Why Mindfulness Matters

By Jason Marsh | May 17, 2010 | 6 comments

This month on Greater Good, experts explain the benefits of mindfulness--and how you can cultivate it.

It’s been 30 years since Jon Kabat-Zinn launched his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. What began as a bit of a lark—an attempt by a molecular biologist to bring Buddhist meditation (minus the Buddhism) into the mainstream of medicine—has grown into a genuine social movement, with variations of the MBSR program developing everywhere from elementary schools to hospitals to the halls of Congress. At the same time, a growing body of research has documented the physical and psychological health benefits of practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks.

Still, the term “mindfulness” is likely to raise more than a few questions. For starters: What, exactly, is it?

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness,” writes Kabat-Zinn in his groundbreaking book Full Catastrophe Living. “It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives.”

Kabat-Zinn has made it his life’s work to promote secular applications of mindfulness. And this month on Greater Good, we’re highlighting why that work is so important.

Throughout the month, we’ll be featuring stories by pioneers who have applied Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program to different realms, from schools to prisons to childbirth and parenting education to the lives of Iraq war veterans. Each story is unique, but they all demonstrate the profound benefits that can come from cultivating mindfulness: reduced stress, heightened compassion and self-control, and a deeper engagement with the people in our lives. And they all make clear that these benefits can be made available to almost anyone with proper training.

This training can take different forms. Kabat-Zinn has stressed that although mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation, that’s not the only way.

“It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum,” he said in his presentation at a recent Greater Good Science Center event. “It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”

Video from that dynamic and inspiring presentation, part of the GGSC’s new “Science of a Meaningful Life” series, is also a highlight on Greater Good this month—a terrific opportunity to watch Kabat-Zinn elucidate the practice and the purpose of mindfulness.

You’ll also find other mindfulness resources, including tips for teaching mindfulness to kids and links to leading organizations that study and teach mindfulness.

And all of these valuable resources are collected in “The Greater Good Guide to Mindfulness”—the first in a series of “Greater Good Guides” we’re publishing on our website as a way to dig deeper into some of Greater Good‘s key themes. The guides are available only to members of the Greater Good Science Center—good reason to start your membership today!

Taken together, from Kabat-Zinn’s video presentation to our many articles on the topic, we hope these materials provide a better sense of what mindfulness is, what its benefits are, how it’s practiced, and how you might cultivate more of it in your own life.

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About The Author

Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.


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I attended the research symposium at the most recent annual MBSR conference that is held at the University of Massachusetts and wrote an article about it here:


I think that learning to be mindful of our emotions, especially so that we recognize when we are angry or irritable and likely to lash out at others, so that we can avoid doing so, is a promising way to contribute to the Greater Good.

Rick Heller | 3:58 pm, June 7, 2010 | Link


I find the comment interesing that mindfulness is moment to moment (of witnessing with the view of learning and growing,all ending in happiness to self and others.)

Mfanafuthi Donald Hugh Goba | 2:15 am, December 16, 2010 | Link


yes i think this is wonderful and has been a hope for me for a lon time now . meditation should be part of school programs and this is a movement that is truly great. meditation is the key to the deep healing we need on our planet and inour hearts.
<a >guided meditation</a>

guided meditation | 4:16 pm, January 21, 2011 | Link


Not only through mindfulness is life meaningful, you also have to experience flow by understanding your most valuable life goals and work towards them.  If you liked Kabat-Zinn book “Full Catastrophe Living,” you will also like reading “Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness” by Mihaly Csikszentmihali

Victor | 1:54 pm, January 31, 2011 | Link


Wow, the video of Jon Kabat-Zinn is really a must-see! You’ve got to be grateful to find this kind of material. Thanks to your site!

Cours de guitare | 12:30 pm, February 16, 2011 | Link


Very powerful article—great insight into creating
powerful and diverse curricula.

earn money | 9:42 am, November 16, 2011 | Link

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