Mindfulness: Its Transformative Potential for Consumer, Societal, and Environmental Well-Being

Shalini Bahl, George R. Milne, Spencer M. Ross, David Glen Mick, Sonya A. Grier, Sunaina K. Chugani, Steven S. Chan, Stephen Gould, Yoon-Na Cho, Joshua D. Dorsey, Robert M. Schindler, Mitchel R. Murdock, and Sabine Boesen-Mariani
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Key Takeaways

​Consumers can learn to attend to internal and external stimuli and their effects on the consumption process with the attitude of nonjudgment, compassion, and flexibility, which facilitates enhanced awareness.

Sustaining this quality of enhanced awareness creates the conditions for insight into life’s primary conditions – notably suffering and its sources – which leads to a reduction in mental propagation of problems and attachments, and thus makes possible a potential transformation of the self.

Institutional endorsement of mindfulness, coupled with effective teaching and training, could help integrate the approach into society, including the marketplace, and contribute to a broader influence on consumption choices and behaviors.

​Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing​

We argue that a major determinant of consumption-induced problems is mindlessness, and through a review of the literature, we develop a framework for how mindfulness practice can help transform consumer, societal, and environmental well-being.



Research

We note that a major determinant of consumption-induced problems is mindlessness. Millions of contemporary consumers sleepwalk through a fog of impulses, habits, addictions, compulsions, and decision biases. Despite growing concerns about unsustainable and unhealthy lifestyles, academic research and initiatives by both government and nonprofits have met with little success in shifting consumer behavior for improved quality of life, especially in affluent populations. We explore whether it is possible to rectify this situation by helping consumers make choices with more mindfulness, defined as “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Method

This paper reviews mindfulness to highlight its potential for improving consumer well-being across a broad intersection of marketplace and social problems. While our focus is mainly directed toward consumers, we also look at the role that business and policy can play in supporting people to make more mindful choices in their consumption processes. We first review the idea of mindfulness. Then, we offer a working definition and description of mindful consumption, followed by insights on how it can promote individual, societal, and environmental well-being. We highlight some challenges to realizing the transformative potential of mindful consumption, and we conclude with suggestions for the actions that consumers, institutions, and policy makers could take for enlivening healthier, more reflective consumption.


Findings

Our review of the literature and conceptual development suggests that consumers can learn to attend to internal and external stimuli and their effects on the consumption process with the attitude of nonjudgment, compassion, and flexibility, which facilitates enhanced awareness. Sustaining this quality of enhanced awareness creates the conditions for insight into life’s primary conditions—notably suffering and its sources—which leads to a reduction in mental propagation of problems and attachments, and thus makes possible a potential transformation of the self.

We provide detail on mindful practices that consumers can engage in to potentially mitigate or avert the deleterious outcomes of mindless consumption within three domains of well-being—consumer, society, and the environment. The outcomes of mindful consumption practices within each domain are supported by empirical research findings. We outline opportunities for future research in each area given the promise of prior results.

Implications

It behooves consumers to develop basic mindfulness skills of attention, awareness, and acceptance by getting formal training in groups or individually. In the absence of mindfulness training focusing on consumption contexts, consumers may benefit from programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, taught by trained teachers. For busy consumers, there are many online programs and apps to accommodate their busy lifestyles.

Institutional endorsement of mindfulness would help integrate the approach into society, including the marketplace, and contribute to a broader influence on consumption choices and behaviors. It would be helpful for organizational promotion of mindfulness to be backed up by effective teaching and training of self-reflective practices that foster mindful consumption across different domains of well-being. Because mindfulness research is important for the effective promotion and teaching of mindful consumption, it is crucial that organizations also consider ways to facilitate such research.


Questions for the Classroom

  • How does mindfulness as a transformation source differ from other policy interventions?

  • What areas of consumption do you feel that mindfulness can help the most and why?

  • What are the challenges to consumers practicing mindfulness and how might they be overcome?


Article Citation

Shalini Bahl, George R. Milne, Spencer M. Ross, David Glen Mick, Sonya A. Grier, Sunaina K. Chugani, Steven S. Chan, Stephen Gould, Yoon-Na Cho, Joshua D. Dorsey, Robert M. Schindler, Mitchel R. Murdock, and Sabine Boesen-Mariani (2016), “Mindfulness: Its Transformative Potential for Consumer, Societal, and Environmental Well-Being,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 35 (2), 198-210.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jppm.15.139


Shalini Bahl is Affiliated Expert, Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts Amherst (e-mail: shalini@remindingproject.com).

George R. Milne is Professor of Marketing, Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts Amherst (e-mail: milne@isenberg.umass.edu).

Spencer M. Ross is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Massachusetts Lowell (e-mail: spencer_ross@uml.edu).

David Glen Mick is Robert Hill Professor in Marketing, University of Virginia (e-mail: dmick@virginia.edu).

Sonya A. Grier is Professor of Marketing, Kogod School of Business, American University (e-mail: griers@american.edu).

Sunaina K. Chugani is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Baruch College (e-mail: Sunaina.Chugani@baruch.cuny.edu).

Steven S. Chan is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Yeshiva University (e-mail: steven.chan@yu.edu).

Stephen Gould is Professor of Marketing, Baruch College (e-mail: Stephen.Gould@baruch.cuny.edu).

Yoon-Na Cho is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Villanova University (e-mail: yoon-na.cho@villanova.edu).

Joshua D. Dorsey is a doctoral candidate in marketing, West Virginia University (e-mail: jddorsey@mix.wvu.edu).

Robert M. Schindler is Professor of Marketing, Rutgers University–Camden (e-mail: rschindl@camden.rutgers.edu).

Mitchel R. Murdock is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Utah Valley University (e-mail: mitch.murdock@uvu.edu).

Sabine Boesen-Mariani is Behavior Scientist, Danone Nutricia Research (e-mail: sabine.boesen-mariani@danone.com).


Author Bio:

 
Shalini Bahl, George R. Milne, Spencer M. Ross, David Glen Mick, Sonya A. Grier, Sunaina K. Chugani, Steven S. Chan, Stephen Gould, Yoon-Na Cho, Joshua D. Dorsey, Robert M. Schindler, Mitchel R. Murdock, and Sabine Boesen-Mariani
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