Deconstructing Mindfulness and Constructing Mental Health: Understanding Mindfulness and its Mechanisms of Action
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Research on mindfulness indicates that it is associated with improved mental health, but the use of multiple different definitions of mindfulness prevents a clear understanding of the construct. In particular, the boundaries between different conceptualizations of mindfulness and emotion regulation are unclear. Furthermore, the mechanisms by which any of these conceptualizations of mindfulness might influence mental health are not well-understood. The two studies presented here addressed these questions using correlational, self-report data from a non-clinical sample of undergraduate students. The first study used a combination of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to better understand the factor structure of mindfulness and emotion regulation measures. Results indicated that these measures assess heterogeneous and overlapping constructs, and may be most accurately thought of as measuring four factors: present-centered attention, acceptance of experience, clarity about one’s internal experience, and the ability to manage negative emotions. A path analysis supported the hypothesis that mindfulness (defined by a two-factor construct including present-centered attention and acceptance of experience) contributed to clarity about one’s experience, which improved the ability to manage negative emotions. The second study developed these findings by exploring the mediating roles of clarity about one’s internal life, the ability to manage negative emotions, non-attachment (or the extent to which one’s happiness is independent of specific outcomes and events), and rumination in the relationship between mindfulness and two aspects of mental health, psychological distress and flourishing mental health. Results confirmed the importance of these mediators in the relationship between mindfulness and mental health.