“School-based mindfulness training does not appear to boost wellbeing or improve the mental health of teenagers, according to research that found many pupils were bored by the course and did not practise it at home.”
(The Guardian, 12 July 2022)
Here’s a challenge to the picture portrayed in this Guardian article. For a start, it’s actually not possible to ‘boost’ one’s wellbeing. This is terminology that is better suited to the gaming industry. The survival mode of gaming is based on the need to collect things and avoid things in order to achieve the goal – survival. This might be fun for gaming, but it’s not so fun when applied to wellbeing in real life. The ‘survival mode’ format makes us feel vulnerable because we have to work very hard doing all the stuff we believe we need to do to boost our wellbeing, and avoid the stuff we believe can take it away. It’s mentally exhausting. And inevitably, it leads to mental overload and burnout.
Mindfulness, a helpful meditation for many people, is being marketed in organisations, schools and to individuals as another tool that people should practice in order to boost their wellbeing. Yet using this approach as the key tool for helping young people’s mental health in schools is not working, as the research quoted demonstrates. So, could society be approaching this all wrong?
Yes, mindfulness does help many people. But it will always be limited when it is set up and put forward as a necessary technique to build young people’s wellbeing. The Guardian article states that the students actually found it boring and did not continue the practice at home, which is not a surprise if you happen to live or be familiar with teenagers in this modern era. Moreover, by reinforcing the idea that wellbeing is something that is given to you by outside practices or products – mindfulness in this instance – we are drumming into our children that they are lacking and therefore unprepared for life’s challenges without these ‘wellbeing practices’.
Young people are listening and we are letting them down. We are influencing the way that they view their wellbeing and are encouraging more and more attachments to outside practices, products or people that will ‘boost their wellbeing’. This is not the way to help our youth. Students – and the rest of us – need practical, essential knowledge which provides a thorough education of how our minds work, and where the source of wellbeing lies. This knowledge will empower us all to naturally navigate the landscape of our own psychological landscape, day to day.
At Resilimy, and iheart, our sister organisation, we focus on educating people that they are NOT lacking; that they do NOT have a wellbeing deficit. The ‘resilient deficit’ paradigm is untrue and has serious implications for the poor mental health that we are currently feeling the full brunt of.
Rather, we provide an education that empowers people to confidently know that the qualities of wellbeing we are all searching for – self-worth, connection, a settled mind, wise thinking, motivation, resilience, kindness – are closer and more available than we think. In fact, they are built-in to our minds. What we call innate. The essence of our work is to explain why these qualities get covered up such that we don’t feel them, and to provide a roadmap to uncovering them again. (Note: ‘covered up’ means they are still there – always!)
With this education embedded in our homes, schools, organisations and communities, we will start to see our all members of society from across the age spectrum beginning to believe in themselves again. As more and more people realise that they are always ok, even when we don’t feel ok, we’ll become armed with the essential knowledge to overcome our challenges and realise our extraordinary potential.
And therein lies the greatest, most sustainable wellbeing ‘boost’ anyone can get.