The absolute last thing you want to do at the end of a busy day is stand at the sink, scrubbing dishes. There’s even an expression, “dull as dishwater,” used when something is blah. But wait; what seems like a loathsome chore could actually be, as Jon Stewart used to say, “Your moment of Zen.”
A new study published in the journal Mindfulness suggests that washing dishes can be a form of meditation, promoting a positive state of attention on the emotions and thoughts in the present moment. Researchers at Florida State University conducted a study with students, half of whom were given mindfulness instruction, such as to focus on sensations like the warmth of the water they were using or the way the dish soap smelled. The other half just washed the dishes without any instructions. The “mindful dishwashers” experienced benefits over the control group, reporting a decrease in nervousness of 27 percent, and a boost in mental inspiration of 25 percent.
“I’ve had an interest in mindfulness for many years, both as a contemplative practitioner and a researcher,” wrote Adam Hanley, a doctoral candidate in FSU College of Education’s Counseling/School Psychology program and one of the study’s authors. “I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.”
The study suggests that mindfulness can be cultivated through intentionally engaging in many seemingly humdrum activities —washing windows, mopping a floor—creating an informal contemplative practice where once we saw only drudgery.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!