Many people believe that mindfulness can make us happier. But is there any evidence to back this up? And how does mindful living improve our well-being, our sense of self, our happiness? New research sheds light on some of these fascinating questions.
Does mindfulness really make us happier? If you’ve been working on living a mindful life, you may instinctively want to answer yes. Perhaps you’ve reduced the stress in your life, or at least improved your ability to handle it. You may have focused your effort on the things that really matter to you. Or maybe you just feel a greater sense of confidence and comfort in yourself.
But although many of us can feel the benefits in our lives, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence so far to back up these ideas. That’s starting to change. New studies shed light not only on whether mindfulness affects psychological well-being but also how.
Two recent studies from researchers in Australia and the United States have examined the ways in which mindfulness affects individuals’ sense of self and behaviour. Both provide fascinating insights into the ways in which mindful living can affect fundamental parts of our identity.
Mindfulness and sense of self
A 2016 study carried out by researchers at the University of Utah investigated the “self-concept clarity” of university students. Self-concept clarity, or SCC for short, is the extent to which an individual has a clear definition of their own beliefs and traits which remain consistent over time. Individuals with high self-concept clarity have a strong sense of self, a clear image of who they are. This view isn’t necessarily accurate, of course – SCC isn’t the same thing as self-knowledge – but it’s stable.
There is an association with high SCC, positive relationships, high self-esteem and a greater sense of independence. Not much is known about where exactly it comes from. However, this study suggests that the connection is with intentional and non-judgmental awareness. In other words – mindfulness.
The study revealed that more mindful participants had greater self-concept-clarity, and that both mindful living and strong sense of self were correlated with psychological well-being.
In fact, the relation between a mindful disposition and well-being through self-concept clarity was higher than the correlation between mindfulness and well-being alone.
The authors of the study conclude that mindful individuals may improve their well-being in several ways. These individuals avoid conflicting self-images, which can lead to distress. They may more frequently identify behaviour that will improve their psychological well-being and sense of self-esteem.
Mindfulness and authenticity
A second study, conducted by researchers at the National University of Australia and Catholic University of Australia in 2016, shows some results that reveal further information about the connection between mindful living and values-based actions. According to the study, values-based action – action and behaviour consistent with an individual’s values and beliefs – are an important part of the relationship between a mindful disposition and psychological well-being.
Individuals who were more mindful tended to act more consistently with their own values and therefore to be happier.
In fact, the researchers found that the connection between mindfulness and well-being through values-based action was much stronger than the direct link. Mindful individuals saw an increase in well-being primarily when they showed authenticity in action.
Both studies suggest a correlation between mindful individuals and psychological well-being. It’s worth taking a moment to examine the concept in a little more detail. Psychological well-being (abbreviated PWB) basically reflects what we would think of as happiness: an individual’s level of satisfaction with various aspects of their life. It’s not a simple concept, though. Well-being breaks down into two further categories: hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being focuses on experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. When we’re comfortable, well-fed and enjoying ourselves, our sense of hedonic well-being is high. Eudaimonic well-being bases itself more on the happiness that comes from self-actualisation. Our sense of eudaimonic well-being is high when we feel that what we are doing is worthwhile and that we can fulfill our potential. Authenticity of action is vital to this sense of well-being.
Relating authenticity and self-image
Both studies may show some of the connection between a mindful disposition and well-being. In the University of Utah study, mindful individuals did not suffer from some of the distress that can come from a confused or contradictory sense of self. They had clearer ideas of who they were. This may have allowed them to select actions and relationships that satisfied their values. In the Australian study, well-being came from authenticity:
Individuals who acted on their values tended to be happier.
But of course, the two are inseparable. A strong sense of self is vital to values-based action since people with lower self-concept clarity may not even really be sure of their own values.
Putting it into practice
Of course, these are just two studies, and as always further research must happen.
The evidence so far suggests that authenticity may be one of the most important connections between mindful living and well-being.
Maintaining a mindful disposition can make us more aware of ourselves and our values, which is vital. But these values won’t contribute as much to our well-being unless we put them into action. By identifying what our core beliefs are – what’s really important to us – we can identify the actions that we need to carry out to put those beliefs into practice.
Hopefully, putting our core beliefs into practice makes the world a better place. But it’s also an important part of building our sense of well-being. When we act with authenticity — when we’re true to our own sense of self — we develop the habits that contribute to our own happiness.
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