Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies


Within the past few decades, there has been a surge of interest in the investigation of mindfulness as a psychological construct and as a form of clinical intervention. This article reviews the empirical literature on the effects of mindfulness on psychological health. We begin with a discussion of the construct of mindfulness, differences between Buddhist and Western psychological conceptualizations of mindfulness, and how mindfulness has been integrated into Western medicine and psychology, before reviewing three areas of empirical research: cross-sectional, correlational research on the associations between mindfulness and various indicators of psychological health; intervention research on the effects of mindfulness-oriented interventions on psychological health; and laboratory-based, experimental research on the immediate effects of mindfulness inductions on emotional and behavioral functioning. We conclude that mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation. The review ends with a discussion on mechanisms of change of mindfulness interventions and suggested directions for future research.

Keywords: Mindfulness, Mindfulness-oriented Interventions, Mindfulness Meditation, Psychological Health, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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Mettā (Pali) or maitrī (Sanskrit) is benevolence,[1][2] friendliness,[2][3][4][4][5] amity,[3] friendship,[4] good will,[4] kindness,[3][6] close mental union (on same mental wavelength),[4] and active interest in others.[3] It is the first of the four sublime states (Brahmavihāras) and one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism. Mettā is love without the suffering that arises from attachment (known as upādāna).

The cultivation of benevolence (mettā bhāvanā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism. In the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, this practice begins with the meditator cultivating benevolence towards themselves,[7] then one’s loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this practice is associated with tonglen(cf.), whereby one breathes out (“sends”) happiness and breathes in (“receives”) suffering.[8] Tibetan Buddhists also practice contemplation of the Brahmavihāras, also called the four immeasurables, which is sometimes called ‘compassion meditation’.[9]

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