Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP): August 2021 - Volume 2, Issue 4

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

In the early days of positive psychology, I noticed two of the most popular areas – character strengths and mindfulness – were being discussed and practiced in siloes. I found this peculiar as the two phenomena seemed to have great potential for integration and mutual impact. Thus, 12 years ago, I embarked on a journey to create the synergy of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), testing it across cultures, and publishing the manual for all researchers, educators, and practitioners to use (Niemiec, 2014). Since then, MBSP has become a popular and powerful, evidence-based program, emerging more effective than the most popular mindfulness-based program in the world. In this issue, I summarize some of the key findings and practices of MBSP.

-Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA Education Director

How can you participate?

  • Be part of our 15th live/online MBSP Program cohort starting in September.
  • Learn more about our first-ever MBSP Certification, a certification in MBSP!

MBSP: SNAPSHOT

The program

  • MBSP is an 8-week program (along with a half-day MBSP Retreat) that is delivered on-site or virtually in multiple settings and for multiple populations. It integrates the latest research in character strengths, mindful living (e.g., mindful speaking, listening, eating, walking), and meditation through modalities of facilitator input, small group discussions, challenges, experiential activities, and homework activities. It has been most commonly used with adults who do not suffer from a psychological/medical condition, although the program is inclusive to all.

The first

  • MBSP is the first positive-oriented, mindfulness-based program – the first to target what is best in human beings (character strengths) – offering an alternative to the dominant trend of mindfulness programs focused on problems, deficits, and disorders.

Rising above the best

  • MBSP was found to be superior to the world’s leading mindfulness program (MBSR) in 3 separate studies across multiple outcomes.

International

  • MBSP is used across the globe by practitioners, in an estimated more than 50 countries.

Relationships

  • MBSP has a special impact in helping people to build positive relationships. This might be a novel finding among mindfulness-based programs.

The whole person

  • MBSP simultaneously boosts well-being AND manages adversity/problems. Additional benefits include less stress, increased meaning and purpose, higher levels of strengths across the 24, and workplace productivity.

Always improving

  • MBSP weaves in the latest science and best practices therefore is not a static program. In 2022, the next edition of Mindfulness and Character Strengths will be released and will denote updates/improvements to the program. Those who attend MBSP live with VIA always receive the latest material based in science.

MBSP RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

MBSP vs. MBSR

  • MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) has been the leading mindfulness-based program since the 1970s and is used widely across the globe with various benefits for participants. A natural consequence of this is any new program is compared with the gold-standard MBSR program, which has now been done in 3 studies that put MBSP and MBSR head-to-head. While both programs bring benefit to participants’ well-being and stress and are superior to control groups, MBSP brought stronger benefits than MBSR in each study. Specifically, MBSP resulted in stronger impact on work performance and workplace well-being (Pang & Ruch, 2019a), levels of the strength of humor (Hofmann et al., 2019), and higher absolute scores across all well-being indicators, including hedonic (pleasurable) and eudaimonic (engagement/meaning) well-being variables (Monzani et al., 2021). Particularly strong were the variables of self-acceptance, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, and positive affect.

Mediating variables

  • Researchers have begun to study the “why” question: Why does MBSP bring benefit to people? One study specifically asked, why does MBSP lead to greater job satisfaction and work performance (as measured by workers’ supervisors)? It found a big part of the answer (mediating variables) is MBSP enabled workers to use 4 to 6 of their signature strengths and workers also applied work-related strengths such as perseverance, social intelligence, hope, and bravery (Pang & Ruch, 2019a).

Multiple benefits without side effects

  • In a cross-cultural study of over 100 individuals and multiple, international MBSP leaders, 100% of participants reported at least one substantial positive outcome and .003% reported a worsening outcome. Substantial benefits have been reported across all areas of well-being with a special impact on building positive relationships (Whelan-Berry & Niemiec, 2021).
  • Scientific reviews of MBSP studies are noting collectively positive results (Prasath et al., 2021; Kulandaiammal & Hebert, submitted).

Student retention

  • Ask any university administrator what is most important to them and there’s a good chance they’ll say, “student retention.” In a study that compared MBSP to a control group, MBSP showed a variety of well-being benefits (less loneliness, greater health and meaning) but also students were more likely to stay in college if they participated in MBSP (Wingert et al., 2020).

Two types of MBSP integration (Niemiec, 2014)

  • Strong Mindfulness refers to using character strengths to improve mindfulness practices (meditation, mindful living). E.g., using appreciation of beauty to enhance mindful walking, using humility to become a more mindful listener, or using curiosity to energize a meditation practice.

  • Mindful Strengths Use refers to using mindfulness to improve character strengths awareness and expression in context. E.g., using mindful observing to facilitate better strengths-spotting, or using mindfulness to fine-tune an overused or underused strength.

  • The integration of mutual benefit between these constructs has been directly supported in research studies (Pang & Ruch, 2019b).

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAYS

  • Research has shown the most popular MBSP activities are the Character Strengths 360 and the loving-gratitude meditation. And, from the mindful pause and “character strengths breathing space” to the strengths interview and strengths gatha practice, to water meditation and walking meditation, there are about 30 integration practices that are discussed, experienced, and well...practiced!

  • The general adage for the fields of character strengths and/or mindfulness is that the practitioner applies the activities to themselves first, before applying them to others. This is true for MBSP facilitation as well. Such an approach facilitates integrity, fidelity, and effectiveness with the intervention delivery.

RESOURCES

ALL NEW! MBSP CERTIFICATION

The VIA Institute has launched its first-ever certification in character strengths! It’s a certification in what you have just read about – MBSP. Since I joined VIA in 2009, I’ve been repeatedly asked about VIA having a certification program. This MBSP Certification is designed for practitioners of all kinds – educators, managers, consultants, coaches, psychologists, counselors/social workers, healthcare professionals, etc. If you want to help others apply mindfulness and character strengths, especially through the lens of MBSP, then this certification is for you.

MBSP PROGRAM

Take the MBSP course. If you want to experience MBSP, take our live course (offered 2x/year since 2014). The next round starts in early September.

For more information, contact Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA Education Director, ryan@viacharacter.org

REFERENCES

Hofmann, J., Heintz, S., Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). Differential relationships of light and darker forms of humor with mindfulness. Applied Research in Quality of Life. DOI: ttps://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9698-9

Monzani, L., Escartin, J., Ceja, L., & Bakker, A. B. (2021). Blending mindfulness practices and character strengths increases employee wellbeing: A second-order meta-analysis and a follow-up field experiment. Human Resource Management Journal. DOI: 10.1111/1748-8583.12360

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019a). Fusing character strengths and mindfulness interventions: Benefits for job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 150-162. DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000144

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019b). The mutual support model of mindfulness and character strengths. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-019-01103-z

Prasath, P. R., Morris, C., & Maccombs, S. (2021). Mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) group intervention: A systematic review. Journal of Counselor Practice, 12(1), 1-22. DOI: 10.22229/asy1212021

Whelan-Berry, J., & Niemiec, R. (2021). Integrating mindfulness and character strengths for improved wellbeing, stress, and relationships: A mixed-methods analysis of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice. International Journal of Wellbeing, 11(1), 38-50. DOI: 10.5502/ijw.v11i2.1545

Wingert, J. R., Jones, J. C., Swoap, R. A., & Wingert, H. M. (2020). Mindfulness-based strengths practice improves well-being and retention in undergraduates: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of American College Health. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2020.1764005

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