Will success turn it into “McMindfulness”?

Executive Summary

Meditation, a cornerstone of Eastern philosophy and a part of American culture since the 1960s, has developed into a major business enterprise. Supported by an increasing number of scientific research papers quantifying its effects, meditation, often called mindfulness, generated $1.2 billion in revenue last year. Four in 10 adults in the United States say they meditate at least weekly, and major companies including Google, Apple, General Mills, Goldman Sachs and Aetna have adopted meditation programs for their employees. The industry has attracted $260 million in investments since 2012.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Health insurance giant Aetna reported that employees’ annual productivity rose by about $3,000 each after they participated in a mindfulness training program.

  • Headspace, the largest of nearly 1,000 mindfulness apps, raised $36.7 million in funding in 2017. The company offers in-flight meditation channels on eight airlines and released plans for public, phone booth-sized relaxation “pods.”

  • Experts say the industry’s growth raises concerns about the need for credentialing. Founders of new, for-profit mindfulness services say they are modernizing ancient teachings to make them accessible to the general public.

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Resources for Further Study



Gelles, David, “Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out,” First Mariner Books, 2015. A New York Times business reporter profiles corporations that implement mindfulness as part of employee wellness programs.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness,” Bantam Books, 2013. The researcher who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts discusses medically proven mind-body approaches to manage stress and establish greater well-being.

Tan, Chade-Meng, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace),” HarperOne, 2014. A veteran Google engineer and founder of the mindfulness training course “Search Inside Yourself” shares insights and methods behind the course.

Wilson, Jeff, “Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture,” Oxford University Press, 2014. An associate professor of religious and East Asian studies at the University of Waterloo’s Renison University College in Ontario presents an in-depth study of the marketing of mindfulness in the United States.


Coren, Michael J., “Americans are finally meditating because corporations are telling them to,” Quartz, Dec. 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/y9s6gryg. A writer profiles the meditation app Simple Habit and discusses the commercialization of mindfulness.

Davis, Lauren Cassani, “When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom,” The Atlantic, Aug. 31, 2015, https://tinyurl.com/y9sudyac. A writer discusses the introduction of mindfulness initiatives in U.S. classrooms.

Shachtman, Noah, “In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad. It Could Make Your Career,” Wired, June 18, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/yboctvws. A journalist profiles corporate mindfulness programs in Silicon Valley.

Van Dam, Nicholas T., et al., “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation,” Association for Psychological Science, October 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y9vqjhub. A group of psychologists and cognitive scientists examines past mindfulness studies and raises concerns about poor methodology and exaggerated claims of benefits.

Reports and Studies

“Frequency of meditation,” Pew Research Center, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/ydyhj588. A nonpartisan research organization publishes a religious landscape study to show the demographics of meditators in the United States.

Oliver, Kelsey, “Alternative Healthcare Providers in the US: Market Research Report,” IBISWorld, June 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ybzawocs. A global business intelligence research firm analyzes the current state and future growth of the alternative health care provider industry in the United States.

The Next Step

Mobile Apps

Constine, Josh, “Kevin Rose launches free rapid meditation app Oak,” Tech Crunch, Oct. 31, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yan46xl7. By focusing on a minimalist approach to tranquility, Oak differentiates itself from meditation mobile apps that cover a wide variety of meditation themes.

Graham, Jefferson, “Apple’s favorite app of the year wants you to unplug,” USA Today, Dec. 7, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y9n5695e. Apple chose Calm, a mobile app that centers on mindfulness and meditation for better sleep, as its 2017 iPhone app of the year.

Margolin, Emma, “Why choosing a mental health app is harder than you think,” NBC News, Dec. 21, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y6twnxb2. Mental health mobile apps that deal with meditation, substance abuse, stress and depression are becoming more prevalent. But experts caution about the lack of research on the apps and warn against individuals using them instead of seeking treatment from a professional.


Fries, Kimberly, “Why Millennial Leaders Are Depressed And How to Fix That,” Forbes, Dec. 31, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8dgkes4. Depression costs billions in lost productivity, and meditation in the workplace is one way to deal with the issue, says a Millennial communication and leadership coach.

Merle, Andrew, “How to Maximize Small Pockets of Time,” Huffington Post, Dec. 28, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yc8qv64g. Individuals have small opportunities throughout their day to be more productive by using spare moments to exercise, meditate or check in with family, says a Huffington Post contributor.

Purtill, Corinne, and Khe Hy, “Don’t ask how to be more productive next year. Ask why you want to be,” Quartz, Dec. 28, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ya49ala7. Meditation is only one small stepping stone, not a magic fix, for increasing productivity, according to a reporter for the digital global business news site Quartz (Purtill) and a Quartz contributing editor (Hy).


Center for Mindfulness – University of Massachusetts Medical School
222 Maple Ave., Shrewsbury, MA 01545
Medical research and training center for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

701 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94109
Digital service that provides guided meditation sessions online or via their mobile app.

In Wave Group
1693 Flanigan Drive, Suite 101, San Jose, CA 95121
Company that offers mindfulness training and professional development for the workplace.

Mindful Awareness Research Center
UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, 740 Westwood Plaza, Rm. C8-237, Los Angeles, CA 90095
Mindful awareness research and educational center that offers certification in mindfulness facilitation.

Mindfulness Everywhere
South Block 221, 60 Osborne St., Glasgow G1 5QH, United Kingdom
Studio that has created mindfulness apps such as buddhify, Sleepfulness, Kara and Meditate Now.

Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
1003A O’Reilly Ave., San Francisco, CA 94129
Organization that originated at Google and offers mindfulness training to corporations, nonprofits and government organizations.

Shambhala International
Sovereign Place, 5121 Sackville St., Suite 601, Halifax, N.S. B3J 1K1, Canada
International meditation community of 220 centers and groups.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680404.n1