BMW i Future Thought Series - Finding contentment in the future BMW i Future Thought Series - Finding contentment in the future



In response to a world that will put more pressure on individuals to perform, a wave of mindfulness and mental wellbeing technologies are emerging that are designed to help us feel more calm, happy and fulfilled in the welter of our day-to-day lives.


The rise of mindfulness has been difficult to ignore. Since 2012, the movement has garnered endorsers like Arianna Huffington, Gwyneth Paltrow and Richard Branson. Beyond media moguls, film stars and business personalities, the practice of meditation has crept into less expected areas. In the UK, around 150 government MPs and Lords have taken mindfulness classes. Financial services company KPMG, investment banking company Goldman Sachs and consumer goods company Unilever have all presented mindfulness to employees as a way of overcoming the cut and thrust of modern life. The shift is perhaps most pronounced in publishing. Book sales across all genres have dropped in 2017, except those that offer a path to spiritual growth, a category which has risen by 13%, according to Nielsen Book. 

The mass move towards mindfulness is easy to explain. The signs of over-stress, pressure and burnout are evident in society. More than 8.3 million US adults suffer from serious psychological distress, according to research published in the journal Psychiatric Services. In the UK, the ONS found that overall satisfaction with physical and mental health has been on the decline since 2013. The methods we use to address these issues may not come from the public sector. According to Kings Fund, mental health problems account for 23% of the burden of disease in the UK, but spending on mental health services accounts for just 11% of the NHS budget.


In the future, these issues will be mitigated by individuals who take charge of their mental wellbeing with an array of techniques and technologies. Mental wellness will become something we can cultivate by adapting our lifestyles, regardless of what life throws at us.


“We are starting to realise that in the face of these pressures, we can look after our mental health in an equivalent way to how we look after our physical health,” says Ed Halliwell, advisor to the UK Government’s Mindfulness Initiative, and author of three books on the topic. “Mindfulness has emerged as an evidence-based practice that has also helped destigmatise mental health.”

Mindfulness and other mental wellbeing exercises have moved from being something that is stigmatised to something that is highly glamourised in society. In New York – one of the busiest cities in the world – the trend to care for the mind is evident in the launch of a number of newly opened wellness studios, which offer everything from high-tech soundscapes and accompanying apps to consultation. 

INSCAPE is one such studio, offering classes that help participants to focus, rest and feel present. The classes take place in rooms lit by calming LEDs, and a resonating voice in surround sound provides instructions. The appeal comes also from the fact that an accompanying app enables users to take the class with them wherever they go. 

Woom Center is another New York-based offering which merges the practice of yoga with sound therapy. Offering either yoga or meditation, Woom Center’s studio uses deep sound vibration and visual projections to maximise the therapeutic properties of the practices.


The positive effects of meditation are evident to millions of people across the world, however, the conclusive end to anxiety and depression may not lie in meditation, but in technology and our understanding of the human brain.

Duke University neuroscientist Mikhail Lebedev develops brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that enable scientists to both read and decode signals from the human mind, and feed electrical signals into the brain. Lebedev believes that his research could herald the end of depression. 

“Advances in BMIs fit directly into the problems we face with mental wellbeing. Using a BMI you can connect to the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling the limbs, but you can also connect to the areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling emotions and thought,” he says.

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After isolating the abnormalities that are causing depression in a patient, electrodes are inserted into the afflicted area that send signals and neutralise the abnormalities that are causing a mental unbalance. According to Lebedev, the system could work silently in the background as with a pacemaker, significantly reducing or removing the effects of stress or depression.

The moral implications of this are not easily negotiated, and envisaging how to reverse the factors in life that make us stressed is a considerable challenge. The demand for therapies, services and technologies that help us to feel calm and content will rise to match the levels of stress we encounter in the future.


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