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Positive Psychology and Mindful Meditation: Intimately Linked

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

There was a time, not long ago, when mental health was defined as the absence of illness. In addition, clinical psychology tended to be viewed as the study of mental illness. A major change started to take hold a number of years ago in which the study of human behavior started to focus on human behavior in a more holistic way. This came to mean that it was important to embrace the study of the positive behaviors and qualities manifested by the average person. This study of the healthy ways in which people function came to include the exploration of other, Non Western traditions. To be specific, the expanded vision of psychology came to include the study of Buddhism and Mindful Meditation. What we are describing here is Positive Psychology, including Mindful Meditation. Positive Psychology focuses on the achievement of a happy and meaningful life. Rather than limiting itself to sadness and depression, psychology could study happiness and optimal human functioning.

woman meditating in a fieldAccording to the website, Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, "Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance."

According to the website, Greater Good at the University of California, Berkeley, "Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment." "Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them — without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Mindful meditation and positive psychology are being used in a wide variety of settings to improve the lives of those involved in a wide variety of activities. For example, one use of meditation is in the work place. One study conducted in London at the University of Westminster, found that mindful meditation improved the self confidence of senior managers in the London area. In addition, the more mindful the manager, the lower the emotional exhaustion and higher the job satisfaction of employees. The way it works is that managers trained in mindfulness allow employees a greater degree of autonomy, hence their improved job satisfaction and productivity.

In addition, employees trained in mindfulness experienced a greater sense of happiness and health. The researchers concluded that mindfulness acts as a protective factor in the work environment.  Positive psychology and mindful meditation are also being used in such places as elementary and high schools, hospitals and universities. It has even helped athletes perform better. For example, Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and others have benefited from this training.  When one speaks of positive psychology one also speaks of mindful meditation.