10 Ways Meditation Can Make You a Nicer Person
Last Updated: Feb 15, 2017
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Have you ever gotten home after work and felt like the whole day was a blur? Or snapped at someone for no reason? Do you wake up on Monday mornings and just don’t want to get up? Don’t worry, you’re not alone: It’s all too easy and common to get wrapped up in your daily life, feeling the pressure to do more and get more, without giving yourself the breathing space to just be.
MEDITATION RELIEVES STRESS
By now, the positive effects of meditation are well-known. Studies have shown that a simple breath-focused meditation lessens anxiety and depression symptoms and boosts self-esteem. It also reduces the activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala, which creates the fight-or-flight response (read: stress). Less stress = more breathing space = less bad moods.
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MEDITATION IMPROVES SLEEP
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve the quality of your sleep. And we all know that when we don’t get enough sleep we’re not exactly the kindest or most open version of ourselves, right?
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MEDITATION HELPS YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR PATTERNS
Meditation is about becoming aware of your thoughts, then letting them go and returning to the present moment. This is where mindfulness meditation can lead to insight about your thought patterns. While you’re meditating, you might find that your thoughts all have a similar theme, like a song on repeat. But once you become familiar with how you think about things (e.g., fixating on something that’s bothering you), then you can make the decision of whether you want to indulge in them or let them go.
MEDITATION HELPS YOU BREAK YOUR PATTERNS
Recognizing your own mental patterns gives you great power. It means you have the opportunity to change that pattern or break that habit. If you can learn to recognize a thought pattern as it’s happening, then you may experience a brief “pause” between that thought and your automatic reaction. That pause gives you the opportunity to choose which path to pursue. The fight-or-flight response — which is reduced by meditation — is all about automatic reactions. You may need fighting and fleeing reactions in an emergency, but they’re not exactly conducive to opening up and connecting with others.
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MEDITATION ENCOURAGES COMPASSION
One of the key messages of the type of meditation I practice is gentleness. Once you learn to be truly gentle with yourself, then that gentleness will extend to others in the form of compassion. There are also some meditation techniques that specifically cultivate compassion, and there are studies that show that these techniques (one popular one is called loving-kindness meditation) really do enhance feelings of connectedness and positivity toward others.
MEDITATION TEACHES YOU TO ENJOY THE MOMENT
Meditation can enhance your senses, allowing you to fully experience whatever it is that you’re doing. When I give myself time and space to sit and basically do nothing, I notice and appreciate the smaller things: I hear birds chirping, I see colors vividly, I taste food fully. When I'm living in the present and appreciating the details, that extends to the people around me.
MEDITATION ENCOURAGES SELF-CONTROL
Meditation increases activity in the part of the brain associated with self-regulation, or the ability to purposefully direct attention, suppress knee-jerk reactions and adapt behavior to the situation. People who meditate train themselves to come back to the present moment when their minds wander, so they know how to work with distractions and fast-changing conditions. They have practice in regulating their emotions, which can help in tense situations.
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MEDITATION HELPS YOU PROCESS EMOTIONS
Meditation involves allowing whatever thoughts and emotions to arise, being aware of them, then gently coming back to the present moment. When what comes up is an emotion you’re not sweeping it under rug, you’re feeling it, even if for a brief moment. During a meditation session you’ll feel a lot of what’s going on in your life at the time. The key is not to dwell on it so that when you encounter similar situations outside of meditation, those emotions won’t feel so new or dramatic and you’ll be able to respond to them positively.
MEDITATION ENCOURAGES CREATIVITY
Meditation helps you create space, to ventilate your thoughts and emotions. Space is the nourishment of creativity and problem-solving. When I need to solve a problem or think creatively, the first thing I do is put everything else on pause and just sit still for a moment. Then I let the solution come to me on its own. In scientific language, meditation promotes divergent thinking, meaning it encourages new ideas to be generated. Have you ever felt stuck in a relationship or a conversation? Divergent thinking could help you come up with new ways to deal with tired situations and work through problems rather than shut down or run away from them.
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MEDITATION MAKES YOU A BETTER LISTENER
In many of the meditation retreats I’ve participated in, we do an exercise in which we pair up and take turns talking about a topic. The listener isn’t allowed to speak: They’re essentially meditating on what the other person is saying. In meditation you practice nonjudgment and pausing. You practice placing your attention on an object and continually coming back to that object (studies show that meditation actually helps reduce mind-wandering). When you learn this skill, you can then apply it to people and conversations. You can practice listening without an agenda or without planning what you’re going to say next. You can just be there, feeling and understanding that person with your full heart and mind.
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