One group of employees of a US company participated in a seven week meditation workshop, the other just continued their normal life. Both groups completed web-based surveys. The meditation group learned the so-called loving kindness meditation, a Buddhist meditation technique. In the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, this practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving-kindness towards themself, then their loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this practice is associated with tonglen, whereby one breathes out ("sends") happiness and breathes in ("receives") suffering. In addition to the workshop, participants were asked to practice meditation at home
Fredrickson’s goal was to improve heartfelt positivity – and it worked out. Participants’ positivity ratios (ratio of positive to negative emotions; Fredrickson considers a ratio of 3:1 ore more necessary for flourishing; see “How positive emotions can make you flourish”) raised substantially. Most of them had been far below the tipping point ratio of 3:1. But not only that. Participants also reduced their stress levels and symptoms of illness. They bounced back from setbacks more easily. They were kinder to themselves and to others. And they felt a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. So altogether, practice of loving kindness meditation had increased their positivity and life satisfaction.
Only recently, Cohn and Fredrickson did a follow-up survey with the participants of the loving kindness meditation study. They found out that all of the participants, even those who had not continued their meditation practice after the study, had maintained the gains that had resulted from meditation practice. However, many of the study participants continued their meditation practice, and they reported even more positive emotions than those who had ceased to meditate.
The study can be found here.
Apparently meditation can greatly improve the quality of life. And it is not only the meditator who benefits from their meditation practice, it is also their surroundings. It is interesting to see that science seems to confirm what Buddhism has known for two and a half thousand years. Anyone can learn how to meditate. There are books and CDs, and a lot of courses are offered (not only by Buddhist, but also by other groups). And apparently, it is not necessary to invest a huge amount of time. 15 to 20 minutes per day can already lead to changes towards the positive. It takes some effort during the first two weeks, but then, the benefits start becoming obvious. And meditation practice builds resources, even if one does not continue to meditate for the rest of one’s life.