Mindfulness Meditation can Make Some Americans More Selfish and Less Generous

When Japanese chef Yoshihiro Murata travels, he brings water with him from Japan. He says this is the only way to make truly authentic dashi, the flavorful broth essential to Japanese cuisine. There’s science to back him up: water in Japan is notably softer – which means it has fewer dissolved minerals – than in many other parts of the world. So when Americas enjoy Japanese food, they arguably aren’t getting quite the real thing.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to food. Taking something out of its geographic or cultural context often changes the thing itself.

Take the word “namaste.” In modern Hindi, it’s simply a respectful greeting, the equivalent of a formal “hello” appropriate for addressing one’s elders. But in the U.S., its associations with yoga have led many people to believe that it’s an inherently spiritual word.

Another cultural tradition that has changed across time and place is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a nonjudgmental expansive awareness of one’s experiences, often cultivated through meditation.

A range of studies have found mindfulness to be beneficial for the people who practice it in a number of ways.

However, very little research has examined its effects on societies, workplaces and communities. As a social psychologist at the University at Buffalo, I wondered if the growing enthusiasm for mindfulness might be overlooking something important: the way practicing it might affect others.

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