The benefits of mindfulness are both well-established and wide-ranging. Studies on subjects ranging from college students to Marines have found the practice reduces stress and leads to higher levels of well-being.
But why, exactly, is the ability to stay focused on the present moment in a non-judgmental way a powerful catalyst for contentedness? New research from India points to a partial answer: Mindfulness breeds resilience.
That's the conclusion of researchers Badri Bajaj and Neerja Pande. Writing in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, they confirm that psychological resilience is more pronounced in mindful people. The researchers also provide evidence that this highly useful quality produces many of the practice's much-touted benefits.
"Mindful people can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down."
Bajaj and Pande describe a study featuring 327 undergraduates (236 men and 91 women). The students completed a series of surveys measuring their mindfulness, life satisfaction, emotional state, and level of resilience—the ability to cope in difficult situations, and bounce back from adversity.
Mindfulness—or a lack thereof—was measured by their responses to 15 assertions, such as "I tend to walk quickly to get where I'm going without paying attention to what I experience along the way." To gauge their resilience, participants were presented with 10 self-descriptive statements, including "able to adapt to change," "can stay focused under pressure," and are "not easily discouraged by failure." They responded to each on a five-point scale ("not at all" to "true nearly all of the time").
As predicted, the researchers found "individuals with higher mindfulness have greater resilience, thereby increasing their life satisfaction." They note that resilience "can be seen as an important source of subjective well-being," and point out many ways mindfulness can promote this state of mind.
"Mindful people ... can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally)," they write. "Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting drawn into wallowing in a setback."
Put another way, mindfulness "weakens the chain of associations that keep people obsessing about" their problems or failures, which increases the likelihood they will try again.
This isn't the only reason mindfulness promotes well-being, of course. Another new study provides evidence that the practice also promotes self-compassion, which leads to higher levels of happiness. But increased resilience clearly plays a major role in this beneficial equation.
"The findings provide support for universities to develop strategies that promote mindfulness," Bajaj and Pande conclude. "Mindfulness training could provide a practical means of enhancing resilience, and personality characteristics like optimism, zest, and patience."
Perhaps that idea will catch on as studies like this continue to proliferate. If you want to help students thrive (and increase the chances they will stay in school), it might be smart to add to the curriculum a required remedial course: Mindfulness 101.
Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.