Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


Every time a new idea for being happy comes along, I feel uneasy.

Happiness is so difficult and ephemeral.

Humans are so fickle that they'll get everything they want and, within seven minutes, be dissatisfied again.

Still, one technique that some people swear by is mindfulness.

This is the idea of staying in the present moment, rather than torturing yourself about things that might be out of your control. It's the idea of not judging your thoughts and feelings but just being in the right now.

There's been much research that suggests mindfulness can lead to robust mental health and joy.

And when research says something works, everyone wants to try it.

A new piece of research, however, reveals a tiny kink in the mindfulness machine.

As Nature reports, researchers at McGill University in Montreal analyzed 124 trials and unearthed a peculiar statistic: the researchers had reported positive results 60 percent more often than, well, statistics say they should have.

If mindfulness research followed the patterns of other kinds of research, 66 of the 124 studies analyzed should have been positive. Instead, 108 were.

What might be at the heart of this apparent anomaly?

Well, it seems that mindfulness research that gets negative results may not actually get published.

"I'm not against mindfulness," McGill psychologist Brett Thombs said. "I think that we need to have honestly and completely reported evidence to figure out for whom it works and how much."

That's the thing with new ideas. When science--and its untrustworthy sibling, money--begins to experience the excitement of a breakthrough, there's surely a temptation only to publish the good news, not the bad.

This might be especially true when the theory appears to make so much sense and offer so much hope.

The problem is that sometimes, when larger-scale trials are conducted in the hope of confirming smaller-scale trials, they don't.

In the McGill research, the larger-scale trials didn't show any excessive positivity. It was the smaller-scale trials that emitted ineffable optimism.

Of course, there might be many reasons why some studies aren't published.

Sometimes, scientific publications aren't interested in publishing neutral results.

After all, who wants to read a neutral story? It's like watching a football game where neither side scores.

On the other hand, those who fund research want it to be published. Why fund things that no one ever hears about?

There's a certain suspicion, though, at the heart of something like mindfulness research.

Christopher Ferguson, a Stetson University psychologist, told Nature that once people see a supposedly confirmed theory in a TEDx talk, they believe it.

"Now we're seeing, when we look at things much more closely, we've kind of been bullshitting people [for] a decade," he added.

BSing people? Now that's something worth being mindful of.