7 minutes daily
How to Do It
This practice draws on a guided meditation created by Eve Ekman PhD, LCSW, Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center..
We recommend listening to the audio of this guided meditation in the player below. We have included a script of the practice to help you follow it yourself or teach it to others.
For this practice, it's especially important that we find a comfortable position. This will be easiest lying down or seated.
To help us focus and gain some initial stability, let's bring our attention and awareness to the breath at the belly. Inhale, noticing sensations of breath. Exhale, noticing sensations of breath, as the belly rises and falls.
We'll now shift into this practice of joy, by bringing to mind someone who we really believe has our best interests in their heart. Someone who has extended kindness and support to us. This could be someone we know now or someone from the past. A friend, family member, teacher, colleague.
Choose just one person and bring them to mind as though they were seated right in front of you. Smiling at you.
Imagine them truly wishing for you to be happy, fulfilled. For you to have a life that is flourishing. Imagine them beaming this towards you in their smile, in their eyes. And with your next breaths, inhale and draw in that intention of goodness.
In meditation and visualization practices, we have an opportunity to generate positive emotional states right here and now that we might experience in the world where this person really next to us. Simply through our mind and imagination, it's as though we can call upon this valuable resource right here, right now. So for a couple more breaths, really take in this wish of well, happiness, joy from this person who cherishes us.
Sending Loving-Kindness to Loved Ones
Now letting go of the image of this person, notice if in the body there is any emotional residue. Feelings of warmth or goodness. Ways we can identify what it's like to receive this wish of happiness. Then relax into these sensations and feelings for just a couple breaths.
With this feeling of support and happiness, we can now extend this boost of joy to others. Bring to mind someone in your life who could really use an extra boost—a friend, family member, or colleague. And again, bring them to mind vividly as though they were right in front of you.
And without too many stories, or thoughts, or ideas—just call upon this experience of wishing this person to be truly happy, fulfilled, joyful. As you inhale, draw in this intention. And as you exhale, wish this person happiness, fulfillment, flourishing.
Twice more—inhale, drawing in this intention. And then exhale, sending out.
Release the image of this person. And once again, just notice the sensations in your own body associated with wishing someone else well, generating and extending joy.
Let's bring this practice to a close with three long inhales and three long exhales.
Why You Should Try It
Practicing kindness is one of the most direct routes to happiness: Research suggests that kind people tend to be more satisfied with their relationships and with their lives in general. We all have a natural capacity for kindness, but sometimes we don’t take steps to nurture and express this capacity as much as we could.
Loving-kindness meditation (sometimes called “metta” meditation) is a great way to cultivate our propensity for kindness. It involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras.
Why It Works
Loving-kindness meditation increases happiness in part by making people feel more connected to others—to loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers. Research suggests that when people practice loving-kindness meditation regularly, they start automatically reacting more positively to others—and their social interactions and close relationships become more satisfying. Loving-kindness meditation can also reduce people’s focus on themselves—which can, in turn, lower symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Evidence That It Works
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.
People who practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation daily for seven weeks reported a steady increase in their daily experience of positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, and love. They also reported greater life satisfaction and lower depressive symptoms following the intervention, compared to when they started. People who were on a waitlist to learn the practice didn't report these benefits.
Who Has Tried The Practice?
Participants in the above study were mostly white, held bachelor’s degrees, and had a median annual income of over $85,000. Additional research has engaged members of other groups:
- Israeli adults who attended seven 90-minute weekly classes on Loving-Kindness Meditation and were asked to practice daily “showed significant reductions in self‐criticism and depressive symptoms as well as significant increases in self‐compassion and positive emotions” compared to those on a waitlist.
- For university freshmen in China, 30 minutes of Loving-Kindness Meditation three times a week for four weeks enhanced positive emotions, decreased negative emotions, and improved interpersonal interactions.
- Singaporean individuals with clinically significant symptoms of borderline personality disorder showed reduced negative emotions and feelings of rejection after 10 minutes of Loving-Kindness Meditation.
- Japanese individuals increased in self-compassion and decreased in negative thoughts and emotions after a seven-week program that included Loving-Kindness Meditation, Mindful Breathing, and self-compassion exercises.
- University students in South Korea experienced reductions in self-criticism and psychological distress, along with improvements in self-reassurance and mental health, after participating in a six-week program that included Loving-Kindness Meditation, Body Scan, and Mindful Breathing.
- Female trauma survivors of interpersonal violence (41% non-white) in an American substance abuse treatment and housing program experienced significant reductions in mental health symptoms across a six-week meditation program that included two weeks of Loving-Kindness Meditation for an hour every day.
- Arabic- and Bangla-speaking migrants in Australia experienced reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress after a bilingual group mindfulness program that included Loving-Kindness Meditation, Body Scan, and Mindful Breathing.
Loving-Kindness Meditation is one of the practices included in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and based on Buddhist teachings, MBSR is a six- to 10-week program that teaches various mindfulness techniques through weekly sessions and homework assignments. Research suggests that MBSR benefits the mental health of various groups, including the following:
- People in different cultures and countries, such as bilingual Latin-American families, university students in China, disadvantaged families in Hong Kong, low-income cyclo drivers in Vietnam, males with generalized anxiety disorder in Iran, Indigenous people in the Republic of Congo, and Aboriginal Australians.
- Women around the world, including pregnant women in China, rural women in India who experienced still-birth, at-risk women in Iran, Muslim women college students in the United Arab Emirates, American survivors of intimate partner violence, and socioeconomically disadvantaged Black women with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- People with certain diseases, such as New Zealanders with rheumatoid arthritis, male patients with heart disease in India, patients with diabetes in South Korea, cancer patients in Canada, breast cancer survivors in China, and HIV-positive individuals in Toronto, San Francisco, Iran, and South Africa.
More research is needed to explore whether, and how, the impact of this practice extends to other groups and cultures.
Keep in Mind
A 2015 study found that MBSR “improved depressive symptoms regardless of affiliation with a religion, sense of spiritually, … sex, or age.” However, other studies suggest that MBSR may not benefit everyone equally:
- When MBSR was administered in Massachusetts correctional facilities, male prisoners experienced less mental health improvement than female prisoners.
- MBSR may not be beneficial in all cultural contexts. For Haitian mental health practitioners and teachers, MBSR contradicted some of their cultural worldviews and everyday practices. Brazilian medical students who participated in MBSR experienced no significant changes in mental health or quality of life.
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Arimitsu, K. (2016). The effects of a program to enhance self-compassion in Japanese individuals: A randomized controlled pilot study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(6), 559–571.
Blignault, I., Saab, H., Woodland, L., Mannan, H., & Kaur, A. (2021). Effectiveness of a community-based group mindfulness program tailored for Arabic and Bangla-speaking migrants. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 15, 1–13.
Fogarty, F. A., Booth, R. J., Lee, A. C., Dalbeth, N., & Consedine, N. S. (2019). Mindfulness-based stress reduction with individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis: Evaluating depression and anxiety as mediators of change in disease activity. Mindfulness, 10(7), 1328–1338.
Gallegos, A. M., Heffner, K. L., Cerulli, C., Luck, P., McGuinness, S., & Pigeon, W. R. (2020). Effects of mindfulness training on posttraumatic stress symptoms from a community-based pilot clinical trial among survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(8), 859–868.
Gayner, B., Esplen, M. J., DeRoche, P., Wong, J., Bishop, S., Kavanagh, L., & Butler, K. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to manage affective symptoms and improve quality of life in gay men living with HIV. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35(3), 272–285.
Greeson, J. M., Smoski, M. J., Suarez, E. C., Brantley, J. G., Ekblad, A. G., Lynch, T. R., & Wolever, R. Q. (2015). Decreased symptoms of depression after mindfulness-based stress reduction: Potential moderating effects of religiosity, spirituality, trait mindfulness, sex, and age. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 21(3), 166–174.
He, X., Shi, W., Han, X., Wang, N., Zhang, N., & Wang, X. (2015). The interventional effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions and interpersonal interactions. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 11, 5.
Hecht, F. M., Moskowitz, J. T., Moran, P., Epel, E. S., Bacchetti, P., Acree, M., Kemeny, M. E., Mendes, W. B., Duncan, L. G., Weng, H., Levy, J. A., Deeks, S. G., & Folkman, S. (2018). A randomized, controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction in HIV infection. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 73, 331–339.
Ho, R. T. H., Lo, H. H. M., Fong, T. C. T., & Choi, C. W. (2020). Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on diurnal cortisol pattern in disadvantaged families: A randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 117, 7.
Hoffman, D. M. (2019). Mindfulness and the cultural psychology of personhood: Challenges of self, other, and moral orientation in Haiti. Culture & Psychology, 25(3), 302–323.
Jung, H. Y., Lee, H., & Park, J. (2015). Comparison of the effects of Korean mindfulness-based stress reduction, walking, and patient education in diabetes mellitus. Nursing & Health Sciences, 17(4), 516–525.
Kabat-Zinn, J., De Torrijos, F., Skillings, A. H., Blacker, M., Mumford, G. T., Alvares, D. L., & Rosal, M. C. (2016). Delivery and effectiveness of a dual language (English/Spanish) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in the inner city - A seven-year experience: 1992-1999. Mindfulness & Compassion, 1(1), 2–13.
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Lavrencic, L. M., Donovan, T., Moffatt, L., Keiller, T., Allan, W., Delbaere, K., & Radford, K. (2021). Ngarraanga giinganay (‘thinking peacefully’): Co-design and pilot study of a culturally-grounded mindfulness-based stress reduction program with older First Nations Australians. Evaluation and Program Planning, 87, 12.
Le, T. N. (2017). Cultural considerations in a phenomenological study of mindfulness with Vietnamese youth and cyclo drivers. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 6(4), 246–260.
Lee, M. Y., Zaharlick, A., & Akers, D. (2017). Impact of meditation on mental health outcomes of female trauma survivors of interpersonal violence with co-occurring disorders: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(14), 2139–2165.
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Neto, A. D., Lucchetti, A. L. G., Ezequiel, O. S., & Lucchetti, G. (2020). Effects of a required large-group mindfulness meditation course on first-year medical students’ mental health and quality of life: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(3), 672–678.
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Samuelson, M., Carmody, J., Kabat-Zinn, J., & Bratt, M. A. (2007). Mindfulness-based stress reduction in Massachusetts correctional facilities. The Prison Journal, 87(2), 254–268.
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Stell, A. J., & Farsides, T. (2016). Brief loving-kindness meditation reduces racial bias, mediated by positive other-regarding emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 40(1), 140–147.
Thomas, J., Raynor, M., & Bahussain, E. (2016). Stress reactivity, depressive symptoms, and mindfulness: A Gulf Arab perspective. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 5(3), 156–166.
Vinesett, A. L., Whaley, R. R., Woods-Giscombe, C., Dennis, P., Johnson, M., Li, Y., Mounzeo, P., Baegne, M., & Wilson, K. H. (2017). Modified African Ngoma healing ceremony for stress reduction: A pilot study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(10), 800–804.
Waldron, E. M., & Burnett-Zeigler, I. (2021). The impact of participation in a mindfulness-based intervention on posttraumatic stress symptomatology among Black women: A pilot study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 14(1), 29–37.
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Zhang, J., Cui, Y., Zhou, Y., & Li, Y. (2019). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on prenatal stress, anxiety and depression. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 24(1), 51–58.
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Loving-kindness meditation invites us to cultivate warm feelings of love and kindness toward increasingly distant people, and ultimately all living creatures. How concerned are you about your community, your fellow citizens, and all of mankind? Take the Connection to Humanity quiz to find out.