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Meditation is crazy popular, but is it making people nicer?

One professor's research shows that even if you're meditating for stress relief or to enhance creativity, you'll likely get a compassion boost, too.

Meditation is the new (and old) “It” wellness practice, and a story in this Sunday’s New York Times had some really good news. While we may have lost sight of its original purpose—to create compassionate individuals who see themselves as being connected to others—it’s making everyone nicer anyway.

The story, written by Northeastern University professor and researcher Dr. David DeSteno, noted that meditation is booming, and there’s nothing wrong with its array of mind-blowing benefits—artists and business owners touting its ability to enhance creativity, CEOs using it for leadership building, and the practice being sliced and diced into all manner of stress-relieving techniques.

But Dr. DeSteno says that Buddha and other early teachers were only concerned with ending suffering in the world. They taught that meditation could do that by giving practitioners a new, more compassionate perspective, so Dr. DeSteno set out to test that hypothesis.

Here’s the cool part: The study, which he recently completed, found that after eight weeks, 50 percent of those in meditation training were willing to give up his or her seat for a woman on crutches, compared to 16 percent of those in the non-meditating control group (that’s depressing). So no matter what they were hoping to get out of meditation—from better sleep to a job promotion—it appeared to make them nicer members of society, anyway.

Now, if only Dr. DeSteno could repeat the study over and over in New York City, until every pregnant-woman-ignoring subway rider had learned to meditate.—Lisa Elaine Held