Is Too Much Mindfulness Bad for You?
Is too much of a good thing bad for you? Recent studies by psychologists and research from universities are showing an increase in selfishness which comes as a negative side effect from practising mindfulness. With the whole world currently riding the wellness, well-being, mindfulness train, it does make you wonder how and why we are getting this wrong. When we are fixated on healing ourselves and breathing life back into our souls, we may be fraying our prosocial behaviour towards helping and being there for others.
Before exploring the research on how mindfulness potentially creates a little selfish core within us, it is important to understand what mindfulness is, how we do it, and the beautifully life-changing, positive benefits the practice can bring to your life.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years with links to Buddhism which now loosely connotates with yoga, meditation and an attainment for a Zen-like state of living. According to the founder of modern Western mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is a state of awareness, that arises from paying attention, on purpose to the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
When we are able to practice mindfulness, be it in the form of meditation or slowing down and savouring what you are eating and being fully present in the moment, we bring about psychological and physical benefits that can help us tremendously. Some benefits can include:
- Decrease in stress and anxiety levels, increased awareness, attention span and focus. Lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and increase in immune function and higher brain functioning. It gives us more clarity when thinking and making decisions and makes us feel internally still and calm.
- Enhanced ability to deal with illness and recovery—studies show that people that practice mindfulness can recover from medical procedures faster than those who don’t.
- Decrease in depressive symptoms which comes about when practising mindfulness and where you gain an enhanced perception of self-worth, and love and care towards yourself. With children, enhanced mindfulness can aid in increasing mental resilience, helps regulate emotions, mood, empathy, confidence and self-esteem.
Studies show that children who practise mindfulness have a direct correlation with improved academic results and ability to handle stress, and in the workplace for adults, similarly, it helps boost productivity and can foster reciprocal behaviour.
Where does it go wrong?
Over the last decade, the multibillion-dollar wellness industry has taken age-old traditions like meditation and mindfulness and contextualised them for the modern person by making them relatable to the current generation. What’s perhaps happened is that the simple organic techniques of slowing down and being intently and acutely aware of yourself have led to a generation of people that are perhaps more self-centred and less adequate in interacting, helping and being part of the collective “we”.
For people who are inherently interdependent, mindfulness can make you aware of others, their feelings and also how you react and want to behave. Yet, for individuals who are independent, an increase in mindfulness practice causes a decrease in social connection and ability to reach out, help and assist others.
According to a research paper conducted by the University at Buffalo, cultural context also plays a part in determining how prosocial you inherently are. In the East, the community and society and the importance of “we” is far greater than in the West where the “individual” plays a more key role than that of the entire community.
How do we still reap the benefits and avoid being selfish?
To extract the benefits of mindfulness, you need to ask yourself how interdependent or independent a person you are. According to studies, if your personality already skews towards being self-centred then a mindfulness practice will cause you to be more selfish. If you are a prosocial, interdependent person, there is less chance you will suddenly turn selfish.
We need to remind ourselves of self-care and compassion and how the positive benefits of these ancient traditions like meditation and mindfulness were taught to convey positivity, resilience and mental control. In a way, it was simple age-old wisdom-medicine that increased well-being.
Studies and research have now presented the information very scientifically and we are lucky enough to be able to witness the benefits and have it accessible to us. We just have to be careful not to dissect, extract it and overdo it where we lose simple human acts of kindness towards others, and not solely think about ourselves.
See also: 8 Ways to Start Your Day Positively
Tips towards Mindfulness
- Commit to a meditation practice for a few minutes a day. Start with a minute and build it up as you go. Find a spot where you can sit comfortably without being distracted and follow a guided meditation or meditation music to allow time for your mind to relax and recharge. You can also take reference from the Getting to Happy “Meditation” card.
- Savouring is a wonderful way to bring mindfulness and attention to something you are doing. I encourage you to drink your first drink of the day with intentional focus, giving yourself just a few moments to take in the aroma, taste and acknowledge how you feel. You can also take reference from the Getting to Happy “Cup of Joy” card.
- End the day by mindfully taking a shower or bath, giving thanks to unlimited hot water, taking in the wonderful scent of the soap and the simple luxury of feeling clean and fresh. Acknowledging this activity and the fact that many people still do not have access to running water can put into perspective how truly lucky you are. You can also take reference from the Getting to Happy “Best Shower of Your Life” card
Prioritising well-being is crucial as we battle daily tasks, but we have to remember we are all just human, and that self-care shouldn’t consume us and hold us back from social interactions and other activities that bring about joy and happiness.