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The Harvard School of Public Health launched the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness on Wednesday with funding from a $25 million gift from an anonymous donor.
HSPH announced the donation — one of the largest single gifts in the school’s history — and creation of the center in a Monday press release. The center will focus on advancing scientific research and evidence-based approaches to mindfulness, which is the practice of centering oneself in the present moment.
The Thich Nhat Hanh Center aims to empower individuals worldwide to live a fulfilling and happy life through education and training in mindfulness practices, according to the press release. Its primary focuses are on nutrition and the environment.
“We are thrilled to host this groundbreaking center,” HSPH Dean of the Faculty Michelle A. Williams said in the press release. “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,” she added.
The center’s name honors Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Zen master, Buddhist monk, teacher, author, and peace activist who died in 2022. Traveling through the United States and Europe, Nhất Hạnh was a major influence on the practice of mindfulness and worked with civic leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr.
Throughout Nhất Hạnh’s life, he worked to further social justice and educate future Buddhists. In the early 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, Nhất Hạnh founded the School of Youth and Social Service, a grassroots education organization that promoted nonviolence and provided relief to Vietnamese villages.
The Thich Nhat Hanh Center celebrated its launch through a Wednesday symposium at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center. The all-day event brought together professors, researchers, and “practitioners of mindfulness” for a series of panels related to the benefits of mindfulness and well-being, according to the press release.
According to the press release, there were nearly 25,000 research papers published in peer-reviewed journals on mindfulness by early 2023.
Still, the emerging field seeks additional research into the practice of mindfulness and its impact on well-being. Currently, the Thich Nhat Hanh Center is recruiting additional faculty and further exploring its mission by working with researchers across HSPH, the University, and the globe.
Harvey Fineberg, co-chair of the center’s board of directors, praised HSPH for its “commitment to extend research and education at the intersection of individual well-being and population health” through the Thich Nhat Hanh Center.
“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,” Fineberg, who is also the president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, said in the press release.
Some of the center’s new initiatives include “Minding Our Future,” an interdisciplinary research program to help people live healthier lives as they age through daily practices of mindfulness.
Another program is called “Eat, Move & Live Mindfully,” and it focuses on developing a youth curriculum to build healthy habits in nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness for young people. Finally, the center hopes to further a mindful eating program at Harvard and outside of the University.
“The Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health has the potential for tremendous impact on both personal and planetary health,” Williams wrote in an emailed statement. “I look forward to many decades of success.”
—Staff writer Marina Qu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MingyiQu.
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