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Reasons why people meditate, and why they stop or don’t even try

Updated: Feb 14

While the practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years, recent studies have shed light on the potential benefits of meditation in more practical terms. At Clearer Thinking, we want to understand the empirical evidence for the benefits of meditation, so we are planning a major study on the potential benefits of meditation. The study discussed below is the first stage of our investigation.

Before engaging in a meditation practice, one must make the decision to meditate. Hence, before studying the potential benefits of meditation, we first sought to understand why people do or do not decide to meditate.

We collected data through a simple survey, asking people:

  1. How much experience they had with meditation

  2. How interested in meditation they were

  3. To give free-form written responses about why they were or were not interested in learning to meditate

The respondents were 119 adults living in the U.S. recruited through, the study recruitment platform. There were no additional screening criteria. We grouped their answers into the categories that emerged from their written responses. 

Our participants' responses about how many times they had meditated in the past ranged from 0 to 2,000 times, but 75% of participants had not meditated more than 10 times. So, the majority of our participants were not experienced in meditation.

We also measured people’s level of interest in meditation on a scale where 4 meant "Very interested”, 3: "Quite interested”, 2: "Moderately interested", 1: "A little interested" and 0 meant "Not at all interested". The mean result was 2.69 (indicating an interest between "quite" and "moderately" interested), with a standard deviation of 1.27.

Finally, each study participant was given the opportunity to list multiple reasons for wanting or not wanting to meditate, and therefore their responses could count in more than one category of reasons to (or not to) meditate. The open-ended responses were then categorized (assigning one or more categories to each response) by one researcher trained in qualitative research.

Here is a summary of the reasons why people wanted to learn meditation (where each response could be counted in more than one category). Note that while "stress" and "anxiety" are sometimes used interchangeably in everyday 

English, we kept them separate for this analysis since they are different concepts, psychologically.

The reason most frequently given for being drawn to meditation (given by 21% of respondents) was the belief that it could help cope with stress. Stress is common and it can affect physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. It seems that people perceive meditation as a tool to counteract the negative effects of stress, perhaps by allowing people to cultivate a sense of inner calm. Moreover, prior research has found that the practice fosters a deep relaxation response, lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, and promoting overall physical and emotional well-being. Other potential benefits of meditation (such as developing focus or coping with anger) were mentioned less frequently than stress- or anxiety-related benefits.

Notably, nobody mentioned that they were motivated to meditate in order to achieve enlightenment or free themselves from all suffering (which are the purposes of meditation in some spiritual traditions). Perhaps surprisingly, people also didn’t mention help with depression as a reason to meditate. This suggests that people view meditation as being beneficial to anxiety but not depression. It is also worth noticing that nobody said they want to meditate because other people do it, although realistically social pressure or mimicry might play an important role in people taking up meditation in practice, since these forces influence many domains of life. 

Now we present the reasons why people said they didn’t want to learn meditation:

One of the most common reasons people reported for not being interested in meditation is their perception of not having enough time. It can feel overwhelming to add yet another activity to an already-packed schedule, and the thought of setting aside dedicated moments for stillness and introspection can seem like a luxury only a fortunate few can afford. In our future studies of meditation, we plan to have participants meditate only for a short period daily - hopefully, that will help address the perception of lacking enough time to meditate.

Many people pointed out that meditation is either hard or boring, which is an interesting challenge for meditation studies (such as the ones we plan to conduct) to address. We hope that the diversity of meditation techniques we plan to include in our studies could be a potential remedy for difficulties, lack of time, and boredom (since many of our study participants will be engaging in more than one meditation technique). 

In conclusion, most of our participants identified some benefits they believed meditation could confer, especially in terms of managing the physical and psychological symptoms of stress and anxiety. However, many participants indicated that they were too busy or didn't have enough time to meditate, and many of them felt that it was too hard or too boring. Some participants expressed that they were skeptical of its efficacy.

Understanding the reasons people want to meditate helps determine what the outcomes should be when evaluating the effectiveness of meditation. On the other hand, understanding the reasons why people are not interested in meditation can help in the creation of meditation programs that proactively address people's concerns so that people are more likely to engage in them.


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