Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health Launched at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Boston, MA – The Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health was launched April 26 at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Center was created with a $25 million gift from an anonymous donor, one of the largest single donations to the School.

The Center’s mission is to empower people around the globe to live with purpose, equanimity, and joy through the practice of mindfulness; pursue evidence-based approaches to improve health and well-being through mindfulness; and educate and train the public in mindfulness. Two primary areas of emphasis will be nutrition and the environment.

We are thrilled to host this groundbreaking center at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,” said Michelle A. Williams, Dean of the Faculty. “In public health, we work at population scale — we aim to reach and uplift entire communities. The Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health will operate in that spirit.”

The Center for Mindfulness in Public Health is named to honor Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022), a Zen master, global spiritual leader, scholar, and peace activist revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics, and peace.

Throughout the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh traveled tirelessly to spread the principles of nonviolence, compassion, and solidarity, working alongside activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who nominated the Buddhist monk for a Nobel Prize at the height of the war. In his home country, meanwhile, Thich Nhat Hanh put his principles into action by founding an all-volunteer relief organization, known as the School of Youth and Social Service. Thich Nhat Hanh spent his life working for peace and social justice, training the next generation of engaged Buddhists, and building healthy communities of mindful living.

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in each moment. It is an ancient Buddhist approach to living that teaches us to be in the here and now—to be aware of what’s going on within us and around us from moment to moment, without judgment. It can be used to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and cultivate a sense of acceptance and well-being.

As of early 2023 there were nearly 25,000 studies about mindfulness in peer-reviewed publications encompassing a variety of disciplines. However, the field is quite young and Thich Nhat Hanh Center researchers see a need for additional scientific tools to assess the impact of mindfulness interventions on health and wellness.

The Center has planned a number of research initiatives, including:

  • “Minding Our Future,” which focuses on developing interdisciplinary, evidence-based programs to help people live healthier lives as they age. One strand of research will look at how mindfulness practices interwoven into daily living, including mindful design of dining spaces, menus, and shared experiences around food, can contribute to healthy longevity.
  • “Eat, Move & Live Mindfully,” a curriculum that integrates lessons on nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness to help youth establish healthy and mindful habits that are good for themselves and the health of the planet.
  • A mindful eating research and education program at Harvard and beyond.

“I am so pleased that this new Center will enable the scientific study of mindfulness in the context of public health. We are looking forward to establishing the Center as a hub of rigorous inquiry and to collaborating with colleagues around the world to advance the science of mindfulness,” said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and the Center’s director.

Lilian Cheung, director of mindfulness research and practice in the Department of Nutrition, met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997 at a mindfulness retreat and later co-authored a book with him, “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” “Over the years, I became deeply interested in learning how the practice of mindfulness could be applied to the discipline of public health, which seeks to prevent disease and promote well-being at population scale. That is exactly what this Center will do,” said Cheung, adding that she hopes the Center will empower people worldwide to take up the practice of mindfulness.

Based in the Department of Nutrition, the Center will take a collaborative approach to advance its mission by working with colleagues across the School, the University, and global mindfulness communities. The Center is currently recruiting additional faculty.

“The Harvard Chan School has traditionally excelled in the array of biological, quantitative, policy, and social sciences that bear on population health,” said Harvey Fineberg, co-chair of the Center’s board of directors and president, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “It is exciting to see this commitment to extend research and education at the intersection of individual well-being and population health. The establishment of the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health reflects the School’s comprehensive approach to advancing health, and I am confident it will make many important contributions to the field.”

The Center celebrated its launch with an inaugural symposium on April 26. The day-long event brought together leading academics, practitioners of mindfulness, and monastics who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh to honor his life and explore the scientific evidence supporting the value of mindfulness to improve well-being.