The mindfulness business is thriving on our anxiety

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The plane had hit turbulence—the rollicking kind that makes some people cry out, while others grip their armrests tightly, and mutter a prayer to the power of their choice.

But the woman seated in front of Gregory Grieve on that rocky flight from New York to North Carolina appeared perfectly calm. “She had her headphones on, and she was sitting there blissful, as happy as can be,” Grieve recalls. The secret to her serenity? She was listening to Buddhify, a mindfulness meditation app.

This was a telling moment, says Grieve, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. To him, it encapsulated both the potential and the limitations of our current generation of mindfulness apps, from Buddhify to industry leaders like Headspace and Calm. “It kept her from getting stressed out,” he says. “But it didn’t necessarily change the situation or help other people.”

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