Mindfulness is a practice known to bring many benefits such as reducing high stress and depression levels, enhancing regulation of emotions, improving cognitive function, memory, and mental clarity, among others.
Ideally, it helps the practitioner improve themselves from within. However, when it comes to the outside and how to relate with others, mindfulness is a practice that has been under constant research and investigation.
Here we look at what scientific research has found on how mindfulness practice affects our social habits and what we can do to better our social relations while doing the practice.
The Mindfulness Practice in Brief
Mindfulness is a form of mental training that aims to help us remain aware of the present moment.
It helps us train our minds to let go of the past and future thoughts that bring about worry, anxiety, and regret, and simply focus on the awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the here and now.
It is an Eastern practice that was introduced to the west, for the most part, by 2 people, who are Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat Zinn. And since then, it has been practiced widely by millions across the world.
Mindfulness is known to cause different changes in the brain like increasing the size of the gray matter in the brain which is associated with executive functioning that improves our abilities to plan, solve problems and control our emotions.
It also reduces the size of the amygdala located in the brain, which is linked to stress and anxiety thus helping us be less stressed and anxious, and become more peaceful, calm, and stable.
Moreover, it increases cortical thickness in the brain which translates to better learning abilities and enhanced memory.
There are different ways to cultivate mindfulness in our lives. We can use mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness techniques such as mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful working, visualization, body scan meditation, resting awareness, note-taking, walking meditation, and loving-kindness meditation.
What Scientific Research Says About Mindfulness And Social Habits
When it comes to the research studies on how mindfulness influences our social habits, the results from various studies have been contrasting.
There are 2 popular studies that were conducted by the University at Buffalo’s researchers that looked into this area in-depth and found that mindfulness may not have any positive influence on prosocial behavior (1)(2).
The first study worked with 325 participants who were first given an assessment of their independence and interdependence. After that, they were divided into 2 groups. The first group was taken through mindfulness meditation while the other group acted as the control group.
The mindfulness group received 15 minutes of guided meditation on mindfulness meditation encouraging them to be more mindful while the control group was given recordings that encouraged mind wandering.
In the end, the researchers got all the participants to read an article on charity work and later on asked the participants to volunteer as they wished in packing letters addressed to donors in envelopes for the letters to be sent out.
The results found that the participants in the mindfulness group who volunteered to do the charity work were fewer than those in the control group.
The second study involved 325 participants who were randomly grouped and given paragraphs to read. One paragraph contained statements with “I”, referring to the first person as a way of promoting the sense of independence and the other paragraph had “we” statements promoting the sense of interdependence and unity. Each of the groups was supposed to click on the “I” or “we” pronouns whenever they read them. They were also given meditation recordings with a duration of 15 minutes or they were addressed on mind wandering.
Afterward, they were given an assessment to test their level of independence and interdependence. When finalizing the experiment, the participants were asked to choose the time slots they would prefer to work on charitable activities by helping speak to donors online through chat systems to raise money for organizations.
The results showed that about 70% of the participants shied away from this altruistic act. The participants who had been primed to think and work with interdependence showed a 40% likelihood of volunteering for the charitable cause while the ones primed for independence and who also used mindfulness resources showed a 33% likelihood of not volunteering.
Another study published in Science Direct found that the more people are trained in mindfulness-based meditation and exercises as well as loving-kindness meditation, the more likely they’re to commit their time and money to the service of others (3).
Some researchers suggest that the level of interdependence or independence among people who practice mindfulness is based on how each individual perceives themselves. Since mindfulness is a practice that helps people be aware of their inner and outer environment, it only brings out what is already there. This means that if a person feels independent, they are more likely to show independence even with the practice of mindfulness while those who feel they are interdependent are more likely to show social actions and behaviors (6).
How to be More Social as a Mindfulness Enthusiast
We can make personal efforts to be more social by making a few changes in our lives and being consistent with the changes even as we keep practicing mindfulness. Some of these changes include:
1. Being more open and out there – Most people who find it hard to socialize prefer solitude and doing things on their own. They dread groups of people, and much worse, being the ones who are talking. Also, most people who don’t socialize often become closed and rarely open up.
If you are someone like that, you should consider leaving your comfort zone and pushing yourself to attend parties, group discussions in your school or at work, or any event that is available to you.
2. Improve other aspects of your life – Some people feel inferior to others because they lack certain things that others have, which makes them feel limited to socializing with others. Some of these things that are lacking include our dream bodies, our dream income, and things related to money, or our desired personality, to name a few. The good thing is that all these things can be achieved through effort.
We can work on our bodies through fitness exercises and a good diet. We can get to our dream income level by identifying the things we love to do and figuring out how we can make as much money as we want through the passions we have. And we can enhance our personalities by studying charismatic people who are careful not to upset people in social situations, understand how they win friends while still being careful and try to do the same.
In essence, mindfulness is a reliable self-improvement practice that has been around for centuries and which has benefited hundreds of thousands of people around the world in gaining control of their lives and becoming peaceful, healthier, and happier people.
And while research shows mindfulness doesn’t bring consistent results of improved social behavior, we can still take it upon ourselves to enhance our social lives through the mentioned techniques above.
By being committed and determined to make the techniques work in our lives, and by applying them regularly, we can see improvements in how we speak, listen and treat other people.