Positive Emotion Correlates of Meditation Practice: a Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving-Kindness Meditation

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to uncover the day-to-day emotional profiles and dose-response relations, both within persons and between persons, associated with initiating one of two meditation practices, either mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation. Data were pooled across two studies of midlife adults (N = 339) who were randomized to learn either mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation in a 6-week workshop. The duration and frequency of meditation practice was measured daily for 9 weeks, commencing with the first workshop session. Likewise, positive and negative emotions were also measured daily, using the modified Differential Emotions Scale (Fredrickson, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 47:1–53, 2013). Analysis of daily emotion reports over the targeted 9-week period showed significant gains in positive emotions and no change in negative emotions, regardless of meditation type. Multilevel models also revealed significant dose-response relations between duration of meditation practice and positive emotions, both within persons and between persons. Moreover, the within-person dose-response relation was stronger for loving-kindness meditation than for mindfulness meditation. Similar dose-response relations were observed for the frequency of meditation practice. In the context of prior research on the mental and physical health benefits produced by subtle increases in day-to-day experiences of positive emotions, the present research points to evidence-based practices—both mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation—that can improve emotional well-being.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by two research grants awarded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to Barbara L. Fredrickson. These were, for study 1, a National Institute for Nursing Research Grant (R01NR012899), an award supported by the NIH Common Fund, which is managed by the NIH Office of the Director/Office of Strategic Coordination; and, for study 2, a National Cancer Institute Research Grant (R01CA170128). Additional support for the authors’ time came from an NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Research Grant (R01AT007884) and an NIH National Institute on Aging Research Grant (R01AG048811), each also awarded to Fredrickson. These funding agencies played no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors wish to thank Susan S. Girdler for sharing laboratory space and Cara Arizmendi for her role as study coordinator. Special thanks are offered to the study participants who devoted time and energy across months to be involved in this research.

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Correspondence to Barbara L. Fredrickson.

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Fredrickson, B.L., Boulton, A.J., Firestine, A.M. et al. Positive Emotion Correlates of Meditation Practice: a Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving-Kindness Meditation. Mindfulness 8, 1623–1633 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0735-9

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Keywords

  • Affect
  • Contemplative science
  • Mental health
  • Positive psychology
  • Midlife