If I told you I had the magic formula for a longer life with less pain, better life satisfaction, improved relationships, and stronger resilience …
… would you believe me?
Yet it is all possible if you practice loving-kindness meditation. And science backs up my claim.
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is an ancient Buddhist practice that cultivates goodwill and universal friendliness toward oneself and others.
In this article, I’ll explain more about what it is, how it works, and the benefits of the practice according to research. I’ll also provide useful resources and scripts to help you try LKM, deepen your existing practice, and introduce it to your clients.
But before you continue, you might like to download three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself and will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
This Article Contains:
What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Loving-kindness meditation is the English translation of “metta bhavana,” the first of the Four Brahma Vihara meditation practices taught by the Buddha to cultivate positive emotions (Feldman, 2017).
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) focuses on generating loving-kindness toward oneself and others in a graded way to include all living beings eventually, both seen and unseen, across the cosmos. Importantly, metta is sometimes translated as “universal friendliness” to emphasize the impersonal nature of the affection generated, free from any desire or expectation of return (Griffin, 2022).
Recent scientific research has shown that LKM enhances mental wellbeing in many ways that support the claims of Buddha’s original teaching. The benefits of the practice are discussed in more detail below.
4 Brahma Viharas
LKM is the foundational practice of a quartet of Buddhist meditation practices called the Four Brahma Viharas (also called the four divine abodes or the four immeasurables). These are a set of complementary meditation practices that focus on cultivating positive emotions (Feldman, 2017):
- Metta (loving-kindness)
- Karuna (compassion)
- Mudita (appreciative joy)
- Uppekha (equanimity)
Each of these positive meditation practices provides the foundation for the next. For example, we need to generate loving-kindness to cultivate compassion, and we need both loving-kindness and compassion practices to cultivate the appreciative joy that celebrates others’ talents and success (Nhat Hanh, 2006).
The Buddha prescribed these three practices as a method for transforming their opposing emotional states as follows:
- Loving-kindness overcomes hatred.
- Compassion overcomes cruelty.
- Appreciative joy overcomes envy.
When these three practices are combined, a state of serenity is eventually attained called equanimity. This is the emotional foundation of freedom from suffering (Nhat Hanh, 2006).
What loving-kindness is and isn’t – Sharon Salzberg
In the video below, meditation teacher and international bestselling author Sharon Salzberg (2002) explains in more detail what loving-kindness is and isn’t. This is important given that in Western, competitive cultures, the idea of practicing loving-kindness toward all life-forms may evoke fears of weakness and gullibility.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Far from putting practitioners at risk of being manipulated or abused, the fruits of LKM practice are an open and fearless heart with an enhanced ability to manage conflict by taking things much less personally.
In the section below, I discuss the benefits of the practice, but overall, research shows that a regular LKM practice improves resilience and should be considered a source of strength (Kabat-Zinn, 2023).
Salzberg explains how loving-kindness practice challenges conventional notions of love as personal, conditional, and transactional. Take a look at her entertaining and surprising talk in this video.
Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation
The story is that the Buddha taught the benefits of metta meditation to monks who were having trouble concentrating when meditating in the forest, allegedly because of disturbances caused by tree spirits and earth devas (Buddharakkhita, 2013).
Taking a more secular perspective, you could say that the Buddha taught metta to the monks to help them overcome their fear while meditating alone in the forest at the mercy of many dangers. The rationale for the practice is that generating goodwill toward all living beings banishes fear because loving-kindness and fear cannot coexist. Metta is protective, both physically and mentally (Ñanamoli Thera, 1994).
For example, most of us will be familiar with how feeling afraid and anxious can make you more vulnerable to harm when traveling alone far from home. Those with criminal intentions look for signals of vulnerability when targeting a victim.
A similar logic applies here. The Buddha taught his monks metta because love and fear cannot coexist. A lack of fear made the monks less vulnerable, calmed them down, and they created less disturbance in the forest. The story is that once the monks began to practice metta meditation, the tree and earth spirits were pacified and even protected them during their practice (Buddharakkhita, 2013).
According to the Buddha
The Buddha gave a talk on the 11 benefits of loving-kindness meditation (AN 11.16), some of which are now supported by science.
- You sleep well.
- You awaken refreshed.
- You don’t have bad dreams.
- Other people regard you with affection.
- Animals and pets regard you with affection.
- Celestial beings protect you.
- You will be free from injury from fire, weapons, and poison.
- You can concentrate quickly.
- You have a bright complexion.
- You will die peacefully, free of fear and agitation.
- If you fail to attain enlightenment, you will have a pleasant rebirth.
According to science
Below is a snapshot of the benefits of LKM according to the latest scientific research.
1. Reduced self-criticism
Loving-kindness meditation reduces self-criticism, quietens our inner critic, and makes us more self-accepting (Shahar et al., 2015).
Also, seven weeks of LKM resulted in a marked reduction in self-harming impulses in individuals with suicidal tendencies and borderline personality traits (Fredrickson et al., 2008).
2. Enhanced wellbeing
3. Reduced cellular aging
A 12-week randomized control trial comparing the effects of mindfulness meditation and LKM on telomere length in beginner practitioners found that LKM buffered the telomere shortening associated with cellular aging (Le Nguyen et al., 2019).
4. Reduced pain
Pilot studies on patients with chronic back pain (Carson et al., 2005) and migraine (Tonelli & Wachholtz, 2014) showed that when they practiced loving-kindness meditation for brief periods, participants experienced a reduction in pain symptoms and accomplished their daily tasks with more ease and comfort.
5. Greater resilience
A study of patients with long-term post-traumatic stress disorder showed that engaging in compassion and self-love meditations reduced trauma symptoms and flashbacks (Kearney et al., 2013).
Control studies showed that groups that received loving-kindness meditation scripts during their sessions could resume work sooner than participants who received other instruction.
Also, LKM improves resilience and helps prevent burnout in healthcare providers (Seppala et al., 2014).
6. Improved relationships
Loving-kindness meditation results in greater empathy for strangers and better social connections at work (Hutcherson et al., 2008), as well as greater stability in social relationships in general (Don et al., 2022).
7. Improved mental health
The research into the impact of LKM on major mental health disorders is still in its infancy, but preliminary findings have reported a reduction in rumination and negative affect in patients diagnosed with depression (Hofmann et al., 2015) and a reduction in hallucinations and delusions in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (Johnson et al., 2011).
Given the benefits, here’s some guidance on how to practice LKM.
2 Metta Meditation Scripts
Posture is all important when learning how to meditate. The most important thing is to be comfortable. Sitting with a straight back in a chair or on the floor is usually advised. However, you could try lying on a yoga mat flat on your back with a pillow under your head and another under your knees if sitting is uncomfortable.
When you’ve decided on your posture, do a quick scan of your body to detect areas of tension, such as tight shoulders. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Scan your body again to ensure you’re relaxed but alert.
Loving-kindness meditation 1
“Imagine a dearly loved person sitting opposite you and that a white light connects you heart to heart. Connect with the feelings of affection and warmth you have for them.
Enjoy the feelings as they fill your body.
Next, slowly focus on the phrase, ‘May I be well, happy, and peaceful,’ feeling the warmth of loving-kindness filling your body.
And send these feelings to your friend. ‘May you be well, happy, and peaceful.’
Breathing naturally… As the light connects you, heart to heart.
‘May I be well, happy, and peaceful.’
‘May you be well, happy, and peaceful.’
Feel yourselves bathed in the warmth and light of loving-kindness while repeating these phrases, silently (mentally recite for two minutes).
Remember to breathe naturally, as the white light connects you both, heart to heart, and continue. ‘May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May you be well, happy, and peaceful.’
Next, remembering to breathe naturally, imagine the white light between you becoming a circle of light around you both.
The light is bathing you in the warmth and peace of loving-kindness that you radiate out to your surroundings.
Including all beings, from the smallest insect to the largest animal … and out into the universe.
See yourself and your friend radiating the light of loving-kindness out into infinity. ‘May we be well, happy, and peaceful. May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.’
Breathing naturally, repeat these phrases, silently. ‘May we be well, happy, and peaceful. May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful’ (mentally recite this for two minutes).
Now, enjoy the feelings of warmth and expansion in your body. Recognize the feelings that flow from your heart out into the universe … and the universal friendliness reflected in your own heart.
‘May we be well, happy, and peaceful. May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful’ (mentally recite this for one minute).
As you continue to bathe in the warmth of loving-kindness, turn your attention to your body and notice your feelings and sensations. Notice ‘what’ is observing your body and recognize that awareness … a peaceful, still part of you, that witnesses everything, without judgment.
And slowly open your eyes.”
Loving-kindness meditation 2
You can also download another free Loving-Kindness Meditation worksheet that has been adapted from Fredrickson et al. (2008) and Hutcherson et al. (2008).
2 Short Loving-Kindness Meditation Scripts
As with the previous instructions, first get comfortable and do a quick body scan to ensure there is no tension in your body, before starting with these shorter scripts.
1. LKM bitesize
This short script can be adapted using a variety of phrases that specifically apply to your own or your client’s situation. Suggested phrases include:
May I/you be healthy, well, at ease, light, happy, peaceful, strong, safe.
With eyes closed and back straight, focus your attention on the heart. You can also place a hand there if it helps.
First, send yourself loving-kindness by repeating your chosen phrases three times. For example:
“May I be healthy, safe, and strong.”
Next, think of someone you care for deeply (not a romantic partner or spouse), a neutral person you see around regularly, and somebody you’re having difficulties with at the moment. Imagine the four of you sitting in a circle.
Keeping all of them in mind, repeat your chosen phrases to your circle three times.
“May you be healthy, safe, and strong.”
Next, imagine the loving-kindness spreading out from your small circle to the neighborhood, country, continent, and across the world to all life-forms. Repeat the following phrase three times:
“May all beings on planet earth be healthy, safe, and strong.”
Next, imagine loving-kindness radiating from the earth into space and to all life-forms in the cosmos repeating the phrase:
“May all beings throughout all time and space be healthy, safe, and strong.”
Slowly bring your awareness back to your breath and your surroundings, and then gradually open your eyes.
2. UCLA LKM Script
You can also download this free 10-minute LKM transcript courtesy of UCLA’s Semel Institute.
Guided Audio Meditations
Guided audio meditations are especially useful when practicing at home or during a commute or long journey. You can download or stream these and listen to them at your leisure.
Guided loving-kindness practice by Emma Seppala
Dr. Emma Seppala is the science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Happiness Track.
This short 15-minute audio meditation is ideal for beginners. You can listen and follow the audio script on SoundCloud.
Guided metta meditation by Gil Fronsdal
Gil Fronsdal is a veteran meditation teacher who has been active in this field since 1990. Here is a 30-minute guided metta meditation that is ideal for beginners and experienced meditators.
Guided meditation by Tara Brach
Tara Brach, PhD, is a meditation teacher, psychologist, and author of several bestselling books. She founded the Insight Meditation Community in Washington DC, one of the liveliest meditation centers in the United States.
The video guides you through her brand of loving-kindness meditation, which is accessible to beginners and great for those needing a refresher.
Street loving-kindness by Sharon Salzberg
You don’t have to confine your loving-kindness practice to meditation. You can use loving-kindness to establish a fearless open heart that connects you to the best in yourself and others in any situation.
For this purpose, veteran LKM teacher Sharon Salzberg developed her street loving-kindness practices to help practitioners stabilize the fruits of LKM in everyday life.
Visit her free online resources here.
3 Recommended YouTube Videos (Incl. Metta Meditation)
The following YouTube videos have supported me in my LKM practice, as well as my coaching clients and students.
1. Karaniya Metta Sutta chanting by Bhante Indrathana
If you can’t find time to sit but need a short boost of positive energy or a brief self-compassion or self-soothing practice, try listening to Bhante Indrathana chanting the Karaniya Metta Sutta (SN 1.8), an original discourse of the Buddha.
People in Buddhist countries often play this in the morning to invite positive energy to the house and for the day ahead.
2. 10-Minute LKM with Sharon Salzberg
If you have spare 10 minutes when you can take a breather, try this short LKM with Sharon Salzberg.
3. Guided metta meditation from Mahamevnawa Bodhignana Monastery, Sri Lanka
You can practice this metta meditation open eyed if you like. The video depicts a Buddhist monk meditating in the forest as they still do to this day in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other Buddhist cultures.
Meanwhile, the monk’s voice guides you through an ancient metta practice.
3 Meditation Books
These books are widely regarded as LKM classics.
In this book, Sharon Salzberg describes the sense of liberation that follows from daily LKM practice.
Seen as a must-read for LKM practitioners, Salzberg introduces evidence-based approaches that apply LKM to modern life.
Throughout, she draws on Buddhist teachings and guided meditation exercises to teach us how to love ourselves and others by uncovering the well of natural goodness dwelling in our own heart.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana introduces a step-by-step LKM practice and shares many stories about the results of LKM in everyday life.
In the book, Bhante shares personal anecdotes, step-by-step meditations, and the Buddha’s words in the suttas to teach us how to cultivate peace within ourselves and in all our relationships.
You can listen to one of these stories in this reading from the book courtesy of AudioBuddha.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart – Thich Nhat Hanh
True Love is a book in which Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explores loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and freedom with his characteristic simplicity, warmth, and directness.
He emphasizes that to love in a real way, we must first learn how to be fully present and authentic with ourselves and others.
If you want to learn how to care for yourself and others by applying LKM to self-care and relationships, this book is recommended.
Find the book on Amazon.
A Take-Home Message
Now that you have all the research, scripts, and information on loving-kindness meditation, it is time to try out the magic formula for yourself.
As I’ve mentioned, loving-kindness meditation has many proven benefits and is a wonderful self-care practice that can also improve our relationships with others. It helps us cultivate an abiding sense of goodwill toward all forms of life while improving our resilience to life’s difficulties.
Not only that, but the sense of connectedness that develops with regular LKM practice can also help overcome feelings of loneliness and grief (Nhat Hanh, 2006).
Given it is an active meditation that replaces our inner dialogue with more helpful self-talk, it can be an especially helpful practice for those who struggle with lethargy in other forms of meditation.
I hope you try it and report your experiences in the comments! Don’t forget to download our three Self Compassion Exercises for free.
Ed: Updated March 2023
- Buddharakkhita, A. (2013). Metta: The philosophy and practice of universal love. Access to Insight. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/buddharakkhita/wheel365.html.
- AN 11.16: Metta (Mettanisamsa) Sutta: Discourse on advantages of loving-kindness (Piyadassi Thera, Trans.). (2005). Access to Insight. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an11/an11.016.piya.html.
- Carson, J. W., Keefe, F. J., Lynch, T. R., Carson, K. M., Goli, V., Fras, A. M., & Thorp, S. R. (2005). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain: Results from a pilot trial. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23(3),287–304.
- Don, B. P., Van Cappellen, P., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2022). Training in mindfulness or loving-kindness meditation is associated with lower variability in social connectedness across time. Mindfulness, 13, 1173–1184.
- Feldman, C. (2017). Boundless heart: The Buddha’s path of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Shambhala.
- Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 95(5),1045–1062.
- Griffin, K. (2022, December 29). Practicing fearless metta. Tricycle. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://tricycle.org/article/practicing-fearless-metta/.
- Hofmann, S. G., Petrocchi, N., Steinberg, J., Lin, M., Arimitsu, K., Kind, S., Mendes, A., & Stangier, U. (2015). Loving-kindness meditation to target affect in mood disorders: A proof-of-concept study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015.
- Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720–724.
- Johnson, D. P., Penn, D. L., Fredrickson, B. L., Kring, A. M., Meyer, P. S., Catalino, L. I., & Brantley, M. (2011). A pilot study of loving-kindness meditation for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, 129(2–3),137–40.
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2023, February 10). This loving-kindness meditation is a radical act of love. Mindful. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.mindful.org/this-loving-kindness-meditation-is-a-radical-act-of-love/.
- Kearney, D. J., Malte, C. A., McManus, C., Martinez, M. E., Felleman, B., & Simpson, T. L. (2013). Loving-kindness meditation for posttraumatic stress disorder: A pilot study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(4), 426–434.
- Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1123–1132.
- Le Nguyen, K. D., Lin, J., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. M., Kim, S. L., Brantley, J., Salzberg, S., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2019). Loving-kindness meditation slows biological aging in novices: Evidence from a 12-week randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 108, 20–27.
- Ñanamoli Thera. (1994). The practice of loving-kindness (metta): As taught by the Buddha in the Pali canon. Access to Insight. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ati/lib/authors/nanamoli/wheel007.html.
- Nhat Hanh, T. (2006). True love: A practice for awakening the heart. Shambhala.
- Salzberg, S. (2002). Lovingkindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Shambhala.
- Seppala, E. M., Hutcherson, C. A., Nguyen, D. T., Doty, J. R., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Loving-kindness meditation: A tool to improve healthcare provider compassion, resilience, and patient care. Journal of Compassionate Health Care, 1.
- Shahar, B., Szsepsenwol, O., Zilcha-Mano, S., Haim, N., Zamir, O., Levi-Yeshuvi, S., & Levit-Binnun N. (2015). A wait-list randomized controlled trial of loving-kindness meditation program for self-criticism. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 22(4), 346–356.
- SN 1.8: Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s words on loving-kindness (Amaravati Sangha, Trans.). (2004). Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html.
- Tonelli, M. E., & Wachholtz, A. B. (2014). Meditation-based treatment yielding immediate relief for meditation-naïve migraineurs. Pain Management Nursing, 15(1), 36–40.