A Bank of England analyst wants people to use mindfulness to be happier with less

Mindfulness can shift our economic habits.
Mindfulness can shift our economic habits.
Image: Reuters/ Brendan McDermid
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Economics, they say (paywall), is all about consumption. But what if there’s a way to consume less while increasing your wellbeing? That’s the question posed by a Bank of England analyst, who believes that mindfulness could transform spending and upend basic economic principles.

In a a post on Bank Underground, the bank’s semi-official staff blog, Dan Nixon sets out his “less is more” theory. Traditional economics, he points out, “generally assumes that more consumption means greater happiness.” It views “economic man” as “a being who desires to possess wealth.” But in the real world, of course, wealthier people aren’t necessarily happier.

Nixon points out that Buddhist mindfulness meditation, which entails consciously acknowledging thoughts and emotions while recognizing their transience, has been found to reduce wants and desires while increasing subjective wellbeing. This upends the assumption about what is economically desirable.

“It does suggest that mindfulness can cultivate a stronger perception of having ‘enough’, rather than craving for more,” he writes. “At a microeconomic level, the ‘less is more’ theory contests the fundamental notion that, beyond a certain level at least, utility increases with consumption. This is pretty profound.”

It’s particularly relevant, argues Nixon, given the likelihood of economic stagnation:

“Many agree that the prospect of protracted periods of stagnation looms large as a genuine threat for advanced economies over coming decades. Now, if that’s the world we are in, increased attention will naturally turn to alternative ways to increase wellbeing; ‘less is more’ ideas could form one part of the solution.”

Mindfulness, Nixon argues, could also benefit environmental economics, as it leads to ecologically sustainable behaviors without limiting personal decisions or personal wellbeing.

It sounds deceptively simple, but if mindfulness could make us happier while spending less, that could transform our fundamental assumptions about how an economy should operate. “The lessons for economics would be far-reaching,” writes Nixon.