but not reduced NA. Their predictions were supported by two regressions equations, revealing that students who coped better initially also indicated higher increased PA by the second session (pr=.32),t(135)=3.83,p<.05, but there was no significant association with changes in NA. The other two research hypotheses examined if PA and good broad-minded coping will increase over time, pointing to their idea of upward temporal spiral of aspects of emotional well-being. Series of regression analyses, controlling for mediators confirmed these hypotheses so that PA at T1 was a significant predictor for PA at T2 (pr=.45), t(135) = 5.82, p<.05 and broad-minded coping at T1 predicted coping at T2 (pr=.54), t(135)=7.37, p<.05.
Conclusion: The data shows that positive emotions do more than just make people feel good in the present, but may also increase positive emotions in the future. A similar conclusion is drawn for broad-minded coping skills, which are considered healthy, flexible and adaptive. Further, the two appeared to be related and mutually enhancing of one another over time.
Limitations and Future Directions: The authors do not discuss limitations. However, it is important to remember the sample consisted solely of undergraduate students in young adulthood, who are not only considered a high-functioning group, but developmentally tend to increase their repertoire of coping skills and are likely to be motivated and striving to improve. The homogeneity of the sample poses a limitation for the external validity of the findings. It would be beneficial for future studies to examine if the theoretical principles and variable associations can be replicated for other demographic groups. In addition, the temporal effect examined was only observed in the relatively brief period of five weeks. Future studies could examine if the same associations would persist over longer periods of time. The authors also discuss clinical implications of the results that can aid clinician working with depressed patients, possibly increasing depressed individuals’ coping and therapeutic skills as well as positive emotionality.
Hollis-Walker, L., & Colosimo, K. (2011). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and happiness in non-meditators: A theoretical and empirical examination. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(2), 222–227. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.033
Introduction: Literature has shown that mindfulness is a natural quality that promotes adaptive human functioning. The introduction was broken into three different parts. The first being the nature of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept that is a practice of being self aware of here and now. A lack of mindfulness is as if you are putting your brain in auto pilot. Mindfulness also involves a non-judging and non-identifying attitude. The second part is self-compassion. The only way to achieve self-compassion is by having compassion for others and being able to share in the pain and alleviation of others. According to Buddhist psychology, higher levels of self-compassion and mindfulness relates to higher levels of happiness. The third part of the introduction was eudaimonism, which focuses on pleasure more than humanistic realistic experiences.
Hollis’ study from 2011 was identified as key study because it examined the relation between mindfulness, psychological well-being, self-compassion, and five factor model. It was determined that high on mindfulness scored high with self –compassion and psychological well-being
Methods: The study consisted of 123 undergraduate students with the mean age of 21 and the majority being females. To be considered the participants could not have been regularly practicing meditation. The participants were given an online self reported questionnaire to complete that examined these measures: Mindfulness, Psychological Well-Being (PWB), Self-Compassion, and the Five-Factor Model of Personality.
Results: Mindfulness was positively correlated to PWB (r=.75), self-compassion (r=.69), agreeableness (r=.36), openness (r=.35), negatively with neuroticism (r=-.66), extraversion (r=.42), and conscientiousness (r=.46). Mindfulness (the IV) significantly predicted self-compassion (the proposed mediator) (b = .69, R2 = .47, p < .001) and PWB (the DV) (b = .75, R2 = .55, p < .001). Mindfulness regression weight on PWB was reduced but remained significant (b = .46, R2 = .64, p < .001)
Conclusion: Participants who scored high on mindfulness also scored high with self-compassion, psychological well-being, agreeableness, extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness, and low on neuroticism. Self compassion was also a partial mediator of happiness and well-being.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: The researchers suggest that self-compassion be employed by therapists as means to increase the clients happiness. They also want to focus more study on self-compassion to see what specific aspects are doing the work.
Howell, A. J., Digdon, N. L., Buro, K., & Sheptycki, A. R. (2008). Relations among mindfulness, well-being, and sleep. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(8), 773–777. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.08.005 Introduction: Lack of sleep normally involves anxiety, mood disorders, substance-related disorders, psychotic disorders, and cognitive disorders. Mental health is a combination of: emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being. A final marker of mental health is mindfulness, which is the idea of being aware of oneself. Mindfulness is known for promoting high levels of well-being. There is not much research though on mindfulness, well-being, and sleep. Studies have shown how sleep and happiness/well-being are positively correlated but this article wants to focus on how mindfulness plays a role. Another aspect of the study that the researchers want to study was the individual’s circadian rhythm and see how that correlates to well-being.
Howell’s study from 2008 was identified as a key study because it examined the relationship between sleep and mindfulness. It was found that mindfulness had a direct association with well-being and sleep quality
Method: The study consisted of 305 undergraduate students between the ages of 18-30 years. The students completed and the online questionnaires examining these four measures: well-being, mindfulness, sleep quality, and circadian rhythm preference.
Results: The participants age was a correlate of mindfulness r(280) = .21, p < .001. A higher year of study was associated with psychological well-being, r(267) = .12, p < .05, social well-being, r(270) = .17, p < .01, overall well-being, r(242) = .14, p < .05, and mindfulness, r(279) = .14, p < .05. Grade point average was a positive correlate of emotional well-being, r(240) = .19, p < .01, psychological well-being, r(228) = .16, p < .05, overall well-being, r(210) = .16, p < .05, and sleep quality, r(214) = .16, p < .05. The three well-being scales had a positive correlation with sleep-quality.
Conclusions: This is the first study to compare sleepy quality and circadian preference. Mindfulness had a positive association to sleep quality and morningness. The researchers found that mindfulness had a direct association with well-being and sleep quality. Sleep quality also predicted a higher score of well-being.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: They study was limited to the population size and gender of the participants. The researchers did not account for the students ethnicities and the majority of them were Canadian. The researchers suggest for future research to emphasis more on mindfulness and well-being in regards to sleep.
Huppert, F. A., & Johnson, D. M. (2010). A controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools: The importance of practice for an impact on well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(4), 264–274.
Introduction: There has been a lot of recent debate on whether schools focus enough on the students well-being. Mindfulness has been often studied recently and it has proven to promote positivity and an increased well-being. There has not been much emphasis on school children but more with adults and the studies done with school children focus on adolescents with emotional issues. The researchers hypothesize that mindfulness training may increase positive feelings. Mindfulness has also shown a significant association to improving mental health, chronic pain, immune functioning, and other health related factors.
Huppert’s study from 2010 was identified as a key study because it examined the benefits of mindfulness in adolescents and its effect on their happiness.
Method: The participants consisted of 173 14 to 15 year old boys from a religious studies class. The participants were separated into a mindfulness group and a control group. The mindfulness group attended four 40 minute classes, once a week. These classes were an introduction to the prinicpal and practices of mindfulness meditation. Each week there was always a new concept of mindfulness being introduced. The control group continued to go to their Religious studies class for the duration of the study. Both groups completed an online questionnaire before and after the 4 weeks. The questionnaires examined mindfulness (CAMS-R), resilience (ERS), well-being (WEMWBS), and personality (the Big Five).
Results: “For the mindfulness scale (CAMS-R), there was a significant overall effect of personality (F (5,149) = 10.38, p <0.001) with conscientiousness ( = .244, p < .001) and emotional stability ( = .403, p < .001) contributing positively and significantly to the mindfulness score. For the Ego Resiliency Scale there was a significant overall effect of personality (F (5,149) = 16.57, p < .001), with extraversion ( = .232, p < .001), agreeableness (marginal, = .126, p < .10), conscientiousness ( = .195, p < .001), emotional stability ( = .169, p < .05) and openness to experience ( = .383, p < .001) all contributing positively and significantly to resilience. For the WEMWBS there was a significant overall effect of personality (F (5,149) = 21.72, p < .001), with extraversion ( = .355, p < .001), conscientiousness ( = .141, p < .05), emotional stability ( = .340, p < .001) and openness to experience ( = .182, p < .001) contributing positively and significantly to well-being.”Practice was found to contribute significantly to the prediction of change in mindfulness ( = .245, p < .05) and to the change in well-being ( = .23, p < .05). The change in well-being was also associated with several of the baseline personality measures; agreeableness ( = .32, p < .01), emotional stability ( = -0.24, p < .05), and openness to experience (marginal, = 0.19, p < .10).
Conclusion: The researchers found that within the mindfulness group the more that the participants practiced the higher the psychological well-being and happiness was. They also found that the mindfulness group had higher percentage of individual practice outside the group as well as an improvement in psychological well-being
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: The researchers gave advice on what can be done to improve future studies. They believe that there should be a consistency with the teachers mediating the control and the mindfulness group. The researchers also mention how the control group should also be a placebo control. There should be a more detailed reliable measures of personality. The next step the researchers plan to take is to have more class sessions and to involve girls.
Majumdar, M., Grossman, P., Dietz-Waschkowski, B., Kersig, S., & Walach, H. (2002). Does mindfulness meditation contribute to health? Outcome evaluation of a German sample. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 8(6), 719–730. Introduction: Alternative medicine has become an appealing choice for individuals with medical conditions. There is an urgency to find one that is cost effective, efficient, and appropriate. Mindfulness falls under all three of those categories. Mindfulness meditation do not have any roots in the clinical application as well as religious beliefs. It is meant to become non-judgemental on your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings to attain an appreciation of the positive and negative experiences. Recent studies have proven that MBSR has reduced psychological symptomatology, anxiety, pain, psoriasis, depression, etc. while increasing perception of control and empathy. This study is the first systematic evaluation of MBSR in Germany.
Majumar’s study from 2002 was identified as a key study because it examined the relation between chronic physical and psychological pain to mindfulness. It was discovered that participants were less symptomatic when practicing mindful meditation.
Method: The participants consisted of 21 individuals between the ages of 22-62 years. The participants all had chronic physical, psychological, and psychosomatic illnesses. The participants were involved in an eight week session and they were given self-reported questionnaires at the beginning and end of the eight weeks. They had to attend sessions weekly and for 2.5 hours and also had to complete 7 hours on the 6th week. The sessions involved mindfulness practice of the body and emotions. There was also a three month follow up interview. The questionnaires measured: psychological distress, emotional well-being, physical complaints, sense of coherence, and life satisfaction.
Results: The researcher found that general physical well-being greatly increased from pre-treatment to post-treatment (p < .001 and p < 0.047). The baseline for physical complaints was at a 7 and after the follow up went down to a 6. 91% of the clients reported to continue practicing mindfulness after the sessions were over. 90% of the participants said that mindfulness complemented medical and psychotheraputic treatments.
Conclusion: All of the health variables in this study that were clinically assessed had raise from pre-test to post-test. The data proved that suffering was alleviated with symptom reduction or with advanced coping skills. The clients also reported high levels of satisfaction with the study. Mindfulness meditation is a great tool to help aid various chronic disease and psychosomatic disorders.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: Since mindfulness meditation is new to Europe this was a pilot study which tend to consist of a small amount of participants. The researchers also suggest for future studies to focus on other aspects like, phenomenological explorations of mindfulness and states of consciousness.
Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. ., Wahler, R. G., Singh, J., & Sage, M. (2004). Mindful caregiving increases happiness among individuals with profound multiple disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 25(2), 207–218. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2003.05.00 Introduction: The quality of life (QOL) in individuals with mental retardation has always been poor. The basics to QOL are: subjective well-being, functioning in daily life, and external resources. Subjective well-being is based on satisfaction with life which can be determined by happiness. A individual with mental retardation may find happiness in leisurely activities. Studies have shown that these activities increase the amount of times an individual smiles. The question is can caregivers increase the happiness of these individuals by changing their own behavior during one on one interactions.
Singh’s study from 2004 was identified as a key study because it showed the importance of caretakers, of mentally ill patients, practicing mindfulness. It was discovered that the more mindful the caregiver, the happier the patient.
Methods: This study consisted of two types of participants the residents and the caregivers. The resident participants were three adult males Bruce (45), Steve (54), and Dave (55). All three men were diagnosed with mental retardation. The caregiver participants were six African American women who worked the day shift. The caregivers were split into top three (Jane, Penny, Cindy) and bottom three (Linda, Kris, Rachel). Each of the residents were randomly assigned two of the caregivers: Jane and Penny with Bruce, Cyndie and Linda with Steve, and Kris and Rachel with David. The residents were given three leisure phases and they each lasted about 15 minutes. The researchers gathered baseline data during this time. Three of the caregivers were trained in mindfulness and were asked to practice it. Data was collected at four, seven and twelve weeks.
Results: At the baseline Bruce’s happiness was pretty high, with Jane it was 10.3 and Penny 11.3. Jane was trained and mindfulness and during the practice phase Bruce’s happiness increased to 25.2 while Penny’s increased to 12.5. The second group Cyndie and Linda were paired with Steve. At baseline Cyndie had 3.6 while Linda had 11.4. Cyndie was trained in mindfulness and during the third phase Steve’s happiness raised to 15.1 with Cyndie and 11.6 for Linda. The final pair was Rachel and Kris who were paired with Dave. At baseline Rachel had 2.8 while Kris had 2.4. Kris was the trained caregiver and after the third phase Dave’s happiness raised to 3.1 for Rachel and 13.0 for Kris.
Conclusion: The data shows that levels of happiness of the three mentally ill men had a very significant increase during their leisure sessions. It goes to show that providing more mindfulness training to caregivers could increase the happiness of the patients that they are caring for.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: The researchers had a very small sample size to work with making it difficult to be representative of the rest of the population. For future directions they suggest involving therapists and others involved in providing human services. The researchers also did not examine the change in the caregiver which they believe could be relevant for future studies.
Witek-Janusek, L., Albuquerque, K., Chroniak, K. R., Chroniak, C., Durazo-Arvizu, R., & Mathews, H. L. (2008). Effect of mindfulness based stress reduction on immune function, quality of life and coping in women newly diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 22(6), 969–981. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2008.01.012 Introduction: Cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths to women in the United States. Many negative symptoms can come from it, not only physical but psychological, anxiety, depression, fear, etc. The psychological effects alone can greatly reduce their quality of life (QOL). Even after receiving treatment there are still severe psychological disturbances. There have been many attempts to promote wellness and to reduce distress for cancer patients. The most promising treatment may be MBSR. Mindfulness training has already been proven to reduce psychological distress and that it might have the possibility of reversing the effects of psychological and immune disturbances.
Witek-Janusek’s study from 2008 was identified as a key study due to the evidence showing that revealed the psychological importance for mindfulness based stress reduction in cancer patients for their quality of life.
Method: The study consisted of 77 women between the ages of 35-75 years of age diagnosed with breast cancer who did not receive chemotherapy. The women were recruited from cancer centers and eligibility was determined by their physicians. The women were then split up into the MBSR intervention (N=44) and control group (N=31). The participants in the MBSR group met for three hours a week for eight weeks, and then a full day after the fifth week. The participants learned breath awareness, mindful yoga, and sitting and walking meditation. Immune, QOL, coping, and cortisol were examined at four different times. The first point (T1) was 10 days after surgery, (T2) was midway through the MBSR training, (T3) was after completion of MBSR, and (T4) took place a month after it ended.
A) Immunological Assessments: The women in the MBSR group had an increase in the NKCA by T4 (98% CI = 43.6 to 62.2 LU). The MBSR group produced less IL-4 (p =0.001), as well as an increase in IL-6 (p=0.008).
B) Plasma Cortisol: Women with cancer in the MBSR group had lower levels of cortisol by (p=0.002) while the cancer free participants in both groups had an elevation of (p<0.05).
C) QOL and Coping Assessments: The participants in the MBSR group expressed more satisfaction in psychological – spiritual QOL compared to the non-MBSR group. The most noteable time periods of change were at T3 (p=0.06; 98% CI=3.43 to 4.57) and T4 (p=0.001; 98% CI=2.99 to 4.01). They also had an increase in satisfaction with family at T3(p=0.06; 98% CI = 2.75 – 3.21) and T4 (p=0.046; 98% CI = 1.72 – 3.80). Out of the eight coping styles assessed only two were effective, optimistic and supportant coping.
Conclusion: Women who participated in this study and were involved in MBSR found more satisfaction in QOL than those who weren’t. There was also an increase in global QOL during the MBSR. Specific improvements in QOL were psychological-spiritual and family domains. There also were improvements in immune functioning, coping, and effectiveness.
Noted Limitations and Future Directions: The study used restricted diagnostic and treatment inclusion criteria. The participants were are all the same gender and race. There has not been another study that effects on MBSR on recently diagnosed cancer patients undergoing treatment. The researchers suggest for future studies to focus more on the QOL of life and MBSR in cancer patients.
Mindfulness and Positive Thinking in Relationships
Burpee, L. C., & Langer, E. J. (2005). Mindfulness and marital satisfaction. Journal of Adult Development, 12(1), 43–51. doi:10.1007/s10804-005-1281-6
Mindfulness and Positive Thinking in Workplaces
Irving, J. A., Dobkin, P. L., & Park, J. (2009). Cultivating mindfulness in health care professionals: A review of empirical studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 15(2), 61–66. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.01.002
Mindfulness and Positive Thinking in Schools
Caprara, G. V., Steca, P., Gerbino, M., Paciello, M., & Vecchio, G. M. (2006). Looking for adolescents’ well-being: Self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of positive thinking and happiness. Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 15(01), 30–43.
Denny, K. G., & Steiner, H. (2008). External and internal factors influencing happiness in elite collegiate athletes. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 40(1), 55–72. doi:10.1007/s10578-008-0111-z
Health Implications of Mindfulness and Positive Thinking
Burton, C. M., & King, L. A. (2004). The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences. Journal of Research in Personality, 38(2), 150-163.
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., and Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35–43. doi:10.1016/S0022-3999(03)00573-7
Howell, A. J., Digdon, N. L., Buro, K., & Sheptycki, A. R. (2008). Relations among mindfulness, well-being, and sleep. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(8), 773–777. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.08.005
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467–487. doi:10.1002/jclp.20593
General Studies on Mindfulness and Positive Thinking
Brown, K. W., and Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242
Chittaro L., and Vianello, A. (2014). Computer-supported mindfulness: Evaluation of a mobile thought distancing application on naive meditators. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 72(3), 337–348.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13(2), 172–175.
Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (1998). Positive moods derived from leisure and their relationship to happiness and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(3), 523–535.
Hollis-Walker, L., & Colosimo, K. (2011). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and happiness in non-meditators: A theoretical and empirical examination. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(2), 222–227. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.033
Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2011). Emotional intelligence mediates the relationship between mindfulness and subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(7), 1116–1119. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.01.037
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890-905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005
CLINICAL APPLICATIONS OF MINDFULNESS
Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482–500.
Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results From a Randomized Trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(2), 164–176. doi:10.1037/1072-5245.12.2.164
Huppert, F. A., & Johnson, D. M. (2010). A controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools: The importance of practice for an impact on well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(4), 264–274. dpi:10.1080/17439761003794148
Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2007). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33. doi:10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7
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Key studies concerning mindfulness and optimism/positive thinking were selected according to methodological rigor, type of investigation, and approach taken in understanding the relationship between mindfulness, positivity, and psychological well-being. Fredrickson’s study from 2002 was identified as a key study because it examine both positive and negative affect and determined that positive emotions make people feel good in the moment but also increase the chance of feeling good in the future. Hollis’ study from 2011 was identified as key study because it examined the relation between mindfulness, psychological well-being, self-compassion, and five factor model. It was determined that high on mindfulness scored high with self –compassion and psychological well-being. Huppert’s study from 2010 was identified as a key study because it examined the benefits of mindfulness in adolescents. Witek-Janusek’s study from 2008 was identified as a key study due to the evidence showing that revealed the psychological importance for mindfulness based stress reduction in cancer patients for their quality of life. Burpee’s study from 2005 was identified as a key study because it examined the relationship between marital satisfaction and mindfulness and proved that more mindful couples tend to have more satisfying relationships.
Singh’s study from 2004 was identified as a key study because it showed the importance of caretakers, of mentally ill patients, practicing mindfulness. It was discovered that the more mindful the caregiver the happier the patient. Carmody’s study from 2007 was identified as a key study since it observed how different forms of mindfulness will affect different aspects of well-being and positivity. Howell’s study from 2008 was identified as a key study because it examined the relationship between sleep and mindfulness. It was found that mindfulness had a direct association with well-being and sleep quality. Majumar’s study from 2002 was identified as a key study because it examined the relation between chronic physical and psychological pain to mindfulness. It was discovered that participants were less symptomatic when practicing mindful meditation. Caprara’s study from 2006 was identified as a key study because it observed the relationship between self-efficacy, optimism, and happiness. It was discovered that they were all positively correlated to one another.