Mindfulness. It’s one of those words you just can’t stop hearing. Along with self-care and “wellness,” the practice has surged in popularity in recent years. There’s little question that taking the time to really focus on things—whether it’s your breath and thoughts, the activities you’re doing, or the world around you—can make you feel good. But can mindfulness make you a better person, too? Well, yes! Mindfulness, according to Ellen Langer, the Harvard researcher best known for studying the practice, is “the process of actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations.” It can include meditation, but it doesn’t have to. What mindfulness does require is being in the moment, forcing ourselves to focus. It’s not easy, especially in a society where job recruiters advertise for the consummate multitasker and we are constantly juggling work–life balance. We’re a nation of distracted drivers, distracted workers, and distracted parents. Mindfulness is a way to cut through the clutter and reconnect. So what does that have to do with being a better person?
Up your empathy quotient.
Life is hard, and sometimes it’s even harder to be empathetic, especially when you’re going through a rough patch. But practicing mindfulness can change that. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers at California State University San Marcos say that people who received mindfulness instruction were better at regulating their emotions than those who hadn’t received the training. In turn, they were more also empathetic to a stranger who had been ostracized in a simulation. Not convinced that one study is proof enough you should be more mindful? There’s more! When people spent six weeks pursuing a lovingkindness mindfulness meditation, researchers from Yale and Michigan State University found a reduction in stigmatizing and discriminatory attitudes toward homeless people.
Giving Your All
Multitasking sounds like a great quality. You can do everything! You are woman! Hear you roar! But when you’re talking on the phone with your cousin, typing an email to your boss, and practicing lunges at your standing desk, studies indicate something (or someone) is getting shortchanged. Switching between tasks, researchers have found, comes at a cost to the brain, and our response time becomes sluggish. If someone is trying to carry on a conversation with you while you’re doing other things, that means you’re not responding to them as fast as you think you are…or giving them the attention they deserve. Mindfulness requires you to give your all to what you’re doing, which means you’re forced to choose between the email, the cousin, or the lunges. By cutting out those other tasks and paying attention, you’ll be a better conversationalist but also a kinder, more engaged person.
More Mindfulness = Less Stress
Stress stinks. It makes us anxious and tired, and it can physically hurt. But the stress we carry around doesn’t just affect us. Scientists have found that stress tends to make us irritable and angry, as we lash out at those around us. In other words? Stress can make you a jerk. Mindfulness could be the key to breaking through to the other side. After all, there are a host of studies out there that have found mindfulness is linked to stress reduction. Cut the stress; cut that mean streak!