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Psychological Inquiry
An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory
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Lumping and Splitting in the Study of Meaning
in Life: Thoughts on Surfing, Surgery, Scents, and
Todd B. Kashdan, Jonathan Rottenberg, Fallon R. Goodman, David J.
Disabato & Ena Begovic
To cite this article: Todd B. Kashdan, Jonathan Rottenberg, Fallon R. Goodman, David J.
Disabato & Ena Begovic (2015) Lumping and Splitting in the Study of Meaning in Life: Thoughts
on Surfing, Surgery, Scents, and Sermons, Psychological Inquiry, 26:4, 336-342
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Lumping and Splitting in the Study of Meaning in Life:
Thoughts on Surfing, Surgery, Scents, and Sermons
Todd B. Kashdan
Department of Psychology and Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, George Mason University, Fairfax,
Jonathan Rottenberg
Department of Psychology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
Fallon R. Goodman and David J. Disabato
Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
Ena Begovic
Department of Psychology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
For thousands of years, philosophers have been
debating what a meaningful life entails and the best
way to create one. In their article, Garland, Farb,
Goldin, and Fredrickson (this issue) offer a compre-
hensive account of one such pathway that origi-
nates with the act of mindfulness. Specifically,
when people are faced with negative life events,
they should deploy mindfulness techniques to
receive a chain of benefits, which include a positive
reappraisal of said events, that in turn increase the
likelih ood of positive emotions, w hi ch can then be
savored and ultimately transformed into a greater
sense of meaning and purpose in life (see Figure 1
in Garland et al., this issue). This pathway has
been anointed the mindfulness-to-meaning theory.
In this commentary, w e place this theory in a wider
perspective and consider several neglected issues
regarding how mindfulness may relate to meaning
and purpose in life.
First, meaning in life is irreducible to a single
pathway. We reintr oduce the concept of equifinality
where diverse pathways, including chance events,
can be substituted to attain the same goal (e.g., Cic-
chetti & Rogosch, 1996). We illustrate and lay out
several different ways that meaning in life can be
obtained. Mindfulness to meaning is integrated into a
wider review of how people can create meaning in
Second, we reintroduce the concept of multifinal-
ity (e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema & Watkins, 2011) where
the same initial conditions, in this case mindfulness
and posi tive reappraisal, may lead to a variety of out-
comes—and only one of them is a greater sense of
meaning in life. We question whether science
requires a new theory about each individual mindful-
ness outcome. In our view, it would be a greater sci-
entific advancement to delineate the full range of
outcomes afforded by a particular behavior (the
benefits and the costs) and to specify the contexts that
the benefits (or the costs) might be stronger or
Third, we question the widespread assumption
about positivity that more is always better. Instead,
we offer an alternative view on the importance of sit-
uational sensitivity, inspired by a growing body of
work suggesting that psychological flexibility trumps
allegiance to any single behavior or strategy such as
mindfulness (Aldao, 2013; Bonanno & Burton, 2013;
Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014; Kashdan & Rotten-
berg, 2010). Taken together, we hope to integrate sev-
eral isolated strands of study into a nuanced
discussion of mindfulness and meaning.
The Architecture of Meaning
Experiencing a sense of meaning can be profound.
Consider the new perspective of a cancer patient who
was given decades of extra life following a successful
surgery on her tumor. Meaning can also be mundane,
as a teenager stares into the sky at a cloud formation
that resembles a manatee. If you were to read articles
and books by the leading researchers and theorists in
psychology, philosophy, economics, and biology to
understand the nature of meaning in life, there would
be no single definition or structure. Rather than trying
to create a single definition of meaning from this
gigantic corpus of work, we would argue that it is
more beneficial to view meaning in life within the
context of personality development.
Garland et al.’s (this issue) article illustrates the
difficulty of lumping the different operations of
meaning into a single overarching construct. In this
case, the construct is “eudaimonic meaning,” which
“is characterized by a sense of purpose and
Psychological Inquiry, 26: 336–342, 2015
Copyright Ó Taylor and Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1047-840X print / 1532-7965 online
DOI: 10.1080/1047840X.2015.1073659
Downloaded by [] at 21:34 24 November 2015
meaningful, positive engagement with life that arises
when one’s life activities are congruent with deeply
held values even under conditions of adversity”
(p. 294). It is virtually impossible to unpack this sort
of definition because nearly every one of the key
terms—purpose, positive engagement, values, con-
gruence between activities and values, and adversity,
and even the term eudaimonia,isambiguous, as there
are literally dozens of potential defining features
(Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008). Because
the authors do not define the elements of “eudaimonic
meaning,” we offer a different approach that captures
the importance and diversity of meaning operations.
First, ther e is the difference between meaning
derived from the extent to which people comprehend,
make sense of, or see significance in their lives, and
the presence of a purpose in life. These two features
of meaning are not interchangeable. As a concrete
example, one of us is ripped from the present moment
almost every time they smell cow manure, as the
scent evokes nostalgic memories of traveling through
the Amish country, when their mother informed them
of how this typically abhorrent smell is pleasant to
her. It is a mixed emotional memory of sadness and
love of a deceased parent. A reminder of ti mes spent
together and new memories that will never be forged.
This reflexive reaction to the scent bypasses mindful-
ness and positive reappraisal, elements that are cen-
tral to the mindfulness-to-meaning theory (Garland
et al., this issue) and instead is based on a strong
learning history. A life history of punishment and
reinforcement leads a person to comprehend who
they are; what is important in their past, present, and
future; and in turn aids in the construction of their
personal life narrative (McAdams , 2001).
This sense-making is distinct from what is referred
to as a purpose in life. Comprehending life signifi-
cance or meaning from clouds, scents, or books is far
different from having a purpose, mission, or over-
arching life aim (e.g., George & Park, 2013). We rely
on the definition from our prior work to offer clarity
on the topic:
Purpose is defined as a central, self-organizing life
aim. Central in that if present, purpose is a predomi-
nant theme of a person’s identity. If we envision a
person positioning descriptors of their personality on
a dartboard, purpose would be near the innermost,
concentric circle. Purpose is self-organizing in that it
provides a framework for systematic behavior pat-
terns in everyday life. Self-organization should be
evident in the goals people create, the effort devoted
to these goals, and decision-making when confronted
with competing options of how to allocate finite
resources such as time and energy. A purpose moti-
vates a person to dedicate resources in particular
directions and toward particular goals and not others.
That is, terminal goals and projects are an outgrowth
of a purpose. As a life aim, a purpose cannot be
achieved. Instead, there are continual targets for
efforts to be devoted. (Kashdan & McKnight, 2009,
p. 304)
Comprehen d ing meaning from event s does not
necessarily offer insight into how one’s life should
be led, and in contrast, a purpose in life does. Over
the course of a 14-year longitudinal study,
researchers have found that people endorsing a
greater sense of purpose in life live longer than
their peers (Hill & Turiano, 2014), and merely
reflecting on one’s purpose in life leads to attenu-
ated stress responses (Creswell et al., 2005). Using
a methodology that captures what happens from
one day to the next, researchers found that on days
when people with anxiety disorders devote consid-
erable effort or make progress toward a purpose in
life, there is evidence of considerable increases in
daily self-esteem, positive emotions, and a sense of
meaning in life (Kashdan & McKnight, 2013).
When guiding people toward great er well-being,
the strategies used to enhance comprehension about
events are different from those used to aid in the
creation and commitment to a purpose in life (e.g.,
Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006).
Second, the comprehension of life events can be
further separated into the acts of detection and con-
struction . Specifically, “people m ay readily connect
an event to pre-existing beliefs (i.e., meaning detec-
tion) or engage in a constructive process to come to
a sense of meaning (i.e., meaning construction)”
(King & Hicks, 2009, p. 317). Detected meaning is
akin to assimilating new exper iences into pree xist-
ing ideas about oneself, others, and the world.
Being completely immersed in a sermon given at
one’s church, nodding and clapping at ideas that
match your worldview, can be thought of as a
moment where meanin g is detected. These engaging
behaviors in churc h reflect the more active va riant
of detecting meaning. The detection of meaning can
also be more intuitive, such as the feeling one gets
when an experience feels right (Heintzelman &
King, 2014). There is the feeling of meaning when
rushing to a s urgery appointment, and after hitting
three red lights, there is the sense that something or
someone is conspiring against you, as if it would be
better to avoid the surgery this time. Gut feelings
and vi bes are folk terms for the detection of every-
day life meaning—immediate, visceral reactions of
whether a bearded stranger is trustworthy or a walk
in the d ark woods is safe. These int uitiv e acts of
meaning detection do not require mindfulness, posi-
tive reappraisal, or savoring (Garland et al., this
issue) because, by definition, they occur on the
fringes of conscious awaren ess and invo lve heuristic
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By contrast, the construction of meaning is a reflec-
tive, mental act. When reference is made to posttrau-
matic growth, this is the act of uncovering benefits as
a result of struggling with an adverse event, such as an
increased recognition of one’s psychological strengths,
appreciating the quality of existing social relation-
ships, or a deepening sense of spirituality. The act of
creating or altering the meaning of events is at core of
cognitive therapy techniques, where the goal is to help
people view and experience internal and external
events in such a way that irrational and maladaptive
thoughts are minimized and healthier alternatives are
given greater credence. These strategies allow people
to change the meaning ascribed to a particular event or
situation, from receiving intense criticism to a work
proposal to receiving an HIV diagnosis.
Due to space constraints, we cannot discuss all of
the variants in which people form meaning in their
lives, including hybrid combinations. What should be
clear is that equifinality prevails. Mindfulness is only
one among dozens of psychological processes that may
be relevant to creating meaning in life. Perhaps most
strikingly, we see that more often than not the polar
opposite of mindfulness processes (i.e., automatic or
intuitive reactions) is involved in increasing meaning.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Beyond Meaning
in Life
In the prior section, we focused on the various
ways that meaning can be enhanced. In this section,
we briefly discuss how greater meaning in life is only
one of several benefits of mindfulness. This is the
concept of multifinality, a process by which an initial
condition or set of conditions may lead to several dif-
ferent outcomes. There are hundreds of high-quality
scientific studies to suggest that mindfulness is linked
to a wide range of psychological, social, and physical
health benefits outside of meaning in life (e.g.,
Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007; Grossman, Nie-
mann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
Meaning or purpose in life is only one facet of
well-being. Depending on the well-being theory, there
are dozens of different facets: self-esteem, environ-
mental mastery, positive relations with others, personal
autonomy, personal competence, personal growth,
physical health, subjective happiness, life satisfaction,
positive affect, (lack of) negative affect, (lack of)
depression, vitality, personal expressiveness, and
others (Diener, 2009; Joseph, Linley, Harwood, Lewis,
& McCollam, 2004; Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Ryff
& Singer, 2008; Waterman, 2013). This begs the ques-
tion why Garland et al. (this issue) focus solely on
meaning in life in their theory of mindfulness.
Is it because mindfulness relates uniquely to mean-
ing in life? A quick review of the literature suggests
that this position is untenable because trait mindful-
ness correlates moderately to strongly with positive
affect, life satisfaction, vitality, autonomy, compe-
tence, positive relations with others, self-esteem, and
others (Bowlin & Baer, 2012; Brown & Ryan, 2003).
Further, mindfulness training predicts less anxiety,
depression, perceived stress, somatization, and
greater self-esteem, environmental mastery, positive
relations with others, personal autonomy, and per-
sonal growth (Carmody & Baer, 2008; Grossman,
Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
Indeed, it would be difficult to argue from our
present knowledge that mindfulness more strongly
relates to meaning in life compared to other well-
being facets. One study found trait mindfulness corre-
lated about the same with meaning in life as with
other facets of well-being (Bowlin & Baer, 2012).
Mindfulness training studies, however, have failed to
find increases in meaning in life (e.g., Kieviet-Stij-
nen, Visser, Garssen, & Hudig, 2008). The lack of
definitive studies on mindfulness and meaning in life
suggests a gap in the psychological literature that
Garland and colleagues (this issue) address.
Sometimes Lumping Is Wiser Than Spli tting
Mindfulness is associated with a multitude of
benefits. Is it wise to create a new theory each time
we notice a connection between mindfulness and a
benefit, and derive one or two possible mechanisms
for this connection, such as mindfulness-to-weight-
loss or mindfulness-to-vitality? This is the splitting
approach. Splitting will help identify specific mecha-
nisms for certain outcomes, but it will also lead to
isolated strands of research, where people who are
working on related problems do not learn from
another, a state of affairs likely to hamper long-term
scientific progress.
Mindfulness is associated with a better quality of
life, adaptive self-regulation, better physical health,
and high-quality social interactions and relationships.
We suggest that the lumping approach will be more
helpful to researchers, practitioners, and public policy-
makers. Fortunately, lumpers are winning out in con-
temporary research on the benefits o f mindfulness,
where it is becoming typical to include a range of
mindfulness-related outcomes and posit a range of
mechanisms to account for these effects (e.g., Baer,
2003; Brown et al., 2007; Grossman et al., 2004; Gu,
Strauss, Bond, & Cavanagh, 2015; H
olzel et al.,
Flexibility Trumps an Allegiance to Mindfulness
Mindfulness techniques have often been presented
by researchers and practitioners, including in the
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mindfulness to meaningfulness theory, as an alloyed
good (e.g., Garland et al., this issue). The implication
is, The more mindfulness is used, the better off one
will be. This implication strikes us as premature in
several ways. In fact, we propose that across the
whole of psychological functioning there is almost no
evidence for unmitigated positive behaviors and per-
sonality traits (e.g., Grant & Schwartz, 2011; Kash-
dan & Biswas-Diener, 2014).
First, there is an assumption that everyone ca n
share in the benefits of mindfulness because those
who are low on trait mi ndfulness can be taught to
be more mindful (based on preliminary evidence
that mindfulness is malleable; e.g., Shapiro, Oman,
Thoresen, Plante, & Flinders, 2008). The idea of
universal benefits would be true only if (a) all peo-
ple can be taught to be mindful and ( b) the benefits
of altering mindfulness are uniform. Given that
most psychological interventions are characterized
by large individual differences (Harkness & Lilien-
feld, 1997; Westen, Novotny, & Thompson-Bren-
ner, 2004), people are likely to vary considerably
in how easily trait mindfulness can be increased.
Even if all people received uniform increases in
trait mindful ne ss, bene fits to well-being are also
unlikely to be uniform (some people may receive
no benefits to well-being, or even decreases in
well-being, even if well-being increases on average
across a study sample). A number of variables may
moderate for whom mindfulness may help. Indeed,
in the broader literature on self-regulation, there is
an increasing awareness of the fallacy of uniform
consequences when deploying emotion regulatory
responses (Bonanno & Burton, 2013).
A second, related implication of the argument is
that the benefits of mindfulness apply across situa-
tions. This could not be true, in our view. Mindful-
ness loses its effectiveness when a person needs to
use evaluative thinking to perform the task at hand.
Mindfulness essentially prevents improvisation. For
instance, would Garland and colleagues (this issue)
advise a cardiac surgeon to “decenter” during a heart
transplant? No, because the surgeon needs to evaluate
how the procedure is going and plan the next step.
What about an adolescent quarterback playing for his
high school football team? No, because he needs to
evaluate the opponent’s defense and decide whether
to call an audible. One can come up with many exam-
ples where a mindful stance is inimica l to situational
demands—it will not ensure you hit a major league
curveball, give a speech, write a report, play the
piano, and so on. Although there is little syst ematic
research on the lack of usefulness or harm of mindful-
ness, it is likely to be problematic in some respects.
Evidently, it has a deleterious effect on implicit learn-
ing (Stillman, Feldman, Wambach, Howard, &
Howard, 2014).
Even if we restrict the discussion of mindfulness to
the favored case of responding to negative life events,
it is doubtful that mindfulness is always the best
response to deploy. For example, if an individual
encounters a stressful event but does not possess the
cognitive resources needed to engage in the taxing
mental operation of mindfulness, a less cognitively
demanding—but equally effective—emotion regula-
tion strategy might be the most beneficial (Aldao,
2013; Bonanno & Burton, 2013). For example, if an
individual experiences deep psychological pain, and
consequently has depleted cognitive resources,
deploying a less cognitive-demanding emotion regu-
lation strategies (e.g., physical activity) may be a bet-
ter approach for down regulating negative emotion
than mindfulness (Hopko, Lejuez, Ruggerio, &
Eifert, 2003). As we underscore elsewhere, the key to
effective emotion regulation and increased well-being
is not in adopting a mindful stance uniformly but
rather flexibility in using the most appropriate strat-
egy in a particular context (Kashdan & Rottenberg,
How do we know which situations are the ones
best suited for mindfulness? Here mindfulness
researchers offer little guidance. Although Garland
et al. (this issue) acknowledge that “the optimal
‘dose’ or duration of decentering required may
depend upon the intensity of the stressor and the
strength of the conditioned response that the practi-
tioner is attempting to moderate” (p. 298), it is impos-
sible to act on this statement, because the relevant
dependencies are not specified. Because mindfulness
could be employed in most situations, but is only use-
ful in some situations, research is urgently needed to
provide guidance about when mindfulness could be
deployed to good effect.
For example, is it wise to deploy mindfulness tech-
niques whe n well-being is already being boosted, as
during positive life events (e.g., Tamir, in press)?
What is the effect of deploying mindful decentering
during a marriage ceremony, receipt of a big promo-
tion, or when one’s favorite sports team has won a
championship? Unfortunately, the effects of mindful-
ness during positive event processing are less well
studied than deploying mindfulness responses to
stressors/negative events. It is plausible that deploy-
ing mindfulness during positive events and savoring
experiences may override automatic responses that
are helpful. Three concrete examples illustrate this
First, consider moments of flow (Csikszentmiha-
lyi, 1975) when someone is deeply immersed in a
task where the challenge is a near perfect match for
their skills, and the experience involves a loss of
self-awareness, effortless self-regulation, ignorance
of the passage of time, a sense of control and intense
concentration, and the pursuit of clear goals. This is a
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common experience when surfing a 10-ft ocean swell
or being swept into the rhythm of swaying and clap-
ping peers during the house of worship sermon. This
merger of actor and action when in flow has been
shown by scientists to be antithetical to mindfulness
(e.g., Sheldon, Prentice, & Halusic, 2015). The unin-
tended consequences of strategic attempts to remain
mindful include attenuating one’s experience of flow
and the ingrained heuristics from years of training
that allow for exceptional performance (Todd &
Gigerenzer, 2000).
Second, strategically aiming for mindful nonjudg-
ment and nonattachment to the object of one’s atten-
tion in the present moment may reduce people’s
ability to indulge in the anticipation and consumption
of pleasurable events (Gard, Gard, Kring, & John,
2006). It is a source of well-being, not a problem, to
get excited about an upcoming party with friends by
intentionally pulling for fantasies of intense laughter
and romantic liaisons (cognitively processing what
might happen), and replaying the events on the way
home, pushing for details from every interesting
moment from whoever is still around (cognitively
processing what did happen). These moments of
judgment and attachment with what might go right
(the anticipation phase) or did go right (the consump-
tion phase) deviates from mindfulness and yet is a
source of healthy emotions, cognitions, personal
growth, and relationsh ips.
Third, there is surprising evidence that people
can produce meaningful social interactions without
mindful processing of the world. For instance,
researchers tested the idea that pairing the physical
motion of approach with positive, harmless images
of Black strangers might lead to the belief that
they are as approachable, important, and worthy of
care and concern as any White human being. Peo-
ple that had repeatedly been trained to physically
pull a joystick toward them while being exposed
to images of strangers of a different race (essen-
tially bringing a Black child holding a puppy
toward them) showed a 46.5% drop in prejudicial
beliefs compared to adults without any physical
movement training (Kawakami, Phills, Steele, &
Dovidio, 2007; Phills, Kawakami, Tabi, Nadolny,
& Inzlicht, 2011). Moreover, upon walking into a
room, these same White adults sat six times closer
to a Black stranger (an actor trained to sit down
first), smiled more often, and m ade greater eye
contact when talking. With careful consideration
of equifinality, there is growing evidence that
automatic responding, which reflect a d ifferent
mode of mental functioning than mindfulness, may
lead to meaningful, prosocial social behaviors.
Beyond the context-dependent use of emotion reg-
ulation strategies, the value of all emotion states, pos-
itive and negative, requires explicit consideration
(Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014; Tamir, in press).
Our view is that some circumstances call for eliciting
and maintaining (at least temporarily) negative emo-
tions and thoughts, and that such cultivation of nega-
tive emotion may actually be needed for long-term
well-being. For instance, exposure therapy, the gold
standard for treating various anxiety-based disorders,
is effective despite promoting an approach that stands
in stark contrast to “decentering” (Powers & Emmel-
kamp, 2008; Rauch, Eftekhari, & Ruzek, 2012).
Despite the lack of psychological distance and pro-
motion of positive reappraisal, being exposed to and
fully immersed in a distressing experience can none-
theless aid in the meaning-making process and
increase well-being (Mendlowicz & Stein, 2000).
Concluding Thoughts
Mindfulness represents an important tool to aug-
ment psychological health. That said, there is suffi-
cient theory, research, and common real-life situations
to suggest that it would be problematic to train individ-
uals to rely solely on mindfulness as opposed to devel-
oping a strong sense of situational awareness and a
broad repertoire of self-regulation strategies to obtain
the most desired outcomes in varied contexts. We
need research designed to achieve a better understand-
ing of when and where exactly mindfulness is helpful
(and hurtful) to human functioning. We note that this
research cannot advance on this front without stronger
more convincing assessments of when mindfulness is
present in the first place (state mindfulness). Mindful-
ness remains largely an occult construct. Not only are
the most commonly used self-report measures of
mindfulness error-prone because humans have diffi-
culty reporting on complex psychological constructs
without considerable error and bias (e.g., Grossman,
2011; Kashdan, Barrett, & McKnight, 2015; Robinson
& Clore, 2002), the neurological patterns discussed in
the mindfulness-to-meaning theory as alternative
measures of mindfulness are far from fully established;
such neurological patterns have only a probabilistic
relationship to other metrics of mindfulness, leaving
the field without a “gold standard” measure.
After the measurement of mindfulness has pro-
gressed, a clearer understanding of how a person
moves from acts of mindfulness to a sense of mean-
ing and purpose in life is required. We have delin-
eated the complexity of describing meaning in life as
a single psychological phenomenon. There is suffi-
cient theory and research to distinguish the compre-
hension of life from the presence and pursuit of a
purpose in life. Furthermore, there is value in separat-
ing the detection and creation of meaning in life, as
the most common acts of making sense of the world
involves automatic reactions, heuristics, and intuition,
Downloaded by [] at 21:34 24 November 2015
which involve operations that often run counter to
mindfulness. With greater connective tissue to prior
work, much is to be gained by fleshing out why and
when mindfulness and meaning in life are linked, and
how these paths may differ as we consider a range of
psychological, physical, and social benefits.
Todd B. Kashdan was financially supported as a
Senior Scientist of the Center for the Advancement of
Well-Being, George Mason University. Fallon R.
Goodman was supported as Doctoral Research Fel-
low by the same center.
Address correspondence to Todd B. Kashdan,
Department of Psychology, MS 3F5, George Mason
University, Fairfax, VA 22030. E-mail: tkash-
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... Given the importance of meaning in life, it is essential to identify potential avenues to help people realize their meaning. One potential avenue is through mindfulness, as proposed by various researchers (e.g., Garland et al. 2015;Kashdan et al. 2015). ...
... The broadened awareness allows us to detect the positively valanced aspects of the self and the world, which induces more positive emotions to further broaden our awareness. However, this theory is not free from criticism, including their lumping of positive emotions and meaning together (Kashdan et al. 2015). Nevertheless, the theory, originally targeting stress, could be expanded to address how mindfulness could contribute to meaning in life in general as some empirical evidence identified in our meta-analysis appears to support the theory. ...
... The literature has only considered one mechanism from mindfulness to meaning. However, the concept of equifinality (Kashdan et al. 2015) states that there might be diverse pathways to achieve the same goal. We proposed that nonattachment and present-focus might be other mechanisms from mindfulness to meaning. ...
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Objectives Mindfulness-based interventions have been widely applied to various populations with demonstrated effects in reducing physical and psychological distress. However, it is equally important to investigate whether, and how, mindfulness might enhance people’s psychological well-being. One important dimension of well-being is meaning in life. We systematically analyzed the correlational relationship between mindfulness and meaning in life and whether randomized controlled trials of mindfulness-based interventions could enhance meaning in life. Methods A comprehensive literature search identified 22 studies (25 samples, N = 7895) for the meta-analysis of the relationship between mindfulness and meaning in life, and 9 studies (11 samples, N = 912) for the meta-analysis of the effects of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of mindfulness-based interventions on meaning in life. Results Cross-sectional correlation between mindfulness and meaning was estimated to be .37, a moderate effect size. RCTs of mindfulness-based interventions had a moderate effect size on meaning (Hedge’s g = 0.53). Our systematic review indicated that the effect of mindfulness on meaning was mediated by decentering, authentic self-awareness, and attention to positive experience. Conclusions Overall, these findings showed the promise of applying mindfulness-based interventions to enhance meaning in life. However, more empirical studies with an active control group are required to establish the effects of mindfulness-based interventions above and beyond placebo effect.
... More specifically, positive psychology interventions (PPIs) have been successfully used to strengthen positive mental states and a variety of well-being variables (Parks and Biswas-Diener 2013). Kashdan et al. (2015) indicated that mindfulness responses to stressors and negative events are much more studied than the effect of mindfulness during positive event processing. Similarly, Lindsay and Creswell (2015) claimed that new studies are needed where mindfulness interventions attempt to increase positive well-being variables as part of the training. ...
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The purpose of the present study was to test the efficacy of an 8-week online intervention-based Positive Mindfulness Program (PMP) that integrated mindfulness with a series of positive psychology variables, with a view to improving well-being scores measured in these variables. The positive mindfulness cycle, based on positive intentions and savouring, provides the theoretical foundation for the PMP. The study was based on a randomised wait-list controlled trial, and 168 participants (128 females, mean age = 40.82) completed the intervention which included daily videos, meditations and activities. The variables tested included well-being measures, such as gratitude, self-compassion, self-efficacy, meaning and autonomy. Pre- and post-intervention data, including 1 month after the end of the intervention, were collected from both experimental and control groups. The posttest measurements of the experimental participants showed a significant improvement in all the dependent variables compared with the pre-test ones and were also significantly higher than those of the control group. One month after the intervention, the experimental group participants retained their improvement in 10 out of the 11 measurements. These positive results indicate that PMP may be effective in enhancing wellbeing and other positive variables in adult, non-clinical populations.
Purpose Mental wellbeing brings in multiple benefits to employees and their organizations like better decision-making capacity, greater productivity, resilience and so on. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship of a few antecedents of mental wellbeing like workplace spirituality, mindfulness and self-compassion, using structural equation modeling (SEM). Design/methodology/approach Using the convenience sampling method, data were collected from 333 employees of various organizations in India and SEM was performed using the R Program to test the hypotheses. Findings Results suggest that mindfulness and self-compassion influenced the mental wellbeing of employees. It was also observed that workplace spirituality has a significant influence on both mindfulness and self-compassion. Originality/value An in-depth review of the literature revealed that no previous studies had examined the complex relationship between workplace spirituality, mindfulness, self-compassion and the mental wellbeing of employees. This research suggests that workplace spirituality, mindfulness and self-compassion are important factors that influence employees' mental wellbeing, and it empirically tests this in a developing country context. The present study enriches the literature studies on mental wellbeing, mindfulness, self-compassion and workplace spirituality by integrating “mindfulness to meaning theory”, “socio-emotional selectivity theory”, and “broaden and build theory”.
The objective of this research was to evaluate the effect of positive mindfulness training program on stress response and depression symptoms in male adolescents with depression symptoms in Isfahan. The current research was a quasi-experimental design with pre-test, post-test and follow-up and a control group. A total of 40 students were selected from second grade high school male students in Isfahan during the academic year 2016-2017, based on the inclusion criteria and multi-stage cluster sampling procedures. The experimental group received positive mindful-ness program for 8 sessions of 90 minutes. Subjects were evaluated by Stress Response Inventory (Kuh Park, Kim & Chow, 2001) and Beck Depression Inventory-Second Edition (Beck, Stear & Brown, 1996). Data were analyzed by repeated measures analysis of variance analysis. The results showed the effect of positive mindfulness training on stress response and depression symptoms in post-test and follow up stages (p <0.01).
Depression is a common disorder in adolescence. One of the most common variables influencing depression is self-compassion. Considering the effectiveness of third wave therapy such as mindfulness and positive psychology in depression disorders, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of positive mindfulness training program on self-compassion of male adolescents with depressive symptoms. The study design was quasi-experimental with pre-test-post-test and follow-up and control group. From among the male students of secondary high schools of Isfahan in the academic year of 2017-2018, 40 cases were selected according to the inclusion criteria (using the Beck Depression Scale) and multistage cluster sampling. Then they were randomly placed in control and experimental groups. The experimental group received 8 sessions of 90 minutes based on positive mindfulness training program. All subjects were assessed through Self-Compassion Scale and Beck Depression Inventory-II. Data were analyzed by ANOVA with repeated measure test. The results indicated the effectiveness of the positive mindfulness training program on the components of self-discipline, isolating and expanding in post-test and follow-up but it was only significant in the component of human commonality and mindfulness in the follow up. It was concluded that positive mindfulness training program increases self-compassion, /therefore it plays an important role in reducing the outcomes of depression disorder for adolescents and their families and can be used as a supportive program for these cales.
A seemingly universal lesson is that anything taken to its extreme is detrimental. Indeed, there has been growing interest in testing this idea within psychology. These studies have often been framed in terms of Aristotle's doctrine of the golden mean or the idea that virtue lies between the vices of deficiency and excess. Recent explicit reviews of this hypothesis in the psychological literature has led to the paradoxical conclusion that one can have too much virtue (i.e., the too-much-of-a-good-thing effect), despite virtue being identified by the golden mean. We argue in this paper that this conclusion is due to a reductionist account of virtues in psychology and the resultant measurement of virtues as general dispositional tendencies in behavior. We review philosophical theory on the golden mean to show that the relationship between virtue and relevant behavior is fundamentally about situation-specific optimality. Using schematic models, we contrast the former measurement approach against the latter to explain the too-much-of-a-good-thing effect and further demonstrate why virtues cannot be properly measured as general tendencies in behavior. We conclude with methodological implications of our theory-informed approach to virtue measurement for research design, evaluation, and conceptualization.
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When people judge their lives as meaningful, what is this judgment about? Drawing on recent tripartite theoretical accounts of meaning in life (MIL), we tested the separate contributions of coherence (or comprehension), purpose, and existential mattering (or significance) as potential precursors of people’s self-reported evaluations of MIL. In Study 1 (N = 314 social media users), we developed brief acquiescence-free measures of these constructs, confirming that sense of coherence, purpose, mattering, and MIL judgments were distinct from each other and from related constructs (sense of control, belonging, self-esteem, self-competence, mood). In Study 2 (N = 168 students) and Study 3 (N = 442 Prolific Academic respondents; preregistered), we collected longitudinal data to test temporal relationships between coherence, purpose, mattering, and MIL judgments over a 1-month time lag. In both studies, sense of mattering consistently emerged as a significant precursor of MIL judgments, whereas sense of purpose and coherence did not. We conclude that researchers and practitioners should pay more attention to the relatively neglected dimension of existential mattering, beyond their more common emphases on coherence or purpose as bases of meaningfulness.
Previous studies have shown that self-acceptance is associated with psychological well-being, including psychological symptoms and life satisfaction. The present study focused on gastrointestinal cancer patients and investigated the mechanism between self-acceptance and psychological well-being among those patients, by considering the mediator role of meaning in life. A total of 292 patients with gastrointestinal cancer were recruited to complete a series of questionnaires including Self-Acceptance Questionnaire (SAQ), Chinese version of Meaning in Life Questionnaire (CMLQ), General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) and Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS). Results showed that the proposed model fitted the data very well (χ²/df = 2.06, GFI = 0.980, CFI = 0.979, TLI = 0.956, RMSEA = 0.061). Further analyses revealed that, the meaning in life mediated the relation between self-acceptance and psychological well-being, including psychological symptoms (indirect effect = −0.094, 95% CI = −0.155~-0.035) and life satisfaction (indirect effect = 0.243, 95% CI = 0.154 ~ 0.330). Thus, this research supported that meaning in life acts as the mediator between self-acceptance and psychological wellbeing, which is measured by psychological symptoms and life satisfaction. Meaning in life played a critical role in the relation between self-acceptance and psychological well-being. Limitations, clinical implications, and directions for future research were discussed.
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This review organizes a variety of phenomena related to emotional self-report. In doing so, the authors offer an accessibility model that specifies the types of factors that contribute to emotional self-reports under different reporting conditions. One important distinction is between emotion, which is episodic, experiential, and contextual, and beliefs about emotion, which are semantic, conceptual, and decontextualized. This distinction is important in understanding the discrepancies that often occur when people are asked to report on feelings they are currently experiencing versus those that they are not currently experiencing. The accessibility model provides an organizing framework for understanding self-reports of emotion and suggests some new directions for research.
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Mindfulness and flow are both beneficial states of mind, but are they difficult to experience simultaneously? After all, flow involves losing self-awareness within an activity, and mindfulness involves maintaining self-awareness throughout or even despite an activity. In three studies, we examine this potential antagonism, finding negative associations between mindfulness and flow as assessed in a variety of ways and contexts. These associations emerged within Global trait data and diary data concerning daily goal behavior (Study 1), experience-sampling data concerning behavior at the time of signaling (Study 2), and experimental data concerning the experience of playing the flow-conducive computer game, Tetris, after undergoing a mindfulness induction (Study 3). However, these associations only apply to the “absorption” aspect of flow, not the “sense of control” aspect.
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People respond to stressful events in different ways, depending on the event and on the regulatory strategies they choose. Coping and emotion regulation theorists have proposed dynamic models in which these two factors, the person and the situation, interact over time to inform adaptation. In practice, however, researchers have tended to assume that particular regulatory strategies are consistently beneficial or maladaptive. We label this assumption the fallacy of uniform efficacy and contrast it with findings from a number of related literatures that have suggested the emergence of a broader but as yet poorly defined construct that we refer to as regulatory flexibility. In this review, we articulate this broader construct and define both its features and limitations. Specifically, we propose a heuristic individual differences framework and review research on three sequential components of flexibility for which propensities and abilities vary: sensitivity to context, availability of a diverse repertoire of regulatory strategies, and responsiveness to feedback. We consider the methodological limitations of research on each component, review questions that future research on flexibility might address, and consider how the components might relate to each other and to broader conceptualizations about stability and change across persons and situations. © The Author(s) 2013.
Aristotle proposed that to achieve happiness and success, people should cultivate virtues at mean or intermediate levels between deficiencies and excesses. In stark contrast to this assertion that virtues have costs at high levels, a wealth of psychological research has focused on demonstrating the well-being and performance benefits of positive traits, states, and experiences. This focus has obscured the prevalence and importance of nonmonotonic inverted-U-shaped effects, whereby positive phenomena reach inflection points at which their effects turn negative. We trace the evidence for nonmonotonic effects in psychology and provide recommendations for conceptual and empirical progress. We conclude that for psychology in general and positive psychology in particular, Aristotle’s idea of the mean may serve as a useful guide for developing both a descriptive and a prescriptive account of happiness and success.
The Collected Works of Ed Diener, in 3 volumes, present the major works of the leading research scientist studying happiness and well-being. Professor Diener has studied subjective well-being, people’s life satisfaction and positive emotions, for over a quarter of a century, and has published 200 works on the topic, many more than any other scholar. He has studied hundreds of thousands of people in over 140 nations of the world, and the Collected Works present the major findings from those studies. Diener has made many of the major discoveries about well-being, which are outlined in the chapters. The first volume presents the major theory and review papers of Ed Diener. These publications give a broad overview of findings in the field, and the theories of well-being. As such, the first volume is an absolute must for beginning scholars in this area, and offers a clear tutorial to the history of the field and major findings. The second volume focuses on culture. This volume is most unique, and could sell on its own, as it should appeal to cultural psychologists and anthropologists. The findings in the culture area are mostly all derived from the Diener laboratory and his students. Thus, the papers in this volume represent most of the major publications on culture and well-being. Furthermore, this is the area that is least well-known by most scholars. The third volume on measurement is the most applied and practical one because it discusses all the measures used, and presents new measures. Even for those who do not want to study well-being per se, but want to use some well-being measures in their research, this volume will be of enormous help. Volume 1: Gives a broad overview of findings and theories on subjective well-being. Volume 2: Presents most of the major papers on well-being and culture, and the international differences in well-being Volume 3: Presents discussions of measures of well-being and new measures of well-being, and is thus of great value to those who want to select measurement scales for their research Endorsements Over the past several decades Professor Diener has contributed more than any other psychologist to the rigorous research of subjective well-being. The collection of this work in this series is going to be of invaluable help to anyone interested in the study of happiness, life-satisfaction, and the emerging discipline of positive psychology. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology And Management, Claremont Graduate University Ed Diener, the Jedi Master of the world's happiness researchers, has inspired and informed all of us who have studied and written about happiness. His life's work epitomizes a humanly significant psychological science. How wonderful to have his pioneering writings collected and preserved for future students of human well-being, and for practitioners and social policy makers who are working to promote human flourishing. David G. Myers, Hope College, and author, The Pursuit of Happiness. Ed Diener's work on life satisfaction -- theory and research -- has been ground-breaking. Having his collected works available will be a great boon to psychologists and policy-makers alike. Christopher Peterson, Professor of Psychology, Univ. of Michigan By looking at happiness and well-being in many different cultures and societies, from East to West, from New York City to Calcutta slums, and beyond, Ed Diener has forever transformed the field of culture in psychology. Filled with bold theoretical insights and rigorous and, yet, imaginative empirical studies, this volume will be absolutely indispensable for all social and behavioral scientists interested in transformative power of culture on human psychology. Shinobu Kitayama, Professor and Director of the Culture and Cognition Program, Univ. of Michigan Ed Diener is one of the most productive psychologists in the world working in the field of perceived quality of life or, as he prefers, subjective wellbeing. He has served the profession as a researcher, writer, teacher, officer in professional organizations, editor of leading journals, a member of the editorial board of still more journals as well as a member of the board of the Social Indicators Research Book Series. As an admirer of his work and a good friend, I have learned a lot from him, from his students, his relatives and collaborators. The idea of producing a collection of his works came to me as a result of spending a great deal of time trying to keep up with his work. What a wonderful public and professional service it would be, I thought, as well as a time-saver for me, if we could get a substantial number of his works assembled in one collection. In these three volumes we have not only a fine selection of past works but a good number of new ones as well. So, it is with considerable delight that I write these lines to thank Ed and to lend my support to this important publication. Alex C. Michalos, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Chancellor, Director, Institute for Social Research and Evaluation, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Univ. of Northern British Columbia
This article distinguishes between hedonic and eudaimonic approaches to wellness, with the former focusing on the outcome of happiness or pleasure and the latter focusing not so much on outcomes as on the process of living well. We present a model of eudaimonia that is based in self-determination theory, arguing that eudaimonic living can be characterized in terms of four motivational concepts: (1) pursuing intrinsic goals and values for their own sake, including personal growth, relationships, community, and health, rather than extrinsic goals and values, such as wealth, fame, image, and power; (2) behaving in autonomous, volitional, or consensual ways, rather than heteronomous or controlled ways; (3) being mindful and acting with a sense of awareness; and (4) behaving in ways that satisfy basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. In fact, we theorize that the first three of these aspects of eudaimonic living have their positive effects of psychological and physical wellness because they facilitate satisfaction of these basic, universal psychological needs. Studies indicate that people high in eudaimonic living tend to behave in more prosocial ways, thus benefiting the collective as well as themselves, and that conditions both within the family and in society more generally contribute toward strengthening versus diminishing the degree to which people live eudaimonic lives.
Evolving ethical, legal, and financial demands require a plan before treatment begins. The authors argue that individual differences research requires the inclusion of personality trait assessment for the construction and implementation of any treatment plan that would lay claim to scientific status. A primer of personality individual differences for treatment planning is presented, including an introduction to constructive realism and major research findings from trait psychology and behavior genetics bearing on treatment planning. The authors present 4 important gains for treatment planning that can be realized from the science of individual differences in personality: (a) knowing where to focus change efforts, (b) realistic expectations, (c) matching treatment to personality, and (d) development of the self.
Emotion regulation involves the pursuit of desired emotional states (i.e., emotion goals) in the service of superordinate motives. The nature and consequences of emotion regulation, therefore, are likely to depend on the motives it is intended to serve. Nonetheless, limited attention has been devoted to studying what motivates emotion regulation. By mapping the potential benefits of emotion to key human motives, this review identifies key classes of motives in emotion regulation. The proposed taxonomy distinguishes between hedonic motives that target the immediate phenomenology of emotions, and instrumental motives that target other potential benefits of emotions. Instrumental motives include behavioral, epistemic, social, and eudaimonic motives. The proposed taxonomy offers important implications for understanding the mechanism of emotion regulation, variation across individuals and contexts, and psychological function and dysfunction, and points to novel research directions. © 2015 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Being able to carefully perceive and distinguish the rich complexity in emotional experiences is a key component of psychological interventions. We review research in clinical, social, and health psychology that offers insights into the adaptive value of putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity (i.e., emotion differentiation or emotional granularity). According to recent research, upon experiencing intense distress, individuals who experience their emotions with more granularity are less likely to resort to maladaptive self-regulatory strategies such as binge drinking, aggression, and self-injurious behavior; show less neural reactivity to rejection; and experience less severe anxiety and depressive disorders. These findings shed light on how negative emotions and stressful experiences can be transformed by people’s emotion-differentiation skill. Besides basic research suggesting that emotion differentiation is an important developmental process, evidence suggests that interventions designed to improve emotion differentiation can both reduce psychological problems and increase various strands of well-being.