I am feeling particularly thankful today to my colleagues Norman Farb (University of Toronto), Philippe Goldin (University of California – Davis), and Barbara Fredrickson (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill), with whom I wrote and recently published the target article for the December issue of the esteemed, international journal Psychological Inquiry. Our target article, entitled “Mindfulness Broadens Awareness and Builds Eudaimonic Meaning: A Process Model of Mindful Positive Emotion Regulation,” articulates the Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory, a new conceptual model of the cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological processes by which mindfulness might stimulate positive psychological states and lead to a sense of meaning in the face of adversity. In brief, the Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory asserts that mindfulness allows one to decenter from stress appraisals into a metacognitive state of awareness that broadens attention to previously unnoticed pieces of information about one’s life, accommodating a reappraisal (i.e., a reframing) of adverse circumstances that reduces distress and promotes positive emotions. This reappraisal is then deepened and enriched when one savors what is pleasant, growth promoting, or meaningful in life, a process which motivates values-driven behavior and engenders a deeper sense of purpose and self-actualization.

The entire journal issue is devoted to the discussion of our new Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory. Our work was the subject of 10 erudite commentaries from leading scholars in the fields of contemplative science, addiction neuroscience, clinical psychology, affective science, psycho-oncology, social psychology, and consciousness studies, who extended, challenged, and pushed our theory into new and wider applications. We responded to the commentaries with our own article “The Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory: Extensions, Applications, and Challenges at the Attention–Appraisal–Emotion Interface,” which broadens the theory to address how mindfulness re-configures structures within working memory, describes mindfulness as a domain general resource for promoting emotion regulation flexibility, and suggests future directions to be pursued toward the establishment of a more comprehensive contemplative science.

The target article may be downloaded here and our response to the commentaries downloaded here.

May our work help advance the field to promote human flourishing!

4 thoughts on “The Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory: A New Process Model of Mindful Emotion Regulation

  1. Dr. Garland,

    This is an excellent article and I think this has very much needed to be said. From my experience of using mindfulness meditation for chronic migraine I think you are very accurate. I was especially pleased to read how mindfulness shifts processes from the ventral PFC to the dorsal PFC because when I “decenter” and observe pain many times it immediately decreases and sometimes even disappears. I correlate this to the “turning off like a light switch” of the emotional content associated with the pain which fits with your model perfectly. I am a family physician disabled by chronic migraine since 2013. As part of my attempt to cope with the chronic pain and other manifestations of this disease I pursued yoga and mindfulness. In 2014 and 2015 I concentrated on my 500 hour Viniyoga Foundations Program for yoga teachers and therapists. In Viniyoga we utilize all of the Eight Limbs of Yoga similar to following the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Since completing the yoga training I have turned again to my mindfulness meditation because I found no equivalent in yoga. I follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Shizen Young and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite the fact that I am still disabled for my profession I have improved in important ways since practicing yoga and mindfulness starting in 2011 and I have indeed seen an “upward spiral” of eudaimonia with reappraisal and savoring critical aspects of the process. Thank you very much for your insightful work.


    Charles Staubs, D.O.

    1. Dr. Staubs – thank you for your personal insights. I am glad to know that you feel that my Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory accords with your own experience. Your story of pain decreasing or disappearing during mindfulness meditation maps onto the anecdotal reports of many participants in my ongoing studies of Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement.

      Best wishes,
      Eric Garland, PhD, LCSW

  2. From mindfulness to meaning to mindfulness AND meaning, a different perspective

    Mindfulness, for all its undeniable virtues, can nonetheless be boring, as ‘acting non-judgmentally in the moment’ cannot inhibit the basic human need to perceive future novel and positive outcomes. But one can indeed act non-judgmentally and still pursue singular and meaningful ends, and not only extend daily mindfulness, but enhance positive affect to boot. The procedure is easy, simply follow your usual mindfulness protocols, and simultaneously pursue or anticipate pursuing meaningful behavior (e.g. cleaning house, writing poetry, exercise, etc.). Do this continuously for standard sessions of a least a half hour and chart your progress. You will be more pleasurably alert, engaged, and incented to continue being mindful. Neurologically, this is due to ‘opioid-dopamine’ interactions, or the fact that mindfulness induces a state of deep rest, which is pleasurable due to the induction of opioid activity in the brain. Meaningful activity on the other hand induces dopaminergic activity, which is felt as a state of alert arousal. Opioid and dopamine neurons are located proximally in the midbrain, and when both are simultaneously activated will also co-stimulate each other, resulting in enhanced feelings of arousal and pleasure. Indeed, when rest is accompanied by highly meaningful behaviors (creating art, athletic prowess), pleasure and alertness are highly accentuated, resulting in ‘peak’ or ‘flow’ experiences.
    So there is my procedure and prediction, which of course you can prove or falsify for yourself, give or take an hour!

    This interpretation is based on the work of the distinguished neuroscientist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, a leading theorist on emotion and incentive motivation, who was kind to vet the work for accuracy and endorse the finished manuscript.
    Berridge’s Site

    I offer a more detailed theoretical explanation in pp. 47-52, and pp 82-86 of my open source book on the neuroscience of resting states, ‘The Book of Rest’, linked below.

    Meditation and Rest
    from the International Journal of Stress Management, by this author

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