Mindfulness or “being in the present moment” is shown to have positive effects on our well being; intrinsic acts can increase happiness and have positive effects on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. These two seemingly very different concepts both have shown to offer similar benefits, decreased stress, relaxation and increased serenity and happiness overall are some of these. Research into happiness has co-mingled different paradigms of thought and experience including classical philosophy and Buddhist practices. Medical and psychological research has begun to give credence to ideas that people have held for a long time. Broadcast star Hugh Downs once said “A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” We are starting to see this sentiment as philosophically, spiritually and physically true.
To better understand how mindfulness and intrinsic actions can affect a person’s sense of well-being and perhaps even cure some diseases it is important to understand how this concept and practice work. Intrinsic actions are based on the concept of intrinsic value; mainly they are actions that in themselves are valuable rather than solely their consequences . Philosopher G.E. Moore describes intrinsic worth in his book the Principia Ethica (1959) as something that is determined by the individual properties of the thing at hand. Something that is “good” is good in itself and for its own sake because of its idiosyncratic unique properties.
“When we assert that a thing is good, what we mean is that its existence or reality is good” (Moore, 1959) Moore proposed a way to test for intrinsic worth with his now famous isolation test. Essentially if you were to take two things and consider them separately as subject A and subject B, you would assess which one would be better to exist alone. If something has intrinsic value, then it is self-evident by the value of its natural state of existence.
If we apply this idea to actions of intrinsic worth we are then dealing with actions that in themselves have value instead of solely the consequence of the action. An interesting angle to this is that if an action bears bad consequences it generally cannot be considered having intrinsic worth as its final state would be a negative. How an action affects people, including the person performing the actions is a factor in considering worth. However instead of the effects themselves being given a value in the equation it is more about the state of being an action creates (Moore, 1959).
For example, if an individual was to go running that act could be considered to have intrinsic value based on positive physical and emotional effects it has on the person while running. Perhaps in this same scenario the run itself is part of a weight loss regime. While running the individual gains a sense of self empowerment and motivation because they are fulfilling a goal. This positive mindset that is the effect of running creates a positive state of existence and happiness. This positive state supports that for this individual, running is an action with intrinsic worth. Another effect of running might perhaps be eventual weight loss over time. This benefit, while wonderful, is an example of extrinsic value.
Extrinsic value is something that has value not for its own sake, but for the sake of something related. In the running example the weight loss has instrumental and extrinsic value because of other things that it fulfills. The weight loss is related to better health and mobility, satisfaction in meeting goals, growing self-esteem, and personal satisfaction in ones physical fitness. While these values are positive they are not factored into running having intrinsic worth. The run is good because of the state it creates, the effects of the weight loss are directly related to the running and its positive state of existence (Zimmerman, 2010).
Mindfulness in contrast refers not to a state of existence but instead a state of mind. Mindfulness is described as being aware and having your attention in the present moment. Many times this will be accompanied by a non judgmental, natural curiosity. Those practicing mindfulness experience a greater sense of acceptance of current circumstance. The application of mindfulness teaches us to accept the current state of things, good or bad, and appreciating it for its experience. It keeps us focused and in the present moment at all time so that we can more fully experience life instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future (Roberts, 2012).
In life we often become disconnected and almost automatic with our actions as we move about our day. Having busy and hectic schedules and lots of things on our plate means our mind is often keeping tabs on the state of all these different things as we go about our business. Having this separation of mind between different worries and mental lists distracts us from what is often happening right in front of us. Practicing mindfulness can help thwart this by increasing efficiency and overall happiness and contentment with life. This in turn leads to greater overall happiness and decreased stress (Roberts, 2012).
If we allow ourselves to get “stuck in a rut” we get in danger to mindlessly repeating non beneficial habits and even more dangerously, we tend to cease to assess our actions for their usefulness. This can lead us to easily fall into predefined roles from which we categorize experiences as good or bad rather than simply experiencing and learning from them, ultimately hindering our growth.
Mindfulness is a centuries old Buddhist concept that only recently has begun to be examined for its health benefits in modern science. Mindfulness mediation has been used now as a course of treatment for many different ailments. As much as stress can affect our health, also too can a positive change in our mindset effect our physical well being. Therapeutic application of mindfulness meditations like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have begun to show us some peer reviewed evidence as to the success with this avenue. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs have been shown to physically change the brain structure in different regions of the brain, including areas involved in memory, learning, emotion regulation, processing, and the ability to see things from different perspectives (Holzel et al., 2010).
Doctors and psychologists are now recommending mindfulness meditations to relieve symptoms of a number of disorders including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, and eating disorders. The practice has been reported to enhance psychological well-being even when the person was not actively engaged in a meditation. Some scientists have suggested that the process of mindfulness meditation can lead to a shift in perception, helping the individual to put problems in different contexts. Sometimes by seeing things differently we are able to deal with them better (Holzel et al., 2010).
We now understand the concept of intrinsic worth and how we can apply that to action. Viewing action this way can help us to select what we do based on its value and state of goodness. We also understand the importance of mindfulness and its impact on the mind both intellectually and physically. If we combine these two concepts we will essentially establish a wealth of positive effects. While practicing mindfulness we would not only have the documented medical benefits of doing so but also the profound experience of being engaged as much as possible in action that we value. This in turn creates a deeper sense of happiness as we mindfully experience the states we create by our actions. This sort of cyclic and symbiotic lifestyle is essentially a systematized application of self creation and the pursuit of happiness.
- Holzel, B., and Carmody, J., et al. (2010). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191 Retrieved from: http://www.umassmed.edu/uploadedFiles/cfm2/Psychiatry_Resarch_
- Moore, G. E. (1959). “Principia Ethica” Cambridge: University press. Retrieved from: http://ebooks.library.ualberta.ca/local/principiaethica00mooruoft
- Roberts, S. (2012). “Can mindfulness make you happier?.” Berkeley Science Review, [web log] Retrieved from: http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/can-mindfulness-make-you-happier/
- Zimmerman, M. (2010). “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy :Winter 2010 Edition. Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/value-intrinsic-extrinsic/