Mindfulness is an approach to living that involves an open, active attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental fashion. In this way, we can observe our thoughts and feelings without becoming swept away by them. We can experience various thoughts and emotions, but they are not who we are. By being able to observe our thoughts and feelings, and thus separate ourselves from them, we are able to liberate ourselves from much of our suffering and improve our well-being and happiness.
Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and is a core component of many Eastern spiritual and wisdom traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. (It should be noted that other spiritual traditions teach aspects of mindfulness including Sufism, Kabalism, and contemplative Christianity.) Importantly, mindfulness is not a religion in itself but rather it is an approach to living that is embedded in many spiritual and religious traditions. So, one need not be a believer in some faith to practice mindfulness but, if you are a follower of a particular faith, a mindfulness practice can easily be subsumed within your faith and actually enhance your spiritual life.
Practitioners using a mindful approach to living have been benefiting from it for thousands of years, but it is only in about the past decade or so that Western psychology has started studying the benefits of mindfulness in earnest. As the number of books on mindfulness mushrooms, you will find different approaches emphasized in both the study and practice of mindfulness. Some take a more, I guess one could say “New Age” approach, others emphasize the teachings of Buddhism and still others delve into the neuroscience behind how a mindfulness practice changes the brain.
One thing you will find with mindfulness is there is no one “right way” to study or practice. Both Eastern spiritual teachings as well as the findings from Western science advocate how transformative mindfulness can be. I’ve always liked an “East Meets West” approach because I find that both offer insights that I find both fascinating and useful. I’ve read two such books recently that both offer this approach: Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, M.D. and Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley, Ph.D. and Diana Winston.
In both of these books, the authors explain what mindfulness is, the science behind how it works, and how it can be practiced to diminish negative emotions and enhance happiness. I would say that Buddha’s Brain gets a little more technical with regard to the neuroscience of how mindfulness works (as the title implies) and Fully Present offers more practical, day-to-day strategies on how to use mindfulness (included a number of guided mindfulness meditations that you can practice on your own). If you are new to mindfulness or just curious, I would recommend, of these two books, starting with Fully Present. But if you enjoy this book and the general approach, you might then try reading Buddha’s Brain. Just an FYI, I listened to the audiobooks for both of these works and found the readers equally engaging.