Summary: An intensive retreat program that exposes people to neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, helps improve positive emotions while reducing stress, anxiety, and negative emotions.
Source: University of Trento
A new study coordinated by the University of Trento shows the beneficial effects of an intensive program on happiness.
The results showed that several psychological well-being measures gradually increased within participants from the beginning to the end of the course. That was especially true for life satisfaction, perceived well-being, self-awareness and emotional self-regulation.
The participants in the study also reported a significant decrease in anxiety, perceived stress, negative thoughts, rumination and anger tendencies.
The researchers observed, simultaneously, improvements in the positive aspects and a reduction of negative emotions, both in the short term and longitudinally throughout the program.
Nicola De Pisapia, researcher of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences of the University of Trento and scientific coordinator, explained the fundamental principles of the study:
“The training that we proposed to the participants was inspired by the idea – present in both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions – that happiness is inextricably linked to the development of inner equilibrium, a kinder and more open perspective of self, others, and the world, towards a better understanding of the human mind and brain. In this training process we need on the one hand the theoretical study of philosophy and science, and on the other meditation practices”.
The study was conducted over nine months (with seven theoretical/practical weekends and two meditation retreats) at the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute of Tibetan culture in Pomaia (Italy).
For the theoretical part, the participants attended a series of presentations and watched some video courses, and took part in open discussions on topics of psychology, neuroscience, the history of Western thought and the philosophy of life of Buddhism.
The scientific topics included neuroplasticity, the brain circuits of attention and mind wandering, stress and anxiety, pain and pleasure, positive and negative emotions, desire and addiction, the sense of self, empathy and compassion.
For the practical part, a series of exercises were proposed, taken from different, Buddhist and Western, contemplative traditions (for example, meditation on the breath, analytical meditation, personal journal).
In recent years, excluding the “recipes” that mistake happiness for hedonism, and the New Age obsession with positive thinking, research has shown that meditation practices have important benefits for the mind, while studies on happiness and wisdom have been scarce. De Pisapia therefore concluded:
“I believe that in times like these, full of changes and uncertainties, it is fundamental to scientifically study how Western and Eastern philosophical traditions, together with the most recent discoveries on the mind and the brain, can be integrated with contemplative practices in secular way. The goal is to give healthy people the opportunity to work on themselves to develop authentic happiness, not hedonism or superficial happiness. With this study we wanted to take a small step in this direction”.
About this psychology research news
Source: University of Trento
Contact: Press Office – University of Trento
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Open access.
“The Art of Happiness: An Explorative Study of a Contemplative Program for Subjective Well-Being” by Nicola De Pisapia et al. Frontiers in Psychology
The Art of Happiness: An Explorative Study of a Contemplative Program for Subjective Well-Being
In recent decades, psychological research on the effects of mindfulness-based interventions has greatly developed and demonstrated a range of beneficial outcomes in a variety of populations and contexts. Yet, the question of how to foster subjective well-being and happiness remains open.
Here, we assessed the effectiveness of an integrated mental training program The Art of Happiness on psychological well-being in a general population. The mental training program was designed to help practitioners develop new ways to nurture their own happiness. This was achieved by seven modules aimed at cultivating positive cognition strategies and behaviors using both formal (i.e., lectures, meditations) and informal practices (i.e., open discussions). The program was conducted over a period of 9 months, also comprising two retreats, one in the middle and one at the end of the course.
By using a set of established psychometric tools, we assessed the effects of such a mental training program on several psychological well-being dimensions, taking into account both the longitudinal effects of the course and the short-term effects arising from the intensive retreat experiences.
The results showed that several psychological well-being measures gradually increased within participants from the beginning to the end of the course. This was especially true for life satisfaction, self-awareness, and emotional regulation, highlighting both short-term and longitudinal effects of the program.
In conclusion, these findings suggest the potential of the mental training program, such as The Art of Happiness, for psychological well-being.