Paper publications by date
The environment is widely recognised to be in peril, with clear signs of a climate crisis. This situation has many dimensions and factors, but key among them are the often-destructive ways in which humans interact with the natural world. Numerous cultures—particularly more industrialised and/or Western ones—have developed predatory and disconnected modes of interaction. In such modes, nature tends to be constructed as a resource to be exploited (rather than, say, a commonwealth to be protected). However, many people—especially, but not only, in less ‘developed’ nations—have cultivated less destructive modes of relationship. These bonds may be broadly encompassed under the rubric of ‘eco-connection’. In the interests of exploring these latter modes, an enquiry was conducted into adaptive forms of engagement with nature across the world’s cultures. The enquiry focused on untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact translation in another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with additional data collection, over 150 relevant terms were located. An adapted form of grounded theory identified three main dimensions of eco-connection: sacrality, bonding, and appreciation. Such analyses have the potential to promote greater wellbeing literacy with respect to our relationship with nature, both within academia and beyond in the wider culture. This includes enriching the nomological network in psychology, and more broadly building a nature-related vocabulary that is more sustainable and harmonious. In doing so, there may also be benefits to public health, in that developing such literacy could possibly influence people’s engagement with nature itself, leading to more adaptive forms of relationship.
Mainstream psychology can be considered relatively Western-centric, as reflected in the fact that its discourse and theorising is mainly in English, influencing how it conceptualises its subject matter. However, English itself is a complex product of multiple cultural influences, including the widespread borrowing of words from other languages. To shed light on this issue, this paper conducted an etymological analysis of a sample of words in psychology-focusing as a case study on a seminal article in positive psychology. The analysis identified 1333 lexemes, of which more than 60% can be regarded as loanwords (i.e., borrowed from other languages). The analysis shows the great cultural influences that have combined to form English, and hence psychology, yet also the extent to which this influence has been limited to certain cultures. The paper thus illustrates how psychology has benefitted from insights forged in other languages, but moreover how it might continue to do so through more systematic and comprehensive forms of cross-cultural engagement.
Scholars are beginning to appreciate the work-related 'drivers' of wellbeing, i.e., the ways work may promote or hinder employees' wellbeing. This paper brings a multidimensional perspective to bear on this topic by providing: (a) a multidimensional overview of these drivers; and (b) a multidimensional analysis of how they actually 'drive' wellbeing. The paper is in two parts. Part 1 briefly summarises the drivers, highlighting key theories and interventions. Part 2 then brings a multidimensional analysis to bear on the drivers, doing so by focusing on one driver in particular ('managing emotions') as a case study. This driver is analysed through the prism of a multidimensional model of the person, the 'Layered Integrated Framework Example' model. It is hoped that, in future, similar analyses can consequently be undertaken for the other drivers. The paper thus offers a generative research agenda for exploring how to enable people to flourish at work.
Although semiotics has historically been a focus of interest in psychology, its impact over recent decades has been fairly muted. Moreover, no systematic efforts have been made to study and understand it from a positive perspective, i.e., the way sign-systems are or can be “positive.” As such, this paper introduces the notion of “positive semiotics,” a label for the disparate research and theorising that is already underway across academia relating to this topic. The paper draws on the work of C. S. Peirce, particularly in terms of his triadic view of sign-systems as comprising a sign, an object, and an interpretant. The idea of positivity is then elucidated using the criterion of desirability, drawing on the work of James Pawelski. Attempts are also made to ascertain the nature of desirability, including normative forms (clarified here using the conceptual triad of goodness, truth, and beauty) and non-normative forms (understood as personal wants). The paper then considers four key semiotic channels – discursive language, body language, symbols, and art – looking at selective examples of how positive semiotics might pertain to that channel. It is hoped the paper will stimulate further interest in, and work on, a phenomenon that is of considerable importance to psychology and beyond.
Anger is common problem for which counselling/psychotherapy clients seek help, and is typically regarded as an invidious negative emotion to be ameliorated. However, it may be possible to reframe anger as a moral emotion, arising in response to perceived transgressions, thereby endowing it with meaning. In that respect, the current paper offers a ‘bird’s eye’ systematic review of empirical research on anger as a moral emotion (i.e., one focusing broadly on the terrain as a whole, rather than on specific areas). Three databases were reviewed from the start of their records to January 2019. Eligibility criteria included empirical research, published in English in peer-reviewed journals, on anger specifically as a moral emotion. 175 papers met the criteria, and fell into four broad classes of study: survey-based; experimental; physiological; and qualitative. In reviewing the articles, this paper pays particular attention to: how/whether anger can be differentiated from other moral emotions; antecedent causes and triggers; contextual factors that influence or mitigate anger; and outcomes arising from moral anger. Together, the paper offers a comprehensive overview of current knowledge into this prominent and problematic emotion. The results may be of use to counsellors and psychotherapists helping to address anger issues in their clients.
Lomas, T., Roache, A., Rashid, T., & Jarden, A. (2019). Developing ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice: An on-going, iterative, collaborative endeavour. Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1651892
As positive psychology has developed as a field, questions have arisen around how to ensure best practice, including with respect to ethics. This issue is particularly pertinent vis-à-vis its applied dimensions, such as positive psychology interventions by students and graduates of MAPP programmes. However, the field has hitherto lacked clear ethical guidelines to assist practitioners. Aiming to address this gap, the authors have devised a set of guidelines, in collaboration with key stakeholders across the positive psychology community, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing. The current article briefly summarises the importance, development, content, and future directions of these guidelines, thus providing a concise overview of this important project. It is hoped that this article, together with the guidelines themselves, will not only highlight the importance of ethical practice, but offer practical suggestions for guiding practitioners in the field.
Gourov, D., & Lomas, T. (2019). ‘It’s about wholeness. I love my awesomeness and I love my flawesomeness’: An IPA analysis of coaching with the shadow in mind. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(2), 10-20.
Difficult emotions and cognitive states are recognised in second wave positive psychology as being a gold mine for personal growth. The growing body of knowledge in positive psychology gives coaching psychologists a perimeter to work with, whilst archetypal shadow analysis, rooted in Jung’s teachings, gives depth and insight. While definitions of coaching vary considerably, it can be argued to function as shining a light onto things that are hidden for the client, thereby bringing wholeness and clarity. Interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to analyse coaching with the shadow in mind, where this work became defined as looking at parts that are hidden, suppressed, unowned and unacknowledged by us and others. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four professional coaches. Three higher order themes were identified: the coach’s personal journey through the shadow, what a shadow coach does and the client’s journey into the shadow. These themes may generate insight into this paradigm of coaching for the first time and is an important step in the ongoing integration of second wave positive psychology and coaching psychology.
These guidelines are the result of a collaborative and independent working group led by Aaron Jarden, Tayyab Rashid, Annalise Roache and Tim Lomas. The guidelines are independent of any organisation or association; however, numerous parties have been involved in the development and refinement of this first iteration. It is the authors’ intention to update the guidelines on a bi-annual cycle to further strengthen their depth and breadth of functionality, and we welcome feedback from the community to firstname.lastname@example.org
Merino, D., Velázquez, M., & Lomas, T. (2019). An exploration of the Spanish cultural term rasmia: A combination of eagerness, strength, activeness, courage, tenacity and gracefulness. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10902-019-00104-y
Since much of the empirical work within Positive Psychology has taken place in English-speaking Western countries, there is concern that the resulting concepts and theories of well-being reflect a bias towards Western (and more specifically English influenced) ways of thinking. However, efforts are underway in the field to enhance its intercultural sensitivity, including in relation to studying cross-cultural diversity in emotional experience and understanding. In that respect, the current article focuses on the notion of rasmia, a Spanish term denoting drive and tenacity in achieving a goal. The research aims to explore the beliefs and conceptions that Spanish people have regarding rasmia. An on-line survey of Spanish residents revealed that rasmia was defined as incorporating eagerness, strength, activeness, courage, tenacity and gracefulness. A second study, conducted in order to determine the degree of agreement with this definition, showed an 80% of agreement. The results highlight the value of engaging with non-English concepts like rasmia.
Mainstream psychology can be regarded as largely Western-centric, with its concepts and priorities biased towards Western ways of thinking and understanding. Consequently, the field would benefit from greater cross-cultural awareness and engagement. To that end, this article offers one means of engagement, the study of “untranslatable” words (i.e., terms without an exact equivalent in another language, in our case English). A key function of language is that it offers a “map” that allows us to understand and navigate the world. In that respect, such words point to cultural variation in the maps we use, and even to variation in the actual territory mapped. The paper concludes with suggestions for why and how psychology could benefit from engaging with such words.
The West is usually portrayed as relatively individualistic. It is further argued that this tendency has influenced academia, leading to an underappreciation of the importance of prosociality. In the interest of exploring this topic, an enquiry was conducted into conceptualisations of prosociality across the world’s cultures. This enquiry focused on so-called untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact translation into another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with additional data collection, over 200 relevant terms were located. An adapted form of grounded theory identified five dimensions: socialising/congregating; morals/ethics; compassion/kindness; interaction/communication; and communality. The analysis sheds light on the dynamics of prosociality, as understood by cultures across the globe. Moreover, the roster of terms featured have the potential to enrich the nomological network in psychology, allowing for a richer conceptualisation of the social dimensions of human functioning.
The notion of spirituality is increasingly prominent in academic and cultural discourse alike. However, it remains a nebulous concept, capable of diverse interpretations, particularly cross-culturally. In the interest of exploring this diversity, yet also with the aim of identifying common themes, an enquiry was conducted into conceptualizations of spirituality across cultures. Specifically, the enquiry focused on so-called untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact equivalent in another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search, together with conceptual snowballing, over 200 relevant terms were located. A grounded theory analysis identified three key dimensions: the sacred, contemplative practice, and self-transcendence. Based on these, a conceptualization of spirituality was formulated that may be valid cross-culturally, namely: engagement with the sacred, usually through contemplative practice, with the ultimate aim of self-transcendence.
Linguists have often remarked upon the polysemous nature of love, whereby the term encompasses a wide diversity of emotional relationships. Several typologies have been constructed to account for this diversity. However, these tend to be restricted in scope, and fail to fully represent the range of experiences signified by the term ‘love’ in discourse. In the interest of generating an expanded typology of love, encompassing its varied forms, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world's cultures, focusing on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of published and internet sources, 609 relevant words were identified. These were organised through a version of grounded theory into 14 categories, representing 14 different forms or ‘flavours’ of love. The result is an expanded theoretical treatment of love, allowing us to better appreciate the nuances of this most cherished and yet polysemous of concepts.
Lomas, T. (2018). The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential contribution to wellbeing. New Ideas in Psychology, 49(18-26). doi: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2018.01.002
Critical emotion theorists have raised concerns that ‘normal’ human emotions like sadness are increasingly being pathologised as disorders. Counter efforts have thus been made to normalise such emotions, such as by highlighting their ubiquity and appropriacy. This paper goes slightly further by suggesting that sadness is not merely normal, but may have inherent value, and indeed be an integral component of a flourishing life. It offers a meta-theoretical review of literature on the potential ‘virtues’ of sadness. Three overarching themes are identified, each comprising four subthemes: (a) sadness as a mode of protection (including as a warning, as prompting disengagement, as a mode of conservation, and as enhanced accuracy); (b) sadness as an expression of care (including as a manifestation of love, of longing, of compassion, and eliciting care); and (c) sadness as a vehicle for flourishing (including as a moral sensibility, as engendering psychological development, as an aesthetic sensibility, and as integral to fulfilment). It is thus hoped that the paper can contribute to a more ‘positive’ cultural discourse around sadness, suggesting that, for the majority of people, experiences of sadness may serve an important and even desirable function in their lives.
Although the notion of virtue is increasingly prominent in psychology, the way it has been studied and conceptualised has been relatively Western-centric, and does not fully account for variations in how it has been understood cross-culturally. As such, an enquiry was conducted into ideas relating to virtue found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing and crowd-sourced suggestions, over 200 relevant terms were located. An adapted grounded theory analysis identified five themes which together provide an insight into the “roots” of virtue (i.e., the main sources from which it appears to spring): virtue itself (the concept of it); considerateness (caring about it); wisdom (knowing what it consists of); agency (managing to be/do it); and skill (mastery of the preceding elements). The results help shed further light on the potential dynamics of this important phenomenon.
In thinking and talking about wellbeing, people often deploy spatial metaphors, such as identifying positive and negative affect with “up” and “down” respectively. However, there has not yet been a systematic investigation of how wellbeing is represented through metaphor. To shed light on this topic, a content analysis was conducted of spatial metaphors in academic discourse on wellbeing, focusing on recent editions of two leading journals, the Journal of Positive Psychology, and the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Across 28 papers, 54 spatial metaphors were identified, grouped into four main categories: verticality; horizontality; configuration; and dynamism. Above all, wellbeing is associated with interior expansiveness, with positive valence usually attaching to vertical metaphors of height and depth, horizontal metaphors of width and breadth, and configuration metaphors of size and growth. The analysis thus offers valuable insights into the subjective dynamics of wellbeing.
Although wellbeing tends to be associated with positive affect, theorists have suggested it might also involve more ambivalent emotions. Scholars have further argued that although such emotions are somewhat overlooked in Western societies, other cultures are more attuned to them. In the interest of exploring the value of ambivalent emotions, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing, 30 relevant terms were located. A process of grounded theory analysis identified five main themes: hope, longing, pathos, appreciation of imperfection, and sensitivity to mystery. The analysis highlights the need for a more expansive conception of wellbeing, going beyond an exclusive identification with positively valenced emotions to incorporate more complex and ambivalent processes.
A prominent criticism of positive psychology is that it has been shaped by its Western context, and yet that this ‘situatedness’ often remains unacknowledged. Consequently, this paper offers an archaeological analysis of conceptualisations of happiness in the West. More specifically, the paper explores the emergence of significant ideas relating to the good life through the innovative device of studying artworks, on the premise that being featured in art is an effective signifier of when a given idea rose to prominence. Taking a time span of 1,000 years, one artwork per century has been selected to illustrate the emergence of a particular stream of thought during that centennial period. The paper elucidates the roots of current ideas around happiness in fields like positive psychology, and in the West more generally. It is hoped this type of ‘consciousness-raising’ activity may help such fields acknowledge and overcome any limitations arising from their cultural situatedness.
Lomas, T., Garraway, E., Stanton, C., & Ivtzan, I. (2018). Masculinity in the midst of mindfulness: Exploring the gendered experiences of at-risk adolescent boys. Men and Masculinities. doi: 10.1177/1097184X18756709
Teenage boys are a source of considerable concern in society, with generally poorer health, educational, and social outcomes than their female counterparts. Of particular concern are “at-risk” adolescents, who by definition are liable to poorer outcomes than peers not deemed at-risk. However, there are indications that activities such as mindfulness may offer opportunities for such adolescents to negotiate more positive constructions of masculinity. This study piloted a new four-week mindfulness-based intervention, created specifically for a group of eight at-risk adolescent boys at a school in London. In-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with participants before and after the intervention and analyzed using grounded theory. The data revealed an overarching theme of “pressure control.” Participants depicted themselves as facing multiple pressures, many of which related to making the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. However, the context of the intervention enabled them to generate a masculine construction in which they were able to reclaim agency and self-control. Notably, such control was often exercised in the direction of facilitating emotional connection and agility, thus subverting traditional masculine expectations. The results show that at-risk adolescent boys are capable of more nuanced and skilled emotional competencies than they are often given credit for.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of mindfulness-based interventions on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-018-1062-5
Efforts to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals include mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). To understand the value of such initiatives, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of empirical studies pertaining to the use of MBIs with healthcare professionals. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016 (PROSPERO registration number: CRD42016032899). Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of well-being outcomes acquired in relation to MBIs. Forty-one papers met the eligibility criteria, consisting of a total of 2101 participants. Studies were examined for two broad classes of well-being outcomes: (a) “negative” mental health measures such as anxiety, depression, and stress; (b) “positive” indices of well-being, such as life satisfaction, together with outcomes associated with well-being, such as emotional intelligence. MBIs were generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures (albeit with moderate effect sizes), and mindfulness does appear to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly high-quality randomised control trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). A systematic review of the impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 7(3), 319–355. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22515
Objective: Among efforts to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals are initiatives based around mindfulness meditation. To understand the value of such initiatives, we conducted a systematic review of empirical studies pertaining to mindfulness in healthcare professionals. Method: Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of mindfulness and well-being outcomes acquired in relation to practice. 81 papers met the eligibility criteria, comprising a total of 3,805 participants. Studies were principally examined for outcomes such as burnout, distress, anxiety, depression, and stress. Results: Mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures (although results were more equivocal with respect to some outcomes, most notably burnout). Conclusion: Overall, mindfulness does appear to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly high-quality randomized controlled trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review and meta-analysis of their impact upon wellbeing. Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1519588
Given the demanding nature of many professions, efforts are ongoing to develop initiatives to improve occupational wellbeing, including mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). To assess the efficacy of MBIs, meta-analytic procedures were conducted on 35 randomized controlled trials derived from an earlier inclusive systematic literature search (covering all occupations, MBIs, and wellbeing-related outcomes). Mindfulness had significant moderate effects on deficit-based outcomes such as stress (SMD = −0.57), anxiety (SMD = −0.57), distress (SMD = −0.56), depression (SMD = −0.48), and burnout (SMD = −0.36), and significant moderate to small effects on asset-based outcomes like health (SMD = 0.63), job performance (SMD = 0.43), compassion and empathy (SMD = 0.42), mindfulness (SMD = 0.39), and positive wellbeing (SMD = 0.36), while no significant effects were observed for depression or emotional regulation. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, suggesting more high-quality randomised controlled trials are needed.
Schimschal, S. E., & Lomas, T. (2018). Gritty leaders: The impact of grit on positive leadership capacity. Psychological Reports. doi: 10.1177/0033294118785547
The concepts of grit and positive leadership are central to extraordinary performance. However, to date there has been little empirical analysis of the relationship between a leader’s level of grit and their capacity to implement positive leadership strategies and practices. This correlational study explores these linkages, taking grit subfactors into consideration as well as three dimensions of positive leadership. Convenience sampling was used to survey 100 leaders across a range of industries. Respondents completed the Grit Scale and 18 questions from the Positive Leadership Practices Self-Assessment. Results indicated that grit positively correlated with positive leadership, and perseverance exhibited a stronger relationship than passion. Further, grit accounted for variance in positive leadership. These findings provide a solid evidence base for giving leaders access to development opportunities that can accelerate the growth of grit and positive leadership.
Lomas, T. (2017). The spectrum of positive affect: A cross-cultural lexical analysis. International Journal of Wellbeing, 7(3), 1-18. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v7i3.608
Although wellbeing tends to be associated with positive affect, the phenomenological terrain in this regard is often poorly differentiated. In the interest of bringing further granularity to this area, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing, 134 relevant terms have been located so far (with the process of enquiry ongoing). Through a process of grounded theory analysis, seven main themes were identified: peace/calm; contentment/satisfaction; cosiness/homeliness; savouring/appreciation; revelry/fun; joy/euphoria; and bliss nirvāṇa. The analysis highlights the need for a more expansive and granular conceptualisation of positive affect, one that recognises the depth and breadth of the subjective terrain that it covers.
Lomas, T. (2017). A re-appraisal of boredom: A case study in second wave positive psychology. In N. J. L. Brown, T. Lomas & F. Eiroa-Orosa (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (pp. 213-226). New York: Routledge.
Positive psychology has become increasingly amenable and open to critical perspectives, including with respect to the very notions of “positive” and “negative.” This problematizing of the “positive” has been referred to as “second wave” positive psychology (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015; (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon, & Worth, 2015)—and previously as positive psychology “2.0” (Wong, 2011)—as elucidated in the introduction to this section. The rationale for these labels is that the initial “first wave” of the field was essentially founded on a binary positive–negative construction: Certain phenomena were viewed as positive, and hence desirable, with others therefore being negative, and hence undesirable. However, it is increasingly clear that such categorical appraisals are far from straightforward: ostensibly positive phenomena can be detrimental to wellbeing, while seemingly negative phenomena may be conducive to it. To some extent, this critical appreciation was implicit within the field from the beginning (e.g., Seligman, 1990). However, this more nuanced appreciation tended to be missing from the overarching “message” of the field. Now, though, there is a growing recognition of the complex “dialectics” of flourishing, involving an intricate interplay between seemingly negative and positive phenomena (e.g., Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014). This chapter provides an illustration of this second wave approach in the form of a case study on an emotion that is generally regarded as negative and undesirable, namely boredom.
As positive psychology has matured as a field, among its most prominent successes has been the emergence of a strong applied dimension, known as applied positive psychology. This burgeoning arena of praxis has involved the development of interventions and activities designed to promote well-being. This chapter offers an overview of these efforts, which are organized here according to a multidimensional meta-theoretical framework known as the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example) model. This framework features the four main ontological “dimensions” of the person (mind, body, culture, and society), each of which is stratified into five levels. The model provides a comprehensive map of the person, and of their well-being, allowing us to situate and appreciate the range of interventions and strategies that have been developed within APP.
Could the practice of mindfulness help at-risk adolescent boys manage the challenges in their lives, do better at school, and generally increase their well-being? Mindfulness is a practice that is thought to develop people’s attention and awareness skills. It has been found to have positive effects in diverse populations, from pregnant mothers to military personnel, and in relation to varied problems, from depression to eating disorders. In this research, I aimed to test whether mindfulness might be of benefit to at-risk adolescent boys, whose characteristics make them more likely to suffer issues with well-being.
Lomas, T. (2017). Positive politics: Exploring the wellbeing implications of left-wing versus right-wing political agendas. In N. J. L. Brown, T. Lomas & F. Eiroa-Orosa (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (pp. 351-367). Routledge: New York.
The impact of politics on wellbeing has perennially been a topic of some debate in society, and has more recently been a focus of concern in academia too. The current chapter considers this academic literature, drawing it together under the proposed rubric of ‘positive politics,’ defined as the study of the impact of political policies and processes upon wellbeing. The aim of this chapter, and of positive politics generally, is to encourage the use of wellbeing research to inform: (a) politicians and policy makers (with regard to policy making); and (b) citizens (with regard to democratic choices). To do this, the chapter offers a set of orienting analyses concerning the differences between left-wing and right-wing political perspectives. Rather than presenting left versus right as a unidimensional spectrum, the chapter suggests that the left–right polarity plays out across multiple spectra. Twelve different spectra are identified, three of which are constructed as overarching, with the remainder positioned as subsidiary to these: attributions (encompassing justness and equality), locus of concern (encompassing taxation, welfare, and institutional balance), and directionality (encompassing religion, freedom, statehood, and immigration). The chapter explores the implications that different perspectives on these twelve spectra have for wellbeing, thereby setting out an agenda for further research into the impact of politics upon wellbeing.
Lomas, T., Etcoff, N., Gordon, W. V., & Shonin, E. (2017). Zen and the art of living mindfully: The health-enhancing potential of Zen aesthetics. Journal of Religion and Health. doi: 10.1007/s10943-017-0446-5
Amidst the burgeoning enthusiasm for mindfulness in the West, there is a concern that the largely secular ‘de-contextualized’ way in which it is being harnessed is denuding it of its potential to improve health and wellbeing. As such, efforts are underway to ‘re-contextualize’ mindfulness, explicitly drawing on the wider framework of Buddhist ideas and practices in which it was initially developed. This paper aims to contribute to this, doing so by focusing on Zen Buddhism, and in particular on Zen aesthetic principles. It concentrates on the seven principles identified by Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry); koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku (tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace). The presence of these principles in works of art is seen as reflecting and communicating insights that are central to Buddhism, such as non-attachment. Moreover, these principles do not only apply to the creation and appreciation of art, but have clear applications for treating health-related disorders, and improving quality of life more generally. This paper makes the case that embodying these principles in their lives can help people enhance their levels of psychosomatic wellbeing, and come to a truer understanding of the essence of mindful living.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on wellbeing and performance in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. doi: 10.1080/1359432X.2017.1308924
Work can be demanding, imposing challenges that can be detrimental to the physical and mental health of workers. Efforts are therefore underway to develop practices and initiatives that may improve occupational well-being. These include interventions based on mindfulness meditation. This paper offers a systematic review of empirical studies featuring analyses of mindfulness in occupational contexts. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included experimental and correlative studies of mindfulness conducted in work settings, with a variety of well-being and performance measures. A total of 153 papers met the eligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, comprising 12,571 participants. Mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly involving high-quality randomized control trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing and performance of educators: A systematic review of the empirical literature. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 132-141. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2016.10.008
Given the potentially demanding nature of teaching, efforts are underway to develop practices that can improve the wellbeing of educators, including interventions based on mindfulness meditation. We performed a systematic review of empirical studies featuring analyses of mindfulness in teaching contexts. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of mindfulness, mental health, wellbeing, and performance outcomes acquired in relation to practice. A total of 19 papers met the eligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, consisting of a total 1981 participants. Studies were principally examined for outcomes such as burnout, anxiety, depression and stress, as well as more positive wellbeing measures (e.g., life satisfaction). The systematic review revealed that mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, and so further research is needed, particularly involving high-quality randomised control trials.
Dolan, A., Lomas, T., Ghobara, T., & Hartshorne, G. (2017). “It's like taking a bit of masculinity away from you”: Towards a theoretical understanding of men’s experiences of infertility. Sociology of Health & Illness. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12548
In the UK, nearly half of all cases of infertility involve a ‘male-factor’. Yet, little empirical work has explored how men as men negotiate this terrain. Three interrelated concepts; ‘hegemonic masculinity’, ‘embodied masculinity’ and the linkages between ‘masculinities’ and male help-seeking, provide the theoretical framework that guided a qualitative study conducted with 22 men experiencing infertility. The paper explores men's propensity to delay their help-seeking in relation to infertility despite their desire for children. It also demonstrates how, in the context of infertility, the male body can be defined as both a failed entity in itself (unable to father a child) and a subordinated social entity (unable to measure up to hegemonic ideals) that characterises men's masculine identities. The paper also illustrates how men appear willing to accept responsibility for their infertility and adopt aspects of hitherto subordinate masculine practice. This does not, however, constitute the total unravelling of well understood and accepted expressions of masculinity. Finally, the paper demonstrates how infertility is perceived as having the potential to fracture current and even future relationships. Moreover, regardless of how well men measured up to other hegemonic ideals, ultimately they can do little to counteract the threat of other (fertile) men.
Ivtzan, I., Young, T., Lee, H. C., Lomas, T., & Kjell, O. (2017). Mindfulness based flourishing program: A cross-cultural study of Hong Kong Chinese and British participants. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10902-017-9919-1
The Mindfulness Based Flourishing Program (MBFP) is an online 8-week intervention developed for enhancing wellbeing with the use of mindfulness practices, through targeting a range of positive variables. The efficacy of the MBFP has been demonstrated in a randomized controlled trial, and in order to further establish it as an intervention with widespread application, cross-cultural validation is warranted. The current study was conducted with the primary aim of testing the validity of the MBFP with a Hong Kong Chinese population, as well as verifying its positive effects. A randomized wait-list controlled design was adopted with 115 participants (92 females, mean age = 31.50). Intervention outcomes were compared between Hong Kong Chinese and British participants. Five positive variables were examined (self-compassion, meaning in life, positive and negative emotions, gratitude, and mindfulness), and measures were taken pre- and post-intervention. Significant gains in wellbeing measures were observed in both the Hong Kong Chinese and the British experimental groups. Levels of wellbeing post-intervention were also higher for the two experimental groups as compared to their control counterparts. The current study provides preliminary evidence for the MBFP’s cross-cultural validity, and strengthens previous claims for its efficacy as a new, accessible alternative for enhancing wellbeing.
Perridge, D., Hefferon, K., Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2017). “I feel I can live every minute if I choose to”: Participants’ experience of a mindfulness based flourishing programme. Qualitative Research in Psychology. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2017.1359709
Both separately and in conjunction, mindfulness and positive psychological interventions have been found to increase wellbeing against a number of measures. Research has been primarily based upon the application of self-report scales, and little has yet been done to examine the lived experience of participants. The aim of this study therefore was to apply an interpretative phenomenological approach to the experience of participants in a Mindfulness Based Flourishing (MBF) programme which combines positive psychological interventions with mindfulness, in order to more fully understand the scope and depth of the impact their experience had on them. Three participants from a completed MBF each had a one-off semi-structured interview, the results of which were transcribed verbatim. The resulting texts were analysed, with five themes emerging which demonstrated the impact the programme had had on participants’ sense of self and on the nature of their connections with others. While all participants identified benefits accruing from the course, it also presented challenges emotionally as well as in terms of the embedding of knowledge and skills. Future research should look to examine the impact of such programmes in wider cultural and temporal frameworks, and additionally should explore the application of Grounded Theory to identify more theoretical level explanations of phenomenon.
Lomas, T. (2016). The art of second wave positive psychology: Harnessing Zen aesthetics to explore the dialectics of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(2), 14-29. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v6i2.2
In recent years, a ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been emerging, characterised above all by an awareness and appreciation of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing. This paper offers a philosophical foundation for this second wave, based on Eastern philosophy, and in particular, Zen aesthetics. Part one introduces Zen, including its key philosophical ideas and practices, as well as two antecedent traditions that helped to form it, namely Buddhism and Taoism. Part two then elucidates three aesthetic principles that are integral to Zen: mono no aware (the pathos of life), wabi-sabi (desolate beauty), and yūgen (profound grace). The paper discusses how these principles could be of value to positive psychology in fostering dialectical understanding and appreciation, thus highlighting future directions for the field.
Frisson. What a strange word. It evokes that peculiar intermingling of excitement and fear that can attend momentous events. The spark of electricity when you lock eyes with someone who is yet unknown to you, but who might just be ‘the one.’ The queasy sensation of anxious adrenaline when a big news story breaks. The fearful joy as you plunge downhill on a vertiginous rollercoaster. The word ‘thrill’ perhaps comes close. But not quite. As such, realising that all near-equivalents in English are imperfect, we gladly alight upon the French loanword. And as we do, our existence feels just a little richer and more nuanced...
Boredom is almost universally regarded as a dysphoric mental state, characterised by features such as disengagement and low arousal. However, in certain quarters (e.g., Zen Buddhism), boredom is seen as potentially having great value and even importance. The current study sought to explore boredom through a case study involving introspective phenomenology. The author created conditions in which he would experience boredom for an hour, and recorded his experience in real-time using a variant of the Experiencing Sampling Method. The data were analysed using an adaptation of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The results indicated that the state of boredom contained three main sources of value: (a) altered perception of time; (b) awakened curiosity about the environment; and (c) exploration of self. Consequently, the paper offers a re-appraisal of boredom, suggesting that rather than necessarily being a negative state, if engaged with, boredom has the potential to be a positive and rewarding experience.
It is nearly twenty years since Martin Seligman used his 1998 American Psychological Association presidential address to inaugurate the notion of ‘positive psychology.’ The rationale for its creation was Seligman’s contention that psychology had hitherto tended to focus mainly on what is wrong with people, on dysfunction, disorder and distress. There were of course pockets of scholarship that held a candle for human potential and excellence, like humanistic psychology. Nevertheless, on the whole, he argued that concepts such as happiness did not attract much attention or credibility in mainstream psychology. Emerging to redress this lacuna, positive psychology soon became a fertile new paradigm, encompassing research into a panoply of processes and qualities that could be deemed ‘positive,’ from overarching constructs such as flourishing, to more specific concepts like hope. Of course, none of this was radically new: many of these topics had been studied empirically for years by scholars in disparate fields, and indeed had been debated for centuries, millennia even. However, part of the appeal of the new field was that it created a conceptual space where these diverse topics – all of which shared the ‘family resemblance’ (à la Wittgenstein) of pertaining to wellbeing – could be brought together and considered collectively. Thus, as a novel branch of scholarship focused specifically and entirely on ‘the science and practice of improving wellbeing’ (Lomas, Hefferon, & Ivtzan, 2015, p.1347), it was a welcome new addition to the broader church of psychology. However, it was not without its critics...
Positive psychology, an emergent branch of scholarship concerned with wellbeing and flourishing, initially defined itself by a focus on ‘positive’ emotions and qualities. However, critics soon pointed out that this binary logic – classifying phenomena as either positive or negative, and valorising the former while disparaging the latter – could be problematic. For example, apparently positive qualities can be harmful to wellbeing in certain circumstances, while ostensibly dysphoric emotional states may on occasion promote flourishing. Responding to these criticisms, over recent years a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been developing, in which wellbeing is recognised as involving a dialectical balance of light and dark aspects of life. This commentary introduces this emergent second wave, arguing that it is characterised by four dialectical principles. Firstly, the principle of appraisal states that it is difficult to categorially identify phenomena as either positive or negative, since such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent. Secondly, the principle of co-valence holds that many states and qualities at the heart of flourishing, such as love, are actually a complex blend of light and dark elements. Thirdly, the principle of complementarity posits that not only are such phenomena co-valenced, but that their dichotomous elements are in fact co-creating, two intertwined sides of the same coin. Finally, the principle of evolution allows us to understand second wave positive psychology as itself being an example of a dialectical process.
The relevance of the arts to wellbeing has been recognised within clinical fields, as reflected in therapeutic forms based on various art modalities, from music to drama therapy. However, there has hitherto been little appreciation in fields such as positive psychology of the broader potential of the arts as a vehicle for flourishing and fulfilment. As such, this paper proposes the creation of ‘positive art’ as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the wellbeing value of art. To show the scope and possibilities of this proposed field, the paper provides an indicative summary of literature pertaining to four major art forms: visual art, music, literature and drama. Moreover, the paper identifies five main positive outcomes that are consistently found in the literature across all these forms: sense-making, enriching experience, aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding. The paper aims to encourage a greater focus on the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to more fully understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.
Although mindfulness has been embraced by the West, this has mostly been a secular “decontextualized” form of mindfulness, disembedded from its original Buddhist nexus of beliefs/practices. This has arguably deprived the practice of its potential to effect more radical psychospiritual development. This article therefore argues for the “recontextualization” of mindfulness, drawing explicitly on Buddhist teachings to enhance our appreciation of it, and offers a contribution to such recontextualization. It presents a novel (in the context of Western psychology) theoretical model of mindfulness, drawing on concepts in Theravada Buddhist literature. In particular, it suggests that Buddhism identifies 3 main “forms” of mindfulness: sati (awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with ethical care), and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). Although, currently, only sati has been recognized in the West, we have much to gain from also recognizing the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Lomas, T. (2016). Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to wellbeing. The Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993
Although much attention has been paid to culture-specific psychopathologies, there have been no comparable attempts to chart positive mental states that may be particular to certain cultures. This paper outlines the beginnings of a positive cross-cultural lexicography of ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, culled from across the world’s languages. A quasi-systematic search uncovered 216 such terms. Using grounded theory, these words were organised into three categories: feelings (comprising positive and complex feelings); relationships (comprising intimacy and pro-sociality) and character (comprising personal resources and spirituality). The paper has two main aims. First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being. The paper concludes by setting out a research agenda to pursue these aims further.
Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Positive developmental psychology: A review of literature concerning well-being throughout the lifespan. The Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, 4(2), 143-164.
As positive psychology has matured as a discipline, sub-fields have emerged focusing on particular areas, including a number concentrating on specific life stages. These include positive parenting, positive education, positive youth development, and positive aging. However, until now, there has not been a systematic appreciation of these various developmental paradigms, nor an attempt to consider them as a whole. As such, the current paper introduces the overarching notion of positive developmental psychology, an umbrella term encompassing these intersecting developmental disciplines. The paper offers a narrative review of selected literature within these areas – highlighting key theoretical concepts, empirical studies and applied interventions – doing so through the prism of a multidimensional framework. Thus the paper provides a synthesis of the wealth of theory and research within positive developmental psychology, offering a much-needed overview of this burgeoning new field, and setting out a comprehensive research agenda for the years ahead.
Although positive psychology (PP) was initially conceived as more a shift in perspective (towards the “positive”) than a new field per se, in pragmatic terms, it is arguably beginning to function as a distinct discipline, with people self-identifying as “positive psychologists.” Thus, we contend it is time for the field to start developing a system of professional (e.g., ethical) guidelines to inform the practice of PP. To this end, we outline one such possible system, drawing on guidelines in counselling and psychotherapy. Moreover, we argue for the creation of two tiers of professional identity within PP. Firstly, people with a master’s qualification in PP might label themselves “positive psychology practitioners.” Secondly, we raise the possibility of creating a professional doctorate in PP which would enable graduates to assume the title of “positive psychologist.” We hope that this paper will contribute towards a dialogue within the field around these issues, helping PP to develop further over the years ahead.
Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Yong, C.-Y. (2016). Mindful Living in Older Age: A pilot study of a brief, community-based, ‘positive aging’ intervention. Mindfulness, 7(3), 630-641. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0498-8
Although mindfulness-based interventions have been successfully used with older adults, there have been few interventions that (a) are created specifically for older adults, (b) are delivered in the community, and (c) aim to promote successful aging (rather than treating dysfunction/disorder). To this end, the current study piloted a brief ‘positive aging’ intervention, comprising two 150-minute sessions, with six female older adults living in the community. Data were gathered through focus groups that were interwoven throughout the intervention. Using thematic analysis, four main themes were identified: (a) aging as a mixed blessing, (b) understanding mindfulness, (c) the challenges of mindfulness, and (d) the benefits of mindfulness. Overall, the intervention was successful in introducing participants to mindfulness and potentially forming the basis of a longer-term practice. However, the study also highlighted important points regarding the challenges of practising mindfulness, in relation to which the paper makes recommendations pertaining to the teaching of mindfulness with older adults.
Lomas, T. (2016). Nourishment from the roots: Engaging with the Buddhist foundations of mindfulness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing. London: Routledge.
Abstract: Mindfulness has had a profound and dramatic impact upon academic psychology, and indeed upon Western Society more generally, being adopted and adapted in a multitude of contexts. However, while this interest is to be greatly welcomed, it is worth noting that mindfulness has tended to be conceptualised and taught in a secular way, decontextualized from the Buddhist nexus of theory and practice in which it was originally developed. This has meant that the practice has been denuded of some of its power and significance, and its potential as a means for psychospiritual growth has been curtailed. As such, this chapter argues that it is worth now aiming to ‘re-contextualise’ mindfulness, exploring the way in which we might benefit from also engaging with the wider framework of Buddhist teachings in which mindfulness was originally situated. In particular, the chapter suggests that Buddhism actually identifies three different ‘forms’ or ‘levels’ of mindfulness, captured by various Pali words: sati (awareness suffused with spirit of recollection); appamada (awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care); and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). So far, only the first of these (sati) has really been explored by contemporary psychology; however, the chapter makes the case that we have much to gain from also engaging with the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Beyond deficit reduction: Exploring the positive potentials of mindfulness. In E. Shonin, W. van Gordon & M. Griffiths (Eds.), Mindfulness and Buddhist-Derived Approaches in Mental Health (pp. 277-295). London: Springer.
Abstract: The past few decades have seen an extraordinary explosion of interest in mindfulness, both in academia and in Western society more broadly. Central to this burgeoning enthusiasm has been the development of mindfulness-based interventions, which have had great success in treating physical and psychological health issues across diverse patient groups. However, for all their merits, these interventions have mostly been formulated in the context of clinical practice, and as such have tended to endorse a ‘deficit’ model of the person (which conceptualises humans as inherently dysfunctional or deficient, and views the role of therapeutic disciplines as being limited to the correction of such defects). Thus, nearly all mindfulness-based interventions are concerned with treating dysfunction or illness, from stress and depression to pain and discomfort. As necessary as such interventions are, this has meant that mindfulness has been largely de-contextualised from its original purpose within Buddhism as a means for radical personal transformation. However, in recent years, the emergent field of positive psychology has been at the forefront of efforts to create mindfulness-based interventions that capture more of the missing spirit of the original Buddhist teachings. These new interventions will hopefully augment existing interventions, helping us to collectively further explore and appreciate the exciting promise of mindfulness.
The aim of the present study was to make an idiographic investigation about the difficulties that are encountered by people who self-identify as having difficulties with self-compassion. Although a growing number of studies have been carried out concerning the concept of self-compassion, most research designs were quantitative. Based on this gap, the current study expanded the scope to include a qualitative dimension of the recent literature on self-compassion and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was adopted as methodological preference, which particularly monitors the lived experience of participants. In consequence of four in-depth semi-structured interviews, four super-ordinate themes emerged; the doubleedged-sword: perfectionism, the flaws of compassion, the effects of a third person, and the advantages of self-criticism. In line with pre-existing research, these findings explored the reasons behind self-undermining behaviours and misconstructions about self-compassion, which are a barrier to gentle self-talk. Furthermore, unfavourable effects of the social environment prime participants to maladaptive perfectionism and excessive self-criticism, which are considered a success formula by the participants. This study's purpose is to present a detailed roadmap about the self-destructive journey of the people with low self-compassion. It will help researchers and clinicians to develop future interventions in order to cultivate kind and encouraging attitudes in self-critical people.
Ireland has the second highest rate of child suicide in Europe. This dissertation using qualitative methods explores the risks, causes and aftermath of suicide in relation to how positive psychology (PP) can assist in addressing those insights in order to build resilience and reduce suicide ideation for school aged children in Ireland. The client is Principal of a secondary school in Southern Ireland, who
suffered the tragic loss of three senior pupils to suicide over a period of five years. The schools’ mission statement settled upon; “How can positive psychology help us to understand the risks and causes of suicide in school aged children and how can we apply those insights to instill resilience and prevent further tragedies in our school” Positive psychology defined as the science of what makes life worth living offers a relevant contrast for suicide which is concerned with proactively ending life. Point one explores suicide from three perspectives; those who have survived a serious attempt to end their own lives- parasuicide, those who have lost a relative or close one to suicide and lastly the organisations set up to address suicide ideation and effects. Point two takes the lead from these insights to give a good grounding in the areas of positive psychology research and theory that relate to the risks and causes of suicide and how they apply to school aged children. Point three is a plan of recommendations to address the problem throughpositive psychology interventions (PPI’s) which could be put in place to build resilience and prevent suicide in the clients’ and other schools.
Ivtzan, I., Young, T., Martman, J., Jeffrey, A., Lomas, T., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. (2016). Integrating mindfulness into positive psychology: A randomised controlled trial of an online positive mindfulness program. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0581-1
The purpose of the present study was to test the efficacy of an 8-week online intervention-based Positive Mindfulness Program (PMP) that integrated mindfulness with a series of positive psychology variables, with a view to improving well-being scores measured in these variables. The positive mindfulness cycle, based on positive intentions and savouring, provides the theoretical foundation for the PMP. The study was based on a randomised wait-list controlled trial, and 168 participants (128 females, mean age = 40.82) completed the intervention which included daily videos, meditations and activities. The variables tested included well-being measures, such as gratitude, self-compassion, self-efficacy, meaning and autonomy. Pre- and post-intervention data, including 1 month after the end of the intervention, were collected from both experimental and control groups. The posttest measurements of the experimental participants showed a significant improvement in all the dependent variables compared with the pre-test ones and were also significantly higher than those of the control group. One month after the intervention, the experimental group participants retained their improvement in 10 out of the 11 measurements. These positive results indicate that PMP may be effective in enhancing wellbeing and other positive variables in adult, non-clinical populations.
O'Brien, K., & Lomas, T. (2016). Developing a Growth Mindset through outdoor personal development: can an intervention underpinned by psychology increase the impact of an outdoor learning course for young people? Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2016.1232199
This study considers the impact of using a series of Mindset interventions during a five-day outdoor personal development (OPD) course. Self-efficacy, resilience and Mindset were measured pre course, post course and one month post course. It was hypothesised that both experimental and control groups would increase their self-efficacy and resilience, and that the Mindset (experimental) group would significantly increase beyond the levels of the control group, who took part in the standard OPD course. It was also predicted that the Mindset group would move towards a Growth Mindset, whereas the control group would not show any change in Mindset. Hypotheses were tested using a randomised, quasi-experimental method. Separate mixed analyses of variance were carried out for each dependent variable, followed by planned comparisons and post-hoc tests using a Bonferroni correction. Results showed that both groups increased self-efficacy over time; however, there was no further significance for the experimental group. Resilience only increased significantly in the experimental group while the control group made no significant gain, and students in the experimental group moved significantly towards a Growth Mindset while the control group did not.
Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Lomas, T., & Griffiths, M. D. (2016). Corporate use of mindfulness and authentic spiritual transmission: Competing or compatible ideals? . Mindfulness and Compassion. doi: 10.1016/j.mincom.2016.10.005
There is consensus amongst both the scientific and Buddhist community that mindfulness – when correctly taught and practised – leads to a range of beneficial outcomes. However, there has been little evaluation of what happens when mindfulness is incorrectly taught, or is practised with a selfish rather than selfless intention. Nowhere is the importance of this issue more pertinent than the recent and growing assimilation of mindfulness for employees by large corporations. The current paper introduces the principle of ‘authentic spiritual transmission’ and examines how it can inform the integration of mindfulness into the corporate workplace. Three questions are explored: (i) what spiritual infrastructure is required to operationalize mindfulness that is effective in the corporate setting? (ii) to what extent can ‘inner change’ induced by mindfulness substitute the need for corporations to foster healthy ‘external’ working conditions? and (iii) is mindfulness corruptible or does it have a natural defence mechanism? The paper addresses these questions by synthesizing relevant Buddhist discourses, evaluating recent theoretical and empirical findings concerning the use of mindfulness in corporate settings, and examining how second-generation mindfulness-based interventions can inform this topical area of scholarly debate.
Abstract: Critical theorists have accused positive psychology of paying insufficient attention to cultural variation in the way wellbeing is constructed and experienced. While there may be some merit to this claim, the field has developed a more nuanced appreciation of culture than its critics suggest. However, it could also be argued that positive psychology has not sufficiently appreciated or absorbed the wealth of literature within cross-cultural psychology pertaining to wellbeing. This paper aims to forge a bridge between positive psychology and cross-cultural psychology by introducing the idea of ‘positive cross-cultural psychology,’ an interdisciplinary conceptual space for existing and future cross-cultural research on wellbeing. Moreover, the paper offers a meta-theoretical perspective on trends within this literature. It is suggested that cross-cultural research is underpinned by two broad orienting perspectives: a ‘universalising’ perspective, which holds that, despite apparent cultural differences, people share a common human nature; and a ‘relativising’ perspective, which argues that people are strongly shaped by their cultural context. However, the paper finally argues that most research can actually be seen as offering a synthesising perspective – labelled here as ‘universal relativism’ – which recognises universals in the ways wellbeing is sought, constructed and experienced, but allows for extensive variation in the ways these universals are shaped by culture.
Abstract: Although the field of positive psychology has made great strides in developing interventions for wellbeing, many of these are aimed at individuals, designed to engender adaptive psychological qualities and skills. As such, relatively little attention has been paid within the field to the socio-cultural factors that influence health and wellbeing. However, there is an emergent body of work that does focus on these factors, as summarised in this paper. Using Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) multileveled ecological systems theory as a framework, the paper provides an overview of socio-cultural wellbeing interventions and research at multiple levels of scale (microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems, macrosystems, and ecosystems). In doing so, the paper has two main aims: (a) to show how positive change in wellbeing can be affected by the strategic manipulation of socio-cultural contextual factors; and (b) to suggest ways in which the adoption of such a contextual approach can inform policy making.
The value of compassion has often been appraised in terms of its benefits to the recipient, or its contribution to civil society. Less attention has been paid to the positive effect it may have upon the protagonists themselves, partly because compassion ostensibly appears to involve mainly dysphoric emotions (i.e., sharing another’s suffering). However, driven by the question of why traditions such as Buddhism and Christianity esteem compassion so highly, in this article, a theory of compassion is proposed that focuses on its transformative potential. In particular, I argue that compassion inherently involves a process of self-transcendence, enabling people to enter into an intersubjective state of selfhood. Drawing on Buddhist and Christian ideas, I then suggest that this intersubjective state is not only an antidote to the protagonists’ own suffering, but can accelerate their psychospiritual development. Thus, the article offers a new perspective on compassion that allows us to fully appreciate its transpersonal and transformative potential.
Abstract: Since its emergence in 1998, positive psychology has flourished. Among its successes is the burgeoning field of applied positive psychology (APP), involving interventions to promote wellbeing. However, the remit of APP is currently unclear. As such, we offer a conceptual map delineating the terrain that APP might conceivably cover, namely, the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example) model. The model is based on Wilber’s (1997) Integral Framework, which features the four main ontological ‘dimensions’ of the person. We then stratify these dimensions to produce a comprehensive conceptual map of the person, and of the potential areas of application for APP. For example, we deconstruct the collective dimensions of Wilber’s framework using the levels of Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) experimental ecology. The result is a detailed multidimensional framework which facilitates a comprehensive approach to promoting wellbeing, and which charts a way forward for APP.
Abstract: Positive psychology has tended to be defined in terms of a concern with ‘positive’ psychological qualities and states. However, critics of the field have highlighted various problems inherent in classifying phenomena as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ For instance, ostensibly positive qualities (e.g., optimism) can sometimes be detrimental to wellbeing, whereas apparently negative processes (like anxiety) may at times be conducive to it. As such, over recent years, a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been germinating, which explores the philosophical and conceptual complexities of the very idea of the ‘positive.’ The current paper introduces this emergent second wave by examining the ways in which the field is developing a more subtle understanding of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing (i.e., involving a complex and dynamic interplay of positive and negative experiences). The paper does so by problematizing the notions of positive and negative through seven case studies, including five salient dichotomies (such as optimism versus pessimism) and two complex processes (posttraumatic growth and love). These case studies serve to highlight the type of critical, dialectical thinking that characterises this second wave, thereby outlining the contours of the evolving field.
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation has been purported to be a beneficial practice for wellbeing. It would thereforebe expected that the neurophysiology of mindfulness would reflect this impact on wellbeing. However,investigations of the effects of mindfulness have generated mixed reports of increases, decreases, aswell as no differences in EEG oscillations in comparison with a resting state and a variety of tasks. Wehave performed a systematic review of EEG studies of mindfulness meditation in order to determineany common effects and to identify factors which may impact on the effects. Databases were reviewedfrom 1966 to August 2015. Eligibility criteria included empirical quantitative analyses of mindfulnessmeditation practice and EEG measurements acquired in relation to practice. A total of 56 papers met theeligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, consisting of a total 1715 subjects: 1358healthy individuals and 357 individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. Studies were principally examinedfor power outcomes in each bandwidth, in particular the power differentials between mindfulness and acontrol state, as well as outcomes relating to hemispheric asymmetry and event-related potentials. Thesystematic review revealed that mindfulness was most commonly associated with enhanced alpha andtheta power as compared to an eyes closed resting state, although such outcomes were not uniformlyreported. No consistent patterns were observed with respect to beta, delta and gamma bandwidths. Insummary, mindfulness is associated with increased alpha and theta power in both healthy individualsand in patient groups. This co-presence of elevated alpha and theta may signify a state of relaxed alertnesswhich is conducive to mental health.
Abstract: Although empirical interest in meditation has flourished in recent years, few studies have addressed possible downsides of meditation practice, particularly in community populations. In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 male meditators in London, UK, recruited using principles of maximum variation sampling, and analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Having originally set out simply to inquire about the impact of various meditation practices (including but not limited to mindfulness) on men’s wellbeing, we uncovered psychological challenges associated with its practice. While meditation was generally reported to be conducive to wellbeing, substantial difficulties accounted for approximately one quarter of the interview data. Our paper focuses specifically on these issues in order to alert health professionals to potential challenges associated with meditation. Four main problems were uncovered, of increasing severity: meditation was a difficult skill to learn and practise; participants encountered troubling thoughts and feelings which were hard to manage; meditation reportedly exacerbated mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety; and in a few cases, meditation was associated with psychotic episodes. Our paper raises important issues around safeguarding those who practise meditation, both within therapeutic settings and in the community.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). New ways of being a man: ‘Positive’ hegemonic masculinity in meditation-based communities of practice. Men and Masculinities, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Connell’s (1995) concept of hegemonic masculinity is often reduced to a singular construct, consisting of ‘toxic’ traits viewed as detrimental to wellbeing. However, the concept allows for variation in hegemony, including the possibility of forms more conducive to wellbeing. Through in-depth interviews with 30 male meditators in the UK, we explore the social dimensions of meditation practice to examine its potential implications for wellbeing. Most participants became involved with ‘communities of practice’ centered on meditation that promoted new local hegemonies; these included ideals experienced as conducive to wellbeing, like abstinence. However, social processes associated with hegemony, like hierarchy and marginalization, were not overturned. Moreover, participants faced challenges enacting new practices in relation to the broader system of hegemonic masculinity – outside these communities – reporting censure. Our findings are cautionary for professionals seeking to encourage wellbeing behaviors: there is potential for adaptation in men, yet complex social processes influence this change.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). Cultivating equanimity through mindfulness meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the development of decentring capabilities. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills. Such skills may be especially useful for male meditators, as men are thought to have particular difficulties regulating their emotions, partly due to masculinity norms around emotional toughness. However, there have been few studies pertaining to mindfulness focusing specifically on men, exploring the intersection between wellbeing and masculinity. Uniquely, we sought to examine the development of decentring capabilities in a non-clinical sample of male meditators using a longitudinal mixed-methods design. Thirty meditators were recruited in London, UK. Participants completed an emotional Stroop task – at two points, a year apart – to assess changes in emotional reactivity linked to meditation. Participants also undertook qualitative interviews at both time points, analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Together, the two datasets converged to suggest that men did develop decentring skills through meditation, leading to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia. In addition to offering insights into the mechanisms underpinning the impact of mindfulness on wellbeing, the study provides a gendered dimension to the analysis of wellbeing strategies like meditation, a dimension which has hitherto been conspicuously absent from recent literature in fields such as positive psychology.
Kennett, P., & Lomas, T. (2015). Making meaning through mentoring: Mentors finding fulfilment at work through self-determination and self-reflection. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 13(2), 29-44.
Abstract: Organisations are increasingly concerned with promoting employee engagement. Research from positive psychology suggests that one key driver of engagement is experiencing work as meaningful. Organisations are therefore keen to understand how meaningful work is created. The present study conjectured that becoming a mentor might be one effective way of experiencing meaning at work. In-depth interviews were conducted with four experienced mentors, analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis, to understand the impact that mentoring has on mentors. It was found that mentoring could indeed be a meaningful experience, enhancing work-related fulfilment. More detailed analysis revealed that meaning was engendered through a potent combination of self-determination (incorporating autonomy, relatedness and competence) and self-reflection, and a theoretical model was devised to reflect these findings. The paper offers recommendations for organisations, showing that mentoring relationships may not only benefit mentors (and mentees), but also organisations themselves.
In this current world of globalization, expatriates are a common factor among the majority of private and public organization, multi-lateral institutions and NGO’s. Nonetheless, ex-patriates do not often relocate alone. For this reason, spouses and families comprise an important socio-economic and psychological issue. However, despite the numerous amounts of research highlighting the poor levels of well-being among spouses, the field of psychology has failed to address this issue. Studies on strength-based interventions have demonstrated effective results to improve well-being. This study aims to explore the effects of a strength-based intervention on the wellbeing of ex-patriate spouses and to examine the difficulties and challenges spouses experienced when practicing it. Four ex-patriate’s spouses were interviewed before and after the intervention. The data was analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Three superordinate themes emerged 1) The struggle to practice the intervention (2) Search of novelty and excitement and (3) Well-being improvement. The results suggest that the effectiveness of the strengths intervention is influenced by multiple key elements affecting and in some cases, limiting spouse’s responses to the exercise. This research concludes that even though spouse’s well-being slightly improved, it also had positive effects on other psychological components such as self-concept, selfawareness and motivation. Finally, this study highlights the need for further research to better understand both the mechanisms by which practicing strengths contribute to this outcome and the complex rationalization process individuals go through when applying strengths.
Objectives: This chapter will enable you to: interpret the relationships between ‘psychology as usual,’ PP, and ‘second wave’ PP; understand the dialectics of thesis-antithesis-synthesis; see the reciprocal co-dependency of dichotomous terms; critique the pursuit of optimism, self-esteem, freedom, forgiveness and happiness; find potential value in pessimism, humility, constraint, anger and sadness; appreciate the ambivalent nature of the good life via principles of Buddhist aesthetics; understand the significance and value of engaging with the ‘dark side’ of life.
Lomas, T. (2015). Wellbeings: Suffering, compassion, and interconnectedness. In I. Ivtzan, T. Lomas, K. Hefferon & P. Worth (Eds.), Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life (pp. 134-152). London: Routledge.
Objectives: This chapter will enable you to: articulate the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy; see that compassion inherently involves embracing the dark side of life (i.e., suffering); consider the value placed on compassion by traditions like Christianity and Buddhism; appreciate a range of ‘other-regarding’ qualities in addition to compassion, including loving-kindness, generosity, and sympathetic joy; differentiate various models of selfhood, including individualism and intersubjectivism; generate compassion through meditative practices; understand how cultivating compassion can engender self-transcendence; appreciate self-transcendence as a key component of psychospiritual development.
Abstract: This chapter aims to broaden our appreciation of mindfulness by situating it within a deeper Buddhist context. We highlight dimensions of mindfulness that are implicit within canonical Buddhist teachings, but which are often overlooked in contemporary psychological literature. We do this by identifying three threads within the teachings, then weaving these threads together to elucidate the connections between them. The first thread is the notion that there are different types of mindfulness, captured by various Pali words: sati (awareness suffused with spirit of recollection); appamada (awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care); and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). The second thread is the teaching of Paṭiccasamuppāda (the law of conditionality), and Buddhaghosa’s interpretation of this as involving five different niyāmas (orders of causality): utu-niyāma (physical); bīja-niyāma (biological); citta-niyāma (mental); kamma-niyāma (ethical); and dhamma-niyāma (spiritual). The third thread is the idea of the spiritual path, and the notion that this comprises various stages; we focus here on the contemporary teachings of Sangharakshita, who identifies five stages (based on the Sarvāstivāda Five Path Schema): integration; skilful intention; spiritual death; spiritual rebirth; and spontaneous compassionate activity. We then weave these threads together into three broad phases of practice that a person might ideally progress through: phase 1 (cultivation of sati, appreciation of utu-, bīja- and citta-niyāma, and stage I of the path); phase 2 (cultivation of appamada, appreciation of kamma-niyāma, and stage II of the path); and phase 3 (cultivation of sampajañña, appreciation of dhamma-niyāma, and stages III, IV and V of the path).
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Engagement with meditation as a positive health trajectory: Divergent narratives of progress in male meditators. Psychology and Health, 29(2), 218-236.
Abstract: Objective: Studying personal narratives can generate understanding of how people experience physical and mental illness. However, few studies have explored narratives of engagement in health positive behaviours, with none focusing on men specifically. Thus, we sought to examine men’s experiences of their efforts to engage in and maintain healthy behaviours, focusing on meditation as an example of such behaviour. Design: We recruited 30 male meditators, using principles of maximum variation sampling, and conducted two in-depth interviews with each, separated by a year. Main outcome measures: We sought to elicit men’s narratives of their experiences of trying to maintain a meditation practice. Results: We identified an overall theme of a ‘positive health trajectory,’ in particular, making ‘progress’ through meditation. Under this were six main accounts. Only two articulated a ‘positive’ message about progress: climbing a hierarchy of practitioners, and progress catalysed in other areas of life. The other four reflected the difficulties around progress: progress being undermined by illness; disappointment with progress; progress ‘forgotten’ (superseded by other concerns); and progress re-conceptualised due to other priorities. Conclusion: Men’s narratives reveal the way they experience and construct their engagement with meditation – as an example of health behaviour – in terms of progress.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Men developing emotional intelligence through meditation? Combining narrative, cognitive, and EEG findings. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 15(2), 213-224.
Abstract: Traditional masculine norms around emotions (e.g., inexpressiveness) can mean men have difficulties managing their emotions, contributing to potential mental health problems. However, it is recognized that men and masculinities are diverse, and that some men can positively self-manage their mental health, although this has received little attention in the literature. Uniquely, we sought to find men who had discovered ways to engage constructively with their emotions, in this case through meditation. Thirty male meditators, recruited using a maximum variation sampling strategy, participated in a longitudinal mixed-method study in the UK. Participants undertook two cognitive neuroscience sessions – approximately one year apart – comprising cognitive assessments of attention, in combination with EEG measurement during task performance and meditation. In-depth narrative interviews exploring men’s experiences of meditation were also conducted at both time-points, analyzed using a modified constant comparison approach. Taken together, the quantitative and qualitative results suggested men developed attention skills through meditation, although there were variations according to previous meditation experience (e.g., a sharper longitudinal increase in theta amplitude under meditation for novice practitioners). Moreover, development of attention appeared to enhance men’s emotional intelligence, which in turn could be conducive to wellbeing. The paper has implications for psychologists working with men, pointing to the potential for teaching men about better regulating their emotions for improved wellbeing.
Abstract: Against a backdrop of increasing secularization, the number of Buddhists in Britain continues to rise (Office for National Statistics, 2012). However, few studies have explored the reasons people are drawn towards Buddhism, with none focusing on men specifically. Uniquely, we conducted in-depth narrative interviews with 30 male meditators in London, UK, to explore the appeal Buddhism held for them. Buddhism was portrayed as a nexus of ideas and practices which improved men’s lives. Analyzed through the prism of a multidimensional biopsychosocial model of wellbeing, Buddhism appeared to have the potential to promote wellbeing in biological terms (e.g., health behaviors), psychological terms (e.g., generating subjective wellbeing), and social terms (e.g., offering a supportive social network). From a gendered perspective, Buddhism offered men the opportunity to rework their masculine identity in ways that enhanced their wellbeing. This was a complex development, in which traditional masculine norms were upheld (e.g., Buddhism was constructed as a ‘rational’ framework of ideas/practices), yet also challenged (e.g., norms around alcohol abstinence). Our study offers new insights into the hazards and the attractions – particularly for men – of engaging with Buddhism.
Brani, O., Hefferon, K., Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Painter, J. (2014). The impact of body awareness on subjective wellbeing: The role of mindfulness. International Journal of Body Psychotherapy, 13(1), 94-107.
Abstract: Positive psychology has been criticized for the lack of research on the role of the body in wellbeing. As the research into the many variables that influence subjective wellbeing (SWB) continues, the important role of body awareness (BA) on SWB has been neglected. It was hypothesised that there would be a significant predictive relationship between BA and SWB, and moreover that this relationship would be moderated by mindfulness. One hundred and nineteen participants from the general population completed relevant self-report scales through an online survey. BA had a positive relationship with SWB, but this relationship was not moderated by mindfulness. These findings have implications for positive psychology that reinforce the argument for more body-based interventions and overall embodiment within the discipline.
Abstract: Being engaged in an activity one is passionate about has been tied to feeling life is worth living for. Existing research in passion has explored this phenomenon purely using quantitative research methodology, and by tying an individual’s passion to a specific activity. In this study, passion was explored in semi-structured interviews with 12 participants. The qualitative grounded theory analysis revealed a passionate way of being, with passion being located in the individual rather than in a specific activity. A new phenomenon to positive psychology, a passionate way of being is about having a purpose, creating positive impact, and pursuing variety. These key elements, amongst others, created a reinforcing, self-sustaining spiral, which offered a route to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, generally serving to enhance life (though it could also detract from life if it became overpowering).
Abstract: Although money is central to people’s lives, the impact of people’s attitudes to money on their well-being has rarely been studied. The present study explored the effect of giving away money on an individual’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes (anxiety, distrust, power-prestige and retention time). An innovative intervention was designed in which participants were invited to either give away money (the experimental condition) or spend money on themselves as usual (the control condition) for three days. The impact of the intervention was assessed using a mixed methods design, comprising pre- and post- quantitative self-report scales (life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes) together with qualitative diary reports (analysed using grounded theory). As hypothesized, participation in the intervention led to significant increases in wellbeing in the experimental group, including improvements in life satisfaction and self-esteem. In addition, while the control group experienced higher post-test levels of money-related anxiety, the experimental group suffered no such increases. The results provide corroboration for the powerful idea that charity does not only benefit the recipient, but positively impacts upon the donor too.
Abstract: Although theorists like Connell (1 995) have emphasised diversity in men and masculinities, there remains a tendency to present masculinity in singular terms as an assemblage of toxic traits, constructing men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill & Haywood, 201 2). However, an emergent body of work suggests men are able to resist or define traditional norms to negotiate a more ‘positive’ construction of masculinity, e.g., conducive to health. Thus the present article makes the case for introducing a new perspective within the study ofmen and masculinities: Critical Positive Masculinity. Influenced by the field of positive psychology, this perspective draws together work showing the potential for men to find more constructive ways of doing masculinity, including a series of articles on men adopting new masculine practices throughinvolvement with meditation. However, drawing on the Critical Studies on Men approach, the new perspective still seeks to problematize men and genderedpower relations, as even ostensibly ‘positive’ forms of masculinity can have deleterious consequences for marginalised groups. Critical positive masculinity offers a fresh perspective that is neither fatalistically negative nor naively optimistic about the possibility for positive change in men.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2013). ‘I was so done in that I just recognized it very plainly, “You need to do something”’: Men’s narratives of struggle, distress and turning to meditation. Health:, 17(2), 191-208.
Abstract: Traditional masculinities can mean men are unable or unwilling to deal constructivelywith distress. However, researchers increasingly acknowledge that men and masculinities(including hegemonic styles) are diverse. Moreover, men can positively manage theirwell-being, although little research explores how they do so. Uniquely, our study soughtto find men who report finding ways to care for themselves to examine narratives abouthow such self-care originated. We aimed to do this by exploring issues underpinningmen’s journeys towards meditation, focusing on implications for well-being. In-depthinterviews were conducted in 2009 with 30 meditators, selected using principles ofmaximum variation sampling, and analysed with a modified ‘constant comparison’approach. Men’s journeys towards meditation were fraught with difficulties. Mendescribed crossing a threshold from boyhood into ‘manhood’ where they encounteredtraditional forms of masculinity (e.g. stoicism), and most described subsequent strategiesto disconnect from emotions. While men eventually found ways to engage moreconstructively with their emotions and well-being, this article explores the struggle anddistress of their journeys.
Abstract: There is a prominent discourse in academic literature, and society at large, that presents men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill and Haywood, 2012: 483). Incorporated within this idea is the notion that ‘masculinity’ itself is problematic and represents a ‘risk factor’ for health (Gough, 2006). For example, traditional masculine norms, like ‘toughness,’ have been linked to poor emotional management skills in men, which in turn are implicated in mental health problems (Aldao et al., 2010). However, it is increasingly acknowledged that there is diversity within and across men and masculinities, and that men are capable of positively managing their well-being, although little research exists exploring how they do so. To address this deficit, this study sought to find men – meditators – who were likely to have found ways to positively manage well-being to examine factors relating to this engagement.
Meditation was selected as it is associated with positive outcomes on a range of mental health indicators (Mars and Abbey, 2010). Thirty male meditators, mainly from one organisation in London, were selected using principles of maximum variation sampling. The study employed a longitudinal mixed methods design, including in-depth narrative interviews analysed using a modified constant comparison approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1998), and also a cognitive-neuroscience component, involving EEG measurement across a battery of cognitive tasks and a meditation sitting. All participants were interviewed and tested twice,1 a year apart, between 2009 and 2010.Drawing on various theories, including Connell's (1995) notion of hegemonic (i.e. dominant) masculinity, and Mayer and Salovey's (1997) model of emotional intelligence, the analysis explored themes relating to men’s involvement with meditation, including how engagement came about, and its impact upon well-being.
The findings suggested that men negotiated difficult journeys towards meditation: for example, they came up against traditional and other hegemonic forms of masculinity, and most described subsequent strategies to be emotionally tough and/or disconnect from difficult emotions. Meditation itself was linked to well-being in various ways, notably through the cultivation of emotional intelligence via the development of attention – this was indicated by emergent themes in the qualitative analysis, and results from the cognitive neuroscience component.Overall, the analysis was unusual in exploring masculinities and meditation, as well as the wider social context of practice, and how the social dimensions of meditation also impacted upon well-being. For example, many men meditated within a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991), which influenced their behaviour, e.g. reducing alcohol use. The findings also highlighted various problems linked to meditation that have received less attention in the literature, including mental health disorders, and ostracism from peers. In summary, the study discusses implications for helping men to better manage their well-being.