You may have heard that mindfulness — the ability to be fully present in the moment — can have numerous benefits, everything from decreased stress and sadness to increased levels focus and happiness, according to general mindfulness research. But what exactly is mindfulness? And, how can you recognize it and reap its many benefits? Mindfulness is one way to truly experience the current moment and integrate that awareness into your everyday life.
First, it’s helpful to become familiar with the meaning of mindfulness, as well as how it relates to meditation. Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. In teaching the mind to be present, we are teaching ourselves to live more mindfully — in the present, taking a breath, not beholden to reactive thoughts and feelings — which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations.
Wondering how many times a day you’re in a mindful state? There’s actually a 15-item questionnaire researchers use to measure mindfulness called the Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS), that you can take to see where you stand — the higher the score, the greater your ability to be mindful. Scored lower than you’d like? It’s simply a sign that you may benefit from some mindfulness practice.
Here’s the thing that many people find confusing about mindfulness: it’s not a temporary state of mind that is present during meditation and then vanishes for the rest of the day. Rather, mindfulness is a way of living in which, when we remember, we are able to step back and be in the present moment in any situation.
Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other difficulties; instead, by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations, we have more choice in how to handle them in the moment — and a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically when faced with stress or challenges. Of course, practicing mindfulness does not mean we never get angry — rather it allows us to be more thoughtful in how we want to respond, whether that’s calmly and empathetically or perhaps, occasionally with measured anger.
There are thousands of studies that have shown mindfulness can positively impact mental and physical health. Whether it’s by reducing stress, improving sleep, increasing focus, or improving relationships, research shows mindfulness works.