Increase Empathy with Mindfulness

Increase Empathy with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

as we pay attention to our breath, our body, our lives, in this simple and gentle way, a natural consequence is the opening of the heart.” – Matthew Brensilver

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial emotions such as compassion, and empathy and prosocial behaviors such as altruism. “empathy seems to play a key role in forgiveness and compassion toward oneself and others, allowing the maintenance, reconciliation and repair of social relationships.” So, promoting empathy is important for not only for the individual’s well-being but also for the individual’s relationships with others.

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01915/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1401267_69_Psycho_20200811_arts_A) de la Fuente-Anuncibay and colleagues recruited university students and had them complete measures of mindfulness practice, empathy, and mindfulness, including describing, observing, acting with awareness, non-judging, and non-reacting subscales. The data were examined with regression analysis and mediation analysis.

 

They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of empathy. This was true for overall mindfulness and the describing and observing facets of mindfulness. In examining the effect of mindfulness practice on empathy they found that there was no direct effect of practice on empathy but rather practice was associated with higher levels of mindfulness which was in turn associated with higher levels of empathy. Again, this was true for overall mindfulness and the describing and observing facets of mindfulness. Gender was not found to moderate these associations.

 

These results are correlational and as such caution must be exercised in concluding causation. Nevertheless, previous studies have shown that mindfulness training results in increase in empathy. So, the present results probably represent causal relationships. These results then suggest that mindfulness produces greater empathy and that mindfulness is enhanced by mindfulness practice. It is interesting that these relationships are similar for both men and women as there is a societal belief that women are more empathetic. These findings demonstrate that mindfulness improves empathy regardless of gender.

 

It is interesting that the relationship of mindfulness with empathy was true not only for overall mindfulness but also for the describing and observing facets of mindfulness. These facets represent that individual’s ability to observe and describe their internal state. Mindful individuals are more aware of how they are feeling. This suggests that awareness of one’s own feelings helps to better understand the feelings of others which is the essence of empathy.

 

So, increase empathy with mindfulness.

 

“By learning to bring our thoughts and feelings into the present and allowing them to be as they are, we become more mindful of ourselves. That enhanced mindfulness of ourselves makes it easier to read-across to the experiences of others. Just a small amount of mindfulness training can make it easier to read people’s inner states. Mindful people tend to experience more compassion and more empathy, because they have more control over their thinking.” – Mindfulness Works

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

de la Fuente-Anuncibay R, González-Barbadillo Á, Ortega-Sánchez D and Pizarro-Ruiz JP (2020) Mindfulness and Empathy: Mediating Factors and Gender Differences in a Spanish Sample. Front. Psychol. 11:1915. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01915

 

Numerous research studies link mindfulness training to improved empathy. However, few studies focus on the mediating factors of empathy. This work has three objectives: (a) to analyze the possible mediation of mindfulness as a feature in this relation, (b) to analyze the mindfulness factors that mediate in the increase of empathy and (c) to analyze the moderating role of gender. The sample was composed of 246 Spanish-speaking university students (M = 24.08 years, SD = 8.43). The instruments used were the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ). For data analysis, the indirect effect was calculated using 10000 bootstrap samples for the bias-corrected bootstrap confidence intervals (BCI). The improvement of empathy is mediated by the changes in mindfulness trait (B = 0.233, p < 0.001), disappearing in the presence of this mediator, the direct effect of mindfulness practice on empathy (B = 0.161, p = 0.394). We did not find a differential functioning of this mediation according to gender. Observing and describing are the FFMQ factors that mediate significantly between mindfulness practice and empathy.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01915/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1401267_69_Psycho_20200811_arts_A

 

Spirituality is Associated with Better Decision Making and Well-Being at End of Life

Spirituality is Associated with Better Decision Making and Well-Being at End of Life

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“spirituality is an important component of quality of life and may be a key factor in how people cope with illness, experience healing, and achieve a sense of coherence.” – Christina Puchalski

 

Death in inevitable, but that does not mean that it has to be difficult. Suzuki Roshi at the end of his life was in excruciating pain from cancer yet he told everyone around him “Don’t worry, It’s just Buddha suffering”. He passed with a smile on his face. Augustus Montague Toplady, the preacher author of the hymn “Rock of Ages” dying from tuberculosis said “Oh, what delights! Who can fathom the joy of the third heaven? The sky is clear, there is no cloud; come Lord Jesus, come quickly!” These stories exemplify how spirituality can influence the quality of life at the end of life.

 

Spirituality becomes much more important to people when they’re approaching the end of life. It is thought that people take comfort in the spiritual when facing mortality. But, spiritual concerns, such as feelings of being abandoned by god or needing forgiveness for actions in their lives might lead to anxiety and worry rather than comfort and can exacerbate the psychological burdens at the end of life. Hence, there is a need to study the relationship of spirituality to a palliative care patient’s well-being at the approach of the end of life.

 

In today’s Research News article “The influence of spirituality on decision-making in palliative care outpatients: a cross-sectional study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7035674/), Rego and colleagues recruited adult outpatients from cancer palliative care institutes who had terminal illnesses. They were asked to complete measures of decision conflict and health related quality of life including spiritual well-being and undergo a semi-structured interviews addressing “spirituality, the importance of spirituality during illness, spiritual care, the influence of illness in the sense/meaning of life and the ability to make decisions related to health.”

 

They found that patients who indicated that spirituality was important in dealing with their illness and had a sense of meaning in their lives reported significantly higher levels of spiritual well-being, quality of life, and significantly lower levels of decisional conflict. In addition, they found that higher levels of spiritual wellbeing were associated with higher levels of physical, emotional and functional wellbeing, meaning/peace and faith, and quality of life. Also, spiritual well-being was significantly associated with lower levels of uncertainty and decisional conflict and higher levels of being informed and supported, and satisfaction with decisions. Finally, the patients indicated that spiritual care was important but there was little provided.

 

It should be noted that this study was correlative and as such conclusions about causation cannot be definitively made. But the results suggest that there are clear relationships between spirituality and the ability to cope with end of life issues. Spirituality was related to many components of well-being, suggesting that while approaching end of life having deeper sense of meaning is important in dealing with mortality. In addition, spirituality appears to be associated with better capacity to make decisions, suggesting that it aids in having a clear mind in dealing with the issues associated with the remainder of their lives.

 

It is interesting that as important spirituality appears to be for dealing with the end of life the patients reported that there was very little spiritual care available. This suggests that palliative care should include greater spiritual care. The results suggest that if there was greater spiritual care it would help ease the burden of being terminally ill and improve the quality of their remaining life.

 

Hence, spirituality is associated with better decision making and well-being at end of life.

 

Spirituality is too important and too impactful to ignore. We must work together as palliative care advocates to ensure that patients get comprehensive, person-centered care that addresses all aspects of their quality of life.” – Coalition for Compassionate Care

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Rego, F., Gonçalves, F., Moutinho, S., Castro, L., & Nunes, R. (2020). The influence of spirituality on decision-making in palliative care outpatients: a cross-sectional study. BMC palliative care, 19(1), 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12904-020-0525-3

 

Abstract

Background

Decision-making in palliative care can be complex due to the uncertain prognosis and general fear surrounding decisions. Decision-making in palliative care may be influenced by spiritual and cultural beliefs or values. Determinants of the decision-making process are not completely understood, and spirituality is essential for coping with illness. Thus, this study aims to explore the influence of spirituality on the perception of healthcare decision-making in palliative care outpatients.

Methods

A cross-sectional study was developed. A battery of tests was administered to 95 palliative outpatients, namely: sociodemographic questionnaire (SQ), Decisional Conflict Scale (DCS), Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual Well-Being scale (FACIT-Sp), and a semi-structured interview (SSI) to study one’s perception of spirituality and autonomy in decision-making. Statistical analyses involved descriptive statistics for SQ and SSI. The Mann-Whitney test was used to compare scale scores between groups and correlations were used for all scales and subscales. The analysis of patients’ definitions of spirituality was based on the interpretative phenomenological process.

Results

Spiritual wellbeing significantly correlated with greater levels of physical, emotional and functional wellbeing and a better quality of life. Greater spiritual wellbeing was associated with less decisional conflict, decreased uncertainty, a feeling of being more informed and supported and greater satisfaction with one’s decision. Most patients successfully implemented their decision and identified themselves as capable of early decision-making. Patients who were able to implement their decision presented lower decisional conflict and higher levels of spiritual wellbeing and quality of life. Within the 16 themes identified, spirituality was mostly described through family. Patients who had received spiritual care displayed better scores of spiritual wellbeing, quality of life and exhibited less decisional conflict. Patients considered spirituality during illness important and believed that the need to receive spiritual support and specialised care could enable decision-making when taking into consideration ones’ values and beliefs.

Conclusion

The impact of spiritual wellbeing on decision-making is evident. Spirituality is a key component of overall wellbeing and it assumes multidimensional and unique functions. Individualised care that promotes engagement in decision-making and considers patients’ spiritual needs is essential for promoting patient empowerment, autonomy and dignity.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7035674/

 

Different Meditation Types Produce Different Effects on Attention, Compassion, and Theory of Mind

Different Meditation Types Produce Different Effects on Attention, Compassion, and Theory of Mind

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The mental procedures used by various traditions and schools of meditation are fairly dissimilar. And recent scientific research has verified that these different ways of meditating activate different areas in our brain.” – Trancendental Meditation

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for affecting different psychological areas.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin. In Loving Kindness Meditation the individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential benefits of mental training types for attention, compassion, and theory of mind.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891878/), Trautwein and colleagues recruited healthy adults and assigned them to one of three conditions; presence, affect, and perspective training. Each condition consisted of a 3-day retreat followed by once a week 2-hour training session for 13 weeks along with daily home practice. The presence training focused on attention to the present moment and contained focused breath meditation, walking meditation, and body scan practices. The affect training focused on developing an “accepting, kind, and compassionate stance towards oneself and others” and contained loving kindness meditation, forgiveness meditation, and affect dyad practices. The perspective training focused on the central role that thoughts play in our lives and contained meditation of observing thoughts coming and going and perspective dyads. They were measured before and after training with a cued flanker task measuring executive control and attentional reorienting and a Theory of Mind and Social Cognition task measuring social cognitive and affective functions including compassion. Theory of mind refers to the ability to observe self-awareness in self and others.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the other modules, the presence training significantly improved executive control and attentional reorienting. They also found that the affect and perspective training produced significant improvements in the socio-emotional dimension of compassion. Finally, they found that perspective training produced significantly higher scores on Theory of Mind (understanding beliefs, desires, and needs of others). Hence the three different forms of mindfulness training affected different abilities.

 

The findings suggest that training on present moment awareness affects attentional abilities but not socio-emotional and theory of mind abilities. On the other hand, affect training affects socio-emotional abilities including compassion but not attention or theory of mind abilities. Finally, the results suggest that perspective training affects socio-emotional and theory of mind abilities but not attentional abilities. These findings suggest that different mindfulness training programs should be employed to target specific problem areas for the participant. They also suggest that incorporating components from presence, affect, and perspective training may produce a training package that enhances abilities in all domains.

 

So, different meditation types produce different effects on attention, compassion, and theory of mind.

 

“Meditation is a simple strategy that can help obtain better health and a happier life. It takes time to master, as does any other skill. If a person sticks with it and is willing to experiment with the different methods, they are more likely to discover a meditation style that suits them.” – Zawn Villines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Trautwein, F. M., Kanske, P., Böckler, A., & Singer, T. (2020). Differential benefits of mental training types for attention, compassion, and theory of mind. Cognition, 194, 104039. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104039

 

Abstract

Mindfulness- and, more generally, meditation-based interventions increasingly gain popularity, effectively promoting cognitive, affective, and social capacities. It is unclear, however, if different types of practice have the same or specific effects on mental functioning. Here we tested three consecutive three-month training modules aimed at cultivating either attention, socio-affective qualities (such as compassion), or socio-cognitive skills (such as theory of mind), in three training cohorts and a retest control cohort (N = 332). While attentional performance improved most consistently after attention training, compassion increased most after socio-affective training and theory of mind partially improved after socio-cognitive training. These results show that specific mental training practices are needed to induce plasticity in different domains of mental functioning, providing a foundation for evidence-based development of more targeted interventions adapted to the needs of different education, labor, and health settings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891878/

 

Improve Cancer Patients Physical and Psychological Health with Spiritual Care

Improve Cancer Patients Physical and Psychological Health with Spiritual Care

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Spirituality and religion can be important to the well-being of people who have cancer, enabling them to better cope with the disease. Spirituality and religion may help patients and families find deeper meaning and experience a sense of personal growth during cancer treatment, while living with cancer, and as a cancer survivor.” – National Comprehensive Cancer Network

 

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. These feeling can result from changes in body image, changes to family and work roles, feelings of grief at these losses, and physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, or fatigue. People might also fear death, suffering, pain, or all the unknown things that lie ahead. So, coping with the emotions and stress of a cancer diagnosis is a challenge and there are no simple treatments for these psychological sequelae of cancer diagnosis.

 

Religion and spirituality become much more important to people when they’re diagnosed with cancer or when living with cancer and also for their caregivers. It is thought that people take comfort in the spiritual when facing mortality. But, spiritual concerns, such as feelings of being abandoned by god or needing forgiveness for actions in their lives might lead to anxiety and worry rather than comfort and can exacerbate the psychological burdens of cancer or on the quality of life of cancer patients. The research is accumulating. Hence, there is a need to step back and summarize what has been learned regarding the effects of spiritual care on the cancer patient.

 

In today’s Research News article “). Interprofessional spiritual care in oncology: a literature review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6435249/), Puchalski and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the relationship of spirituality to cancer treatment. They define spirituality as ‘Spirituality is a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relationship to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.’

 

They report that the published literature finds that spirituality is related to improved psychological and physical well-being of cancer patients across a wide variety of cancers at a wide variety of stages. Greater levels of spirituality are related to greater levels of quality of life during and after cancer treatment. On the other hand, cancer often results in higher levels of spiritual distress, including existential distress, hopelessness, despair and anger at God. Spiritual distress is, in turn, associated with poorer physical, social and emotional distress. Hence, spiritual care is important for the well-being of the cancer patient.

 

The published research makes a clear case that spirituality is related to better physical and psychological well-being in cancer patients while spiritual distress is related to worse outcomes. This underscores the need for training of healthcare workers in spiritual care. It is also clear that more research is needed to discover best practices for spiritual care for a variety of different patients.

 

So, improve cancer patients physical and psychological health with spiritual care.

 

“It is not known for sure how spirituality and religion are related to health. Some studies show that spiritual or religious beliefs and practices create a positive mental attitude that may help a patient feel better and improve the well-being of family caregivers.” – National Cancer Institute

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Puchalski, C. M., Sbrana, A., Ferrell, B., Jafari, N., King, S., Balboni, T., … Ripamonti, C. I. (2019). Interprofessional spiritual care in oncology: a literature review. ESMO open, 4(1), e000465. doi:10.1136/esmoopen-2018-000465

 

Abstract

Spiritual care is recognised as an essential element of the care of patients with serious illness such as cancer. Spiritual distress can result in poorer health outcomes including quality of life. The American Society of Clinical Oncology and other organisations recommend addressing spiritual needs in the clinical setting. This paper reviews the literature findings and proposes recommendations for interprofessional spiritual care.

Conclusion

Our literature review demonstrates that spirituality is an important component of health and general well-being of patients with cancer, and that spiritual distress has a negative impact on quality of life of patients with cancer. This makes the implementation of spirituality-based interventions essential in order to support the spiritual well-being of patients with cancer. Spirituality and spiritual well-being have been proven to have a positive effect on patients with cancer. Many national (eg, Great Britain) and international oncology palliative care as well as supportive care societies (ie, MASCC) have already created specific recommendations, guidelines and working groups on this matter, but it is important to widen oncology health professionals’ knowledge about spirituality and to implement spirituality as a cornerstone of oncological patients’ care. More research is needed to further our understanding of the role of spirituality in different cultural and clinical settings and to develop standardised models and tools for screening and assessment. Findings from this literature review also point to the need for more robust studies to assess the effectiveness of spiritual care interventions in improving patient, family and clinician’s outcomes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6435249/

 

Strengthen Character with Mindfulness

Strengthen Character with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness opens the door to who we are, and character strengths are what is behind that door.” – Ryan Niemiec

 

Personality characteristics are thought to be relatively permanent traits that form an individual’s distinctive character. Engaging in mindfulness training has been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. It also appears to be associated with healthy personality characteristics. Character strengths are group of positive personality characteristics that are highly valued such as “creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, bravery, perseverance, zest, love, social intelligence, forgiveness, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, and spirituality.” This suggests that mindfulness may be associated with and may improve these character strengths.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Mutual Support Model of Mindfulness and Character Strengths.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6647542/),  Pang and Ruch recruited participants online and had them complete an online questionnaire measuring mindfulness and 24 character strengths. They found that the higher the mindfulness scores the higher the character strengths. They then separated the participants in those who meditated and those who didn’t. They found that the meditators had significantly higher levels of mindfulness, and the character strengths of spirituality, gratitude, appreciation of beauty, curiosity, love of learning, curiosity, hope, bravery, leadership, zest, perspective, self-regulation, and humor.

 

In a second study they recruited adults and randomly assignee them to a wait-list control condition or to receive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The MBSR program consists of 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The participants are also encouraged to perform daily practice. They were measured before and after training and 1, 3, and 6 months later for mindfulness and the 24 character strengths. They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list controls, after training and the follow-up measures the participants who received MBSR training had significantly higher levels of mindfulness, love, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, spirituality, zest, and bravery.

 

The 2 studies suggest that mindfulness is associated with character strengths and increasing mindfulness with MBSR training produces enduring increases in the levels of these strengths. The character strengths that were most associated with mindfulness, hope, bravery, curiosity, social intelligence, zest, love, perspective, and gratitude, have been shown to be associated with greater life satisfaction. This underscores the contribution of mindfulness to psychological health and happiness.

 

So, strengthen character with mindfulness.

 

“The combination of practicing mindfulness with a focus on character strengths helps us to open the door to avenues to self growth. With improved awareness of our character strengths we can more easily overcome common obstacles that emerge when developing mindfulness and serve to “supercharge” both mindful living and formal mindfulness meditation.” – Susan Kuz

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). The Mutual Support Model of Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Mindfulness, 10(8), 1545–1559. doi:10.1007/s12671-019-01103-z

 

Abstract

Objectives

Numerous studies have confirmed robust relationships between general well-being and mindfulness or character strengths, respectively, but few have examined associations between mindfulness and character strengths. Two studies were carried out to explore these relationships comprehensively in the framework of the Values in Action (VIA) classification of character strengths.

Methods

In study 1, participants (N = 1335) completed validated assessments of mindfulness and character strengths, and the relationship between the two was investigated in a broad online sample. In study 2, the effect of a mindfulness training on specific character strengths was investigated using a randomized-control design (N = 42).

Results

The results of study 1 confirmed positive relationships between mindfulness and character strengths and further identified a list of character strengths that might overlap with mindfulness—i.e., creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, bravery, perseverance, zest, love, social intelligence, forgiveness, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, and spirituality. The findings of study 2 provided further support for the hypothesis that mindfulness training could help cultivate certain character strengths. Compared with participants in the waitlist control condition, those who attended an 8-week mindfulness-based training program showed significant increases in the strengths of love, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, and spirituality, and a trend toward significant increases in the strengths of zest and bravery.

Conclusions

The results provide initial evidence for a mutual support model of mindfulness and character strengths.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6647542/

 

Spirituality is associated with Character Strength, Well-Being, and Prosociality in Adolescents

Spirituality is associated with Character Strength, Well-Being, and Prosociality in Adolescents

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Given that adolescents are at the crossroads of life and face many issues and challenges that are unique, uncertain and value-conflict, they need to critically reflect on practical interests and examine broad issues on religiously tethered and untethered spirituality in their lives.” – Charlene Tan

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred.” Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

Adolescence is a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. But adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. Indeed, up to a quarter of adolescents suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, and an even larger proportion struggle with subclinical symptoms. It makes sense, then, to investigate the influence of spirituality on the ability of youths to navigate this difficult time and develop positive qualities and better mental health.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400865/), Kor and colleagues recruited adolescents (aged 13 to 17 years) from middle schools in Israel. They were measured at three points over 14 months for optimism, prosociality, spirituality, religious practices, personal devotion, spiritual transcendence, positive and negative emotions, satisfaction with life, and 24 character strengths consisting of curiosity, love of learning, judgment, creativity, perspective, bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality.

 

They found that spirituality was relatively stable over time and was moderately associated with interpersonal character strengths. High levels of spirituality were significantly associated with high levels of life satisfaction, positive emotions, and prosociality at all three measurement times. Hence, spirituality was associated with the character strength and well-being of the adolescents.

 

These results are correlational and as such caution must be exercised in reaching causal conclusions. But the study suggests that being spiritual is associated with positive characters in the adolescents and greater well-being and attentiveness to the needs of others (prosociality). This further suggests that being spiritual may help adolescents navigate the complex and difficult terrain of adolescence. It remains to be seen if promoting spirituality may produce improvements in adolescent character and well-being.

 

So, spirituality is associated with character strength, well-being, and prosociality in adolescents.

 

Adolescent well-being has received extensive attention, with ample evidence of the positive role of religion and spirituality in youth development.” – Chris Boyatzis

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kor, A., Pirutinsky, S., Mikulincer, M., Shoshani, A., & Miller, L. (2019). A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 377. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377

 

Abstract

Using data from 1,352 middle-school Israeli adolescents, the current study examines the interface of spirituality and character strengths and its longitudinal contribution to subjective well-being and prosociality. Participants were approached three times over a 14-months period and completed measures of character strengths, spirituality, subjective well-being (positive emotions, life satisfaction), and prosociality. Findings revealed a fourth-factor structure of character strengths that included the typical tripartite classification of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual strengths together with spirituality emerging as a statistically autonomous factor. Spirituality was stable over time and contributed to higher subjective well-being and prosociality both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Discussion focuses on spirituality as a fundamental character strength and an important aspect of positive development.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400865/

 

Promote Well-Being in Adolescents with Spirituality

Promote Well-Being in Adolescents with Spirituality

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Call it faith. Call it spirituality. Call it zealotry. Our consciousness creates the reality that reflects it. If we feel apart, other, afraid, and deadened, we will live in a world that reflects and perpetuates these energies.” – Kelly Brogan

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. ”Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

Adolescence is a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. But adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. Indeed, up to a quarter of adolescents suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, and an even larger proportion struggle with subclinical symptoms.

 

It makes sense, then, to investigate the influence of spirituality on the ability of youths to navigate this difficult time and develop positive qualities and better mental health. In today’s Research News article “A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_925884_69_Psycho_20190305_arts_A ), Kor and colleagues recruited adolescents aged 13 to 17 years and had them complete scales at baseline and 3 and 14 months later measuring character strength, optimism, spirituality, religiosity, transcendence, devotion, positive and negative emotions, life satisfaction, and prosociality.

 

They found that spirituality in adolescents was composed of spirituality, religiosity, transcendence, and devotion and was relatively stable over the 14-month measurement period. They found that the higher the levels of spirituality, the greater the levels of character strength, life satisfaction, positive emotions, and prosocial behaviors over all three measurement time points.

 

These findings are interesting but correlational. So, conclusions regarding causation cannot be reached. But the findings suggest that, surprisingly, spirituality does not fluctuate greatly over time in adolescents. They also suggest that spirituality is associated with a relatively satisfying and happy life that is engaged positively with other people. Hence, spirituality would appear to be a positive factor that is helpful to youths in maintaining well-being over the turbulent time of adolescence.

 

So, promote well-being in adolescents with spirituality.

 

“Both religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on mental health. In some ways, they provide the same impact. For example: Both religion and spirituality can help a person tolerate stress by generating peace, purpose and forgiveness.” – Laura Greenstein

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Kor A, Pirutinsky S, Mikulincer M, Shoshani A and Miller L (2019) A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents. Front. Psychol. 10:377. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377

 

Using data from 1,352 middle-school Israeli adolescents, the current study examines the interface of spirituality and character strengths and its longitudinal contribution to subjective well-being and prosociality. Participants were approached three times over a 14-months period and completed measures of character strengths, spirituality, subjective well-being (positive emotions, life satisfaction), and prosociality. Findings revealed a fourth-factor structure of character strengths that included the typical tripartite classification of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual strengths together with spirituality emerging as a statistically autonomous factor. Spirituality was stable over time and contributed to higher subjective well-being and prosociality both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Discussion focuses on spirituality as a fundamental character strength and an important aspect of positive development.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_925884_69_Psycho_20190305_arts_A

 

Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“meditation made people feel moderately more compassionate or empathic, compared to if they had done no other new emotionally-engaging activity. But further analysis revealed that it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.” – James Anderson

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial behaviors such as altruism, compassion and empathy and reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. In today’s Research News article “The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/ ), Kreplin and colleagues review, summarize and perform a meta-analysis of the published research literature on the effectiveness of meditation practice for the promotion of prosocial behaviors. They reviewed randomized controlled trials that examined meditation or mindfulness effects on “empathy, relationship, connectedness, compassion, love, interpersonal, anger, social, altruism, outgroup, thankfulness, forgiveness, prosocial.”

 

They found 16 published randomized controlled trials. The meta-analysis indicated that there were overall small but significant effects of meditation or mindfulness training on prosocial behavior, especially compassion and empathy. There were no significant effects on aggression or prejudice. These results suggest that meditation or mindfulness training has small but positive effects on prosocial but not antisocial behaviors.

 

Limiting the interpretation of the findings, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the trainer for meditation or mindfulness was a listed author on the study. This raises the possibility that experimenter bias may have had a major influence such that the beliefs of the researcher that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. In addition, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the control, comparison, condition was passive, such as a wait-list or no-treatment control, with no significant effects when an active, alternative treatment, control condition was included. This raises the possibility that participant expectancies may have had major influences such that the beliefs of the participants that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. Hence, the small positive results on prosocial behaviors may have been due to weaknesses in the research designs of the studies rather than to the effects of meditation and mindfulness training.

 

These results are important in that they point to issues with the research design that may have been responsible for significant effects. This calls into question the actual effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness training on prosocial behavior. Obviously, more tightly controlled research is necessary to determine if meditation and mindfulness training can be used to improve positive social behaviors.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kreplin, U., Farias, M., & Brazil, I. A. (2018). The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 8, 2403. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z

 

Abstract

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/

 

Violence and Peace

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Violence and Peace

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Root out the violence in your life, and learn to live compassionately and mindfully. Seek peace. When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Over the last few years, senseless violence has become more and more prevalent in our society and in our world. Over the last year, in particular, despicable violent acts seem to be occurring at a higher and higher frequency, to the point where they seem to be happening constantly. Besides the horror and disgust produced, these acts produce fear and anger, leading to a desperate need to do something about it. The most frequent solution is to answer violence with repression or with more violence. As the gun rights lobby has said, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

 

As Mahatma Gandhi has recognized “Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.” It attempts to rectify the problem quickly, but the roots of the problem are deep and it does not address the roots. It only deals with the surface manifestations. As Mahatma Gandhi stated “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” So, violence produces a momentary solution but in the long-run actually deepens the problem. This is on display in the Middle East where violence has begot violence for centuries. Rather than solving the root problems, it has instead led to more and more hatred, violence, and deeper and deeper problems.

 

On the other hand, when violence is met with non-violence, with forgiveness and understanding, the good it does is very long-lasting. There was genocidal violence in the African country of Rwanda, leading to the violent death of nearly a million people. In the aftermath of this horrific violence, the leaders of group that was the target of the violence, took control of the country. But, rather than demanding revenge and retribution they embarked on a campaign of non-violence and forgiveness, working to peacefully integrate both factions into a unified society. The results have been startling and wonderful. Rwanda is now peaceful and developing rapidly. The campaign of non-violence and forgiveness has produced long-lasting good that to this day has not only healed the country, but is helping it to prosper.

 

The Republic of South Africa was ruled for decades by whites who repressed and subjugated a black majority with aggression and violence. The apartheid regime controlled the majority with ruthless brutal efficiency. It jailed the leader of the majority blacks, Nelson Mandela for 27 years. At the time of his trial that led to the unjust imprisonment he declared “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” When apartheid was finally overthrown, in part due to the non-violent pressure put on South Africa by the community of nations, Nelson Mandela was freely elected as the new leader of South Africa.

 

Rather than taking vengeance and retribution on the white minority, Mandela launched a campaign of forgiveness, non-violence, and reconciliation. He worked to fulfill his vision of “a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony.” Like with Rwanda, the results were nothing sort of astounding. Subsequently South Africa has thrived peacefully. It is not without problems. But, the entire community is involved in trying to peacefully solve them. This remarkable peaceful solution is still working well over a quarter of a century later. Once again, the non-violence and forgiveness produced long-lasting benefits for all that to this day has not only healed South Africa, but helped it prosper.

 

India was ruled for by the British for nearly a century. For 25 years Mahatma Gandhi led a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience that culminated in India attaining independence from Great Britain. The aftermath of this victory was not one of retribution, instead India has maintained friendly, peaceful relations with Great Britain that endure to this day. The non-violent independence movement produced the largest democracy in the world that has lasted now for over 65 years. The victory was gained by non-violence and it has lasted and helped India remain peaceful and develop for the good of all of its people.

 

In the United States, the long-oppressed black minority, led by Martin Luther King, who taught that Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. Instead, he led a movement of non-violent civil disobedience based upon love, not hate. This campaign resulted in the U.S. government passing civil rights legislation that ended legal discrimination against blacks and launched a half-century of reconciliation. Although racial problems persist, the non-violent movement has produced a lasting, and still growing, integration of the races into the fabric of U.S. society, including the election of Barak Obama, the nation’s first black president.

 

So, there appears to be a solution to violence and hatred and it is not more violence. It is forgiveness and non-violence. Rather than producing more hatred and violence it has resulted in less, to the benefit of all, and rather than being a momentary solution, it has produced lasting and growing benefits for everyone. This is not to be naive and see non-violence as an easy solution. It is not. Gandhi commented “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” It took years of difficult struggle. But the results have been well worth it. Taking the long hard road, involving non-violence, forgiveness, and reconciliation, true healing is produced and a peaceful future insured.

 

These wonderful changes were produced by amazing charismatic leaders of historic movements. We can’t expect to be like them and shouldn’t wait for others like them to come along and lead. So, what can we as individuals do to stop violence and make for a safe and peaceful world. I, like many others, has always thought grandiosely, looking for ways to change the world. But, I’ve now realized that that’s a mistake. Rather, we can begin to change the world only if we first change ourselves. If we act from our egoic selves with all our flaws and issues we may, in fact, make matters worse. Gandhi provides guidance in this matter stating “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” In other words, if we want to change the world into a safer and more peaceful place we must first make ourselves safer and more peaceful.

 

As the great sage Thich Nhat Hanh wrote “You should not be too eager to help right away. There are two things: to be and to do. Don’t think too much about to do—to be is first. To be peace. To be joy. To be happiness. And then to do joy, to do happiness—on the basis of being. So first you have to focus on the practice of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being attentive. Being generous. Being compassionate. This is the basic practice.” We must first become peaceful ourselves before we can bring peace to others. But, how are we to become peaceful ourselves? This is a mindfulness practice.  We must look carefully at our own anger, hatred, fear, hostility, need for revenge, and aggression and work to root out these issues in ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves that the seeds of all of these negative states are in us. I will confess that they are within me. Recognizing them is the first step, but then we must not water these seeds and make them stronger. Rather we need to simply recognize them, and let them go. This is not a simple or quick process. It may take a while. Be patient. Slowly, bringing the peacefulness of mindfulness to them, they will become weaker and weaker.

 

At the same time as we weaken our negative states, we need to water the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” We don’t need to find that peaceful happiness. It is always there within us. But, it needs to be released by practice. To start the day with a smile is a great place to begin. Then, focus on treating those that we are closest to with understanding, kindness, and love. After all, if we can’t treat our family and friends this way, how are we ever to be able to treat strangers and even our enemies with compassion. Once again, don’t expect to totally change overnight. Just work to improve a little bit at a time.

 

Developing understanding and compassion for those whom we would call our enemies is more difficult, but to bring peace to the world, we must. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes “It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, even those who act violently. We have to approach them with love in our hearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence. If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is not an end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.” We can develop compassion for our enemies by contemplating deeply their lives and situations. In a sense, putting ourself in their shoes. Recognizing that if we were brought up like they were, had the experiences that they’ve had, and are in the environment that they are, that we would probably be just like them. If we had lived the life that the terrorist lived, would we not also have become a terrorist? Once we can do this, then we can find love and compassion toward them. This does not mean that we are OK with their actions. We must, in fact, unequivocally and forcefully point out and oppose their wrongful acts. But recognize that it’s the actions and not the individual that we oppose. We must pursue and demand justice through a system of laws and not by meeting wrong with wrong. At the same time, we should recognize the inherent humanity of the perpetrators. Treat them justly, not with vengeance, but with compassion.

 

In working toward becoming the change we seek. We should recognize that the only time to be peaceful is in the present moment. We shouldn’t think, I’ll be peaceful later or that once the mortgage is paid off then I’ll work on peacefulness. Peace can only happen in the now. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Each moment is a chance for us to make peace with the world, to make peace possible for the world, to make happiness possible for the world.”  We will not be able to do this all at once or be it all of the time. But, it is important that we work gradually, changing ourselves a little bit every day. I find that the practice of loving-kindness meditation practice can be a great help in cultivating these positive states and feelings not only toward our family and friends, but also to strangers, and even to our enemies.

 

Following these steps will not immediately change the world and stop horrible violence in its tracks. But, I believe that patient growth and change in ourselves will eventually change the world. I like to think of non-violent, loving, compassionate actions as creating ripples on the pond. Acts of kindness and compassion toward others inspires them to be kind and compassionate, that inspires the people around them to be kind and compassionate, etc. etc. etc. Peacefulness infects others who become more peaceful which, in turn, infect others to become more peaceful, etc. etc. etc. These are ripples moving throughout the ocean of humanity creating good and promoting good. We can change the world, but we must start small with ourselves, creating peace within. This will over time result in the elimination of violence and the promotion of peace and harmony.

 

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

 

― Thich Nhat Hanh

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are a also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts