49 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MINDFULNESS AND PERCEIVED HAPPINESS OF MONK AND NUN STUDENTS IN VIETNAM BUDDHIST UNIVERSITY

Thứ năm - 09/05/2019 04:06
by Assoc. Prof. Ph.D. Huong, Phan Thi Mai
M.S. Hoa, Thich Nu Minh
755




 
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MINDFULNESANPERCEIVEHAPPINESS OF MONK AND NUN STUDENTIN VIETNAM BUDDHIST UNIVERSITY

by Assoc. Prof. Ph.D. Huong, Phan Thi Mai

M.S. Hoa, Thich Nu Minh*



ABSTRACT

Mindfulness is  a term  originally derivefrom Buddhism, simply defined by Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh as a state of maintaining the awareness in the presence. Many studies in America and Europe (instead of conducted abroad) have shown that mindfulness has an obvious relationship with the perception of happiness. However, there have not been many similar studies in Vietnam. So, this study was conducted to find scientific evidence of the relationship between mindfulness and happiness. The sample in this study consisted of 164 students who were monks and nuns, and were studying at Buddhist University in Ho Chi Minh City. The paper shows empirical evidence of the relationship between mindfulness and perceived happiness. The research tool was a questionnaire survey consisting of the scales of Mindfulness and



* Ph.D. candidate, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences
 


Happiness, and demographic information. Using factor analyses, correlation and regression, the study has pointed out three components of mindfulness. The results show that mindfulness directly had a positive impact on the perception of happiness or indirectly resulted in monk and nun students’ feeling of happiness through reducing negative emotions, in which direct impact is superior. The findings of this study contribute to the guidance for mindfulness practice in order to help people achieve the state of happiness.

Key words: Perceived happiness, Mindfulness, Monk and Nun students.
 



INTRODUCTION


***
 

Mindfulness is originally derived from Buddhism and is associated with meditation. Along with the development of Buddhism as well as the practicality that the Buddhist teaching foundation brings to people, mindfulness meditation becomes popular and suitable, not only for the religious priests but also for all people who have no faith in religion. Mindfulness is the awareness of the presence, the control of ones actions and words, the ability to acknowledge at the presence, without personal criticism, judgment or affection towards it. Mindfulness is the realization of all things at the very moment as they really are, without underestimation or overestimation. A mindfulness experience is to pay attention on a subject, while doing so, we know exactly what is happening inside and outside ourselves, and we know what is existing at the present moment, at the here and the now” only. According to Buddhism, mindfulness training is a method of contemplating and purifying the mind from sleeping to awakening, from ignorance to enlightenment, and from suffering to happiness.

Happiness is a positive psychological / emotional state a person often perceived when a need is satisfied or when there is a perceived
 


security, satisfaction with the present life, pleasure and/ or comfort. The feeling of happiness reflects personal needs, individual psychological state, so it is clearly subjective. The characteristics of happy people having positive emotions, retaining the control and balance of their emotions, leading a peaceful and relaxing life without negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, or suffering.

It can be seen that mindfulness and happiness are two distinct constructs - the former is the training of the mind, the concentration on one subject, while the latter is the human psychological and emotional state. However, many studies in the world have found significant association between mindfulness and perceived happiness (Coo et al., 2017; Bellin, 2015; Brown et al., 2003). Studies have also found evidence mindfulness experiences’ impact on the increase of perceived happiness in both meditating and non-meditating groups (Hollis-Walker & Colosimob, 2011), in all mindfulness practice methods (Englund-Helmeke & Shawn, 2014). Explaining the neural mechanism of this relationship, the empirical study of Sieghl (2007) has shown that mindfulness meditators feel happier than non – mindfulness people because the training of mindfulness meditation combines many component activities between the brain and body. Moreover, mindfulness meditation motivate to rise the nine kinds of an individual psychological functions that make people feel more positive about their present life and generally happier. Mindfulness practices help to create a combined activity in the prefrontal cortex that positively affects to the overall activity of the brain, which creates an overall balance of an individual emotion and perception.

In Vietnam, mindfulness practice is considered as a method of improving peoples health and happiness (Phung Son, 2011). The author has also provided scientific evidence that mindfulness brings positive emotions, creativity, activeness, relaxation and happiness to meditators (Phung Son, 2014). Thich Nhat Tu (2018) emphasized the role of mindfulness meditation as a method of purifying and
 


nourishing the body and mind. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation will be at peace, happiness right in the present, full of ignorance of ignorance, arousing happiness and freedom forever.

Distinguishing happiness coming from the mind and from the material, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (2015) has shown that practicing mindfulness meditation brings about authentic happiness, because there is a peace of mind that derives from within, and is not quickly diluted as the feeling of happiness from material. Similarly, Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu (2002) has affirmed that happiness does not come from outside due to the six bases exposed to the six ceilings (eyes seeing beauty, earphones ...) but due to the tranquility in the mind by practicing meditation, contemplating, mastering our mind, depending on joy and letting go of everything, the peak is to master the birth and death, to live and die, to come.

Therefore, while international studies have found such diversity of empirical evidence for the relationship between mindfulness and happiness, this area is still rarely explored in Vietnam. Mindfulness can have an impact on happiness with a mechanism that has yet to be clarified. Studying this relationship on the group of young monks and nuns, especially the monk and nun students, in order to find scientific evidence, will contribute to the confirmation of the role of mindfulness practice on perceived happiness of monks and nuns in particular, and other people in general. Eventually, this might lead to more active mindfulness practices among young people.

RESEARCH METHOD
  1. Research sample

Vietnam Buddhist University is a higher education institution of Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, locating in three regions: Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City. In particular, Vietnam Buddhist University in Ho Chi Minh City is the academy with the largest number of students, the largest boarding school of Buddhist studies in the country, and at the same time, provides an environment for
 


Buddhist discipline application and practice to help thousands of monk and nun students live the moral life and experience spiritual harmony of Buddhist traditions.

At the undergraduate level, the University offers two training systems: formal training and distance education. Distance learning is for all ages and social classes who wish to study (except the age condition for monks and nuns following this program is over 35 years). For formal training, the monks and nuns must pass the entrance exam and other necessary conditions (i.e. enrollment regulations). After admission, students are registered for the boarding school at the University, and they have to comply with the strict rules of the University. There, the monk and nun students not only are equipped with knowledge but also allowed to practice necessary skills and develop spiritual values as well as to attain concentration and wisdom achievements.

Currently, at the undergraduate level, nearly 1500 monk and nun students of 12th and 13th classes are studying in the University. The sample was randomly selected, consisting of 164 students of both classes (who attended a Basic Education class with a total of 237 students). The description of the sample is shown in Table 1.

The proportion of nuns in the sample is nearly twice as many of monks, most of them follow the Pure Land Sect with the age ranges from 23 to 29 years, and home-leaving time of the majority is 4 years or more. With such a pattern, practicing mindfulness meditation is not strange to them, and the results reflect mostly the nuns’ practising Pure Land Sect.

Table 1: Description of the sample

 
Characteristics Number Proportion %


Sex
Male 55 33,6
Female 106 64,6
Missing 3 1,8
 

 



Sect
Meditation 23 14.0
Pure Land 112 68.3
Secret 4 2.4
Other 19 11.6
Missing 6 3,7



Practice Time
1-3 years 2 1.2
4-6 years 41 25.0
7-10 years 61 37.2
10 years or more 57 34.8
Missing 3 1.8

Age
Mean

Standard Deviation
27.3

4.3
Highest 49

Lowest 19
Total 164 100
 
  1. Data collecting tools

A questionnaire was the main tool for data collection. The main contents of the questionnaire include:
    1. Perceived Happiness Scale: consists of 16 items on emotions, including 9 positive ones, such as: Feeling energetic, Feeling peaceful, ... and 7 negative emotions, such as Feeling lonely, Feeling miserable / sad, Feeling sullen, depressed... Items are all Likert-scale with 1 being Always be like thatand 5 being Rarely or never be like that, measuring the frequency of experiencing these emotions.
 
    1. Mindfulness scale: consists of 17 items on mindful experiences, such as “I clearly see my heart is suffering
/ happy, “I can get rid of depression in my heart to focus on my work, When working, my mind is often dispersed and easily distracted. The scale has six inverse items, of which the scores are reverse during the analysis. Likert-scale items with 1 being Always be like thatand 5 “Rarely or never be like that” measure the frequency of experiencing mindfulness.
 
 
  1. Statistical analysis
 
    1. An exploratory factor analysis was used for the Mindfulness Scale to explore different components of mindfulness.
 
    1. Creating independent and dependent variables: Independent variables are mindfulness experiences, and dependent variables are positive and negative emotions which are created by calculating the average score of component items.

Factor analysis indicates three components of mindfulness, which are regarded as three independent variables, and the overall mindfulness variable is calculated as the accumulated mean of all items of the scale. Cronbachs Alpha reliability of the mindfulness scale is 0.87, and are 0.75, 0.78 and 0.84 for the three components respectively. The reliability of the positive emotional scale is 0.90 and the negative emotion is 0.87. The data show that the requirements for reliability and validity of the scale and sub-scales are met.
  1. Descriptive statistics was used to introduce general mindfulness and the feeling of happiness
 
  1. Pearsons Correlation and simple regression were computed to analyze the direct effect of the overall mindfulness experience and each of its components on the happiness of the monk and nun students at the Buddhist University.

The above analyses were performed using SPSS 22.0. In addition, Hayers Process 3.2 integrated in SPSS was used to analyze the indirect influence of mindfulness on happiness through intermediate  variables.
  1. RESEARCH  RESULTS
 

General description of mindfulness and happiness perception experiences of monk and nun students

 

Mindfulness Experience

 


Mindfulness expresses the inner strength of the subject, the ability to focus on the power of mind at present time to establish and maintain peaceful mind. So, what was the level of mindfulness experience of Buddhist University students and what were their characteristics?

The exploratory factor analysis using principle component and varimax rotation methods shows that the mindfulness scale consists of 3 components, explaining more than  53% of the variance of the data set. The specific loading coefficients are shown in Table 2. The first component describes the ability to self-realize the inner world and can focus entirely on the work, temporarily naming Awakening – Work focusing. The second component refers to the ability to recognize fluctuations in mind, but still can focus on the present moment to maintain stable mind, not to be caught up in the complex world of emotions, thoughts, temporarily called Awareness – Peaceful mind. The third component refers to the ability to concentrate in general, not distracting, it consists of all reversed clauses, and is named Non-distraction.

In general, the mindfulness experience of Buddhist Universitys students was quite often rather (means are about 2), in which, the ability to recognize and maintain the peaceful mind was a little lower than the other two components of mindfulness. (See figures 1.1 to 1.4).

Table 2: Loadings of Mindfulness scale

 


Clauses

Awakening and Work- Focusing
Aware- ness and peaceful mind

Non-dis- traction
16. I am aware of what is going on in my mind
0.704
   
15. I see clearly that my heart is miserable / happy
0.702
   
13.Get rid of sadness, focus on work
0.682
   
 

 
12. Pay full attention to what is being done
0.663
   
21. I know exactly what should or should not be done
0.650
   
14. Self-realizing the emotions but not being distracted by it  
0.720
 
20. I completely experience present moments  
0.711
 
18. I realize that the thoughts come and go and I do not follow them.  

0.698
 
22. I know my feelings but do not follow them.  
0.624
 
17. I actively explore my experi- ences at present time.  
0.558
 
19. I have a clear feeling of what is happening inside my body  
0.542
 
8. Automatically doing things without awareness of what is being done*    

0.742
6. During working time, my mind does not concentrate and easily distract*    

0.714
3.I feel that it is difficult to focus on what is going on at present*    
0.650
5. Hurrying up carrying out tasks without adequate attention*    
0.632
10. Sleepless due to over-anxiety or sadness*    
0.609
11. Easily being attracted by outside conditions and losing control of emotions*    

0.557
 

 
Total variance extracted: (1) + (2) + (3) = 53,64%
33.79%

12.61%

7.24%
Average score of each element 2.03 2.44 1.99
Overall average score 2.15    
(*) The inverted items have been redeemed during the analysis


 

 
The graphs show the distribution of the composite mindfulness (from all three components) and individual component cover a wide range of estimates, from the highest level as always experience mindfulness, to the point of almost lowest rarely experience mindfulness. So, in the sample group of monk and nun students, there are some who were attentive, but others rarely experienced that attention. However, the rarely-attentive students were the minority, while those with much greater attention accounted for the majority. Overall, the distribution of attention of attentive point is slightly inclined to the low point (with the meaning of a high level of attention). Most concentrated at the level around point 2 (quite often). Figure 1.3 shows that the focus level is around 2 - 3 points, and there is a significant proportion placing near the 4-point level (sometimes experiencing mindfulness), i.e. a popular group of those who pay less attention to the field of being aware of the inner feeling to maintain the current peaceful mind.















 
 
Figure 1.1: Distribution of overall mindfulness points (Average score)

Figure 1.2: Distribution of Awaken- ing and Work-Focusing points (Aver- age score)
 

















 
 
C 1.3: Distribution of Awareness and Peaceful mind points (Aver- age score)


 


 

Perceived Happiness


Figure 1.4: Distribution of Non-dis- traction points (Average score)
 

Happiness is a positive emotional state, showing the satisfaction and pleasure with human life in general. Happy people will feel happy and calm, that does not mean they never worry, bored, but positive emotions always outweigh negative emotions. So how happy are the monk and nun students?

Data on scale score distribution (Figures 2.1 and 2.2) show that positive emotion is positively skewed (representing the high frequency of experiencing) and negative emotion is negatively skewed (denoting the rarer frequency of experiencing). This means, in general, students often experienced positive emotions and only occasionally or rarely had negative emotions. It can be seen that they were quite happy from an emotional perspective.

It is also found that positive or negative emotional points are distributed in wide range, from always to rarely experiencing both emotions but with an uneven distribution.
 
















 
 
Figure 2.1: Distribution of pos- itive emotional points (Average score)

Figure 2.2: Distribution of nega- tive points (Average score)
 
 


 


 

The relationship between mindfulness and the perceived happiness

 

Colleration between mindfulness and the perceived happiness


Table 3: Pearsons correlation coefficients between mindfulness and feeling of happiness


 
 
0.473


-0.310

  Awakening and Work Focusing Awareness and Peaceful Mind Non-Distrac- tion Common Mindfulness
Positive feeling
**

**

**

0.569**

-0.450**
Negative feeling
**

**

**
           
 
**: p<0.01
0.524


-0.277

0.339


-0.536
 

The data show that positive and negative emotions correlate positively and negatively, respectively, with average levels of the composite mindfulness as well as components of mindfulness. It means that the more often the experience of mindfulness is, the more often positive emotions are experienced and vice versa, the less the level of mindfulness experience, the less positive it is. Correlation between the experience of overall mindfulness and cognitive component to maintaining peace of mind with positive emotional experience is stronger (r > 0.5, p <0.01). Meanwhile,
 


negative emotions have a stronger correlation with psychoanalysis (r > 0.5, p <0.01).

Direct impact of mindfulness on feeling of happiness


On the basis of the above significant correlation between happiness feeling and mindfulness, there is a question of whether mindfulness is capable of predicting the feeling of happiness, or in other words, whether the mindfulness experience can directly help students feel happier, and less suffering? The results of regression analyses with the independent variables being the composite mindfulness and its components as well as dependent variables, respectively positive and negative emotions, are shown in Table 4.

Table 4: The Prediction of the correlation between Mindfulness and Feeling of happiness
Independent variables R2 Beta F p
Dependent variables: Positive emotion
Awakening and Work Focus- ing 0.224 0.486
46.730

< 0.001
Awareness and Peaceful mind 0.275 0.495 61.386 < 0.001
Distraction 0.115 0.437 21.095 < 0.001
Common Mindfulness 0.323 0.758 77.405 < 0.001
Dependent variables: Negative emotion
Awakening and Work Focus- ing 0.096 -0.223
17.223
< 0.001
Awareness and Peaceful mind 0.077 -0.183 13.458 < 0.001
Distraction 0.288 -0.483 65.408 < 0.001
Common Mindfulness 0.202 -0.420 41.058 < 0.001

The results show that all three components of mindfulness and the overall mindfulness are able to predict the feeling of happiness as well as the level of unfortunate (p <0.001). However, the degree of influence may vary with the details as follow:
    1. Among the three components of mindfulness experience, the  element  of  awareness  and  maintaining  peaceful
 


mind is most likely to be affected, because it has the greatest coefficient of determination R2 = 0.275, i.e. this factor can explain 27.5% for the variation of positive emotion, whereas, distraction factor only explains 11.5%, accounting for the weakest effect.
    1. Overall mindfulness is likely to have the strongest impact on feelings of happiness, potentially affecting 32.3% of positive emotional experiences.
 
    1. Positive beta coefficient shows that if the mindfulness is experienced at a more frequent level, monk and nun students will enjoy more positive thinkings, which means they will be happier. When mindfulness is increased by 1 score level in every component, perceived happiness can be increased from 0.43 to nearly 0.5 points, and if overall mindfulness increases by 1 level, happiness can be increased by more than 0.75 points. These models are quitesignificant.
 
    1. Within the possibility of influencing the negative emotional experience, the data shows that the distraction has the strongest impact (R2 = 0.288), whereas Awareness
Peaceful mind factor has the weakest effect, only explains 7% for the dependent variables.
    1. Considering beta regression coefficients, all four coefficients are negative, which indicate that the more experienced the mindfulness is, the less negative emotions exist, i.e. the reduction of unfortunate, and vice versa, the less the mindfulness experience is, the more perceived unhappiness is. However, the increased or decreased level of sorrow is not as strong as the happy feeling because the coefficients of this model are lower than those of positive emotion predicting models.
 
 

Indirect impact of mindfulness to happiness feeling through reducing negative emotions


The above analyses show that the more attention it is, the more happiness it increases through the frequency of experiencing more positive emotions and less negative emotions. The question is whether or not to have positive emotions is due to negative emotions, or in other words, is the experience of mindfulness reducing people s unhappiness, thereby increasing the perceived happiness or not? To answer this question, data on the indirect impact of mindfulness to the percrived happines through mediator of negative emotion will be used.

According to Barons model of mediation analysis (1986), 4 regression models are implemented. The results of regression model analysis are shown in Table 5 as follow.

Table 5: Regression model analyses of indirect impact of mindfulness on the perceived happiness through mediator as negative emotions
Model Variables
X: independent – Y: dependent
R2 Stan- dardized Beta F / t p

1
Y: Positive emotion

X: Mindfulness

0.323

0.569

77.405

< 0.001

2
Y: Positive emotion

X: Negative emotion

0.170

- 0.412

33.175

< 0.001

3
Y: Negative emotion

X: Mindfulness

0.202

- 0.450

41.058

< 0.001


4
Y: Positive emotion X1: Negative emotion
X2: Mindfulness


0.354
  44.125 < 0.001
-0.196 -2.768 0.006
0.480 6.774 < 0.001
 
  1. All four regression models are statistically significant with p  < 0.001, showing that independent variables reliably predict the dependent variable, that is, mindfulness can be
 


used as the positive predictor for positive emotions at the same time; it also has the ability to predict negatively for negative emotions. Simultaneously, negative emotions are also capable of predicting negatively for positive emotions. Hence, it can be inferred that the increase of mindfulness experiences can reduce the negative emotional experience and unhappy feelings. The reduction of negative emotion can lead to the increase of positive emotional experience,
i.e. increasing happiness. However, the extent of negative emotions’ mediation is not clear in these models.
  1. In the regression model 4, with two independent variables predicting positive emotions as mindfulness and negative emotions, the effect amplitude of this model increases (R2 increases) and both variables all have the ability to affect the perceived happiness and statistic significance, in which the standardized beta coefficient indicates that mindfulness has a larger amplitude of influence than negative emotions. This data shows that negative emotion is not a full mediator but partial mediator between mindfulness and feeling of happiness, it does not negate the direct impact of mindfulness on the happiness in this set.
 
  1. The integrated software HeyesProcess (2013) was used to calculate the indirect  effect magnitude of  negative emotions, which was found to be 0.12, 95% CIs [-0.01, 0.34). So, negative emotions are considered the mediator between mindfulness and happiness. The overall magnitude of the mindfulness effect on happiness is 0.76, including the direct effect of 0.64, and the indirect effect of 0.12. Therefore, mindfulness has both direct and indirect effect on the happiness, in which the direct impact accounts for a larger part.

To sum up, regular experience of mindfulness makes people happier,  reduces  sorrow  and  sadness,  and  the  reduction  of
 


unfortunate itself also increases the perceived happiness. That is the influencing mechanism of mindfulness to happiness feeling.

DISCUSSION

The results show that mindfulness has a relatively intimate relationship with the feelings of happiness of monk and nun students studying in Vietnam Buddhist University. Mindfulness experience plays a direct role in making them happier, or less sorrow, and therefore, indirectly making people happier. This is a very significant result, confirming the value of mindfulness, namely practicing mindfulness meditation on human happiness.

The results have provided with scientific and concrete evidence of the influencing mechanism of mindfulness, which is a traditional Buddhist practice, on the perceived happiness. On the one hand, mindfulness helps the monks and nuns to awaken their wisdom to focus on their work and study, understand the fluctuations in their own mind but not get caught up in their world, maintain peaceful mind and non-distraction in everyday life, just focus only on the present situation. These things help people feel calmer, more peaceful, more joyful, which means more happily. Among these three factors, the understanding thoroughly of the mind and maintaining peaceful mind is the most basic factor to make people happier.Ontheotherhand,mindfulnessplaysaroleinrepellingpeoples feelings of depression and suffering. The focus on present activities and not distracting helps people reduce the burden of suffering the most. On this basis, indirect mindfulness makes people happier.

From the Buddhism perspectives, it is possible to explain the indirect influencing mechanism of mindfulness to the feeling of happiness from the nature of mindfulness. Its essence is the transformation of the mental processes, and involves the energy to dissolve the negative feelings. Mindfulness includes all the elements mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, because when there is the presence of mindfulness, there will be concentration and wisdom. A typical example is when we are sad about something, and we
 


want to neutralize this sadness. When experiencing mindfulness, two kinds of energy coexist: the first one is sadness and the second is mindfulness generated by our mindful willingness. The second energy identifies and transforms the first energy. The longer the process of practicing and the more repeating time is, the faster the mindfulness energy will gradually replace the sorrowful energy, and therefore that sadness will be reduced and gradually transformed. When mindfulness is present (energy of mindfulness), at the same time, we have attentiveness (samadhi energy) and wisdom (wisdom energy). Through those senses, sadness is transformed into the energy of understanding, love and here come the happiness.

The interpretation of research results from the perspectives of scientific evidence and the Buddhism perspectives as above- mentioned is relatively compatible with each other.

This study was carried out only on a group of Buddhist University students who were monks and nuns, who have experienced Dharma, and will have high-level knowledge of Dharma in the near future, therefore, the sample is taken within narrow scope, not enough to represent the majority, especially those who do not follow this religion. However, with the obvious scientific evidence, similar studies should to be carried out on general public, that is very meaningful to find out scientific evidence to prove the contribution of Buddhas mindfulness to not only monks and nuns in particular, but also to human happiness in society in general.

CONCLUSION

The results show that mindfulness experiences can directly affect the feelings of the monk and nun studentshappiness, reducing the perceived unfortunate. However, this effect is unequal in different mindful components.

The results also show that mindfulness experiences can indirectly affect the perceived happiness through reducing negative emotions, however, the direct impact still accounts for a larger proportion.
 


Happiness is a dream, a necessity of every human being. In order to increase the sense of happiness, we must regularly practice mindfulness, experience, be aware of fluctuations in the world of our minds and maintain our mind, mindfulness, and awareness in the present moment don’t remember the past, don’t dream about the future. Meanwhile, to reduce the feeling of unhappiness and suffering, take note to reduce distractions and distractions in everyday tasks.

The research results contribute a significance on the role of mindfulness towards perceived happiness. At the same time, the study also suggests the influencing mechanism of mindfulness. With the existing limitations, in the future, the expansion of the scope of the research and the variables involved can help to reinforce the precise evidence of the effect of mindfulness practice on human happiness in the society.










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