Old English mangere "merchant, trader, broker," from mangian "to traffic, trade," from Proto-Germanic *mangojan (cf. Old Saxon mangon, Old Norse mangri), from Latin mango (genitive mangonis) "dealer, trader, slave-dealer," from a noun derivative of Greek manganon "contrivance, means of enchantment," from PIE [Proto-Indo-European] root *mang- "to embellish, dress, trim." Used in comb. form in English since at least 12c.; since 16c. chiefly with overtones of petty and disreputable.

To be a fearmonger is to traffic in fear. Fearmongering is one way ideological and religious movements gain adherents and then keep them.  The world is a scary place. We offer the way out.

When I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, I was struck by its alarmist tone. Kabat-Zinn seemed intent on reminding us over and over just how bad and dangerous the world is. To get the picture, check out some of the Kindle word counts from the book:

  • Toxic: 22
  • Suffering: 112
  • Pain: 555
  • Premature death: 6
  • Cancer: 109
  • Danger/dangerous: 23
  • Risk: 45
  • Threat/threaten: 50
  • Stress: 588

The basic theme of FCL is that unless we embrace mindfulness, our lives and the world will go to hell. To quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, in the book’s accolade section:

 “As countless people have discovered over the past twenty-five years, mindfulness is the most reliable source of peace and joy. Anyone can do it. And it’s become increasingly clear that not only our health and well-being as individuals, but our continuation as a civilization and a planet depend on it….” (Bold emphasis added).

Throughout the book, Kabat-Zinn warns of the “toxic” and potentially lethal effects of living unmindfully. Over and over he stresses how our state of mind may kill us*: 

… even if your mind is telling you constantly that it is stupid or a waste of time, practice anyway, and as wholeheartedly as possible, as if your life depended on it. Because it does – in more ways than you think.” 340

 “The evidence to date suggests that longer telomeres** are associated with the difference between a rating of how present you are … and a rating of how much mind wandering you experienced in the past week.” 414

“…our thoughts and emotions, especially highly stressful thoughts that involve worrying about the future or ruminating obsessively about the past, seem to influence the rate at which we age…. they also showed that how we perceive that stress makes all the difference in how quickly our telomeres degrade and shorten. And it can make many years’ worth of difference.” 407-414

“A highly pessimistic pattern of explaining the causes of bad or stressful events when they occur seems to have particularly toxic consequences.” 4469

 “…more people get sick or die prematurely if they have strong patterns of thinking or behaving in such ways.” 4820

 “…there is “mounting evidence” of the connection between one’s personality and cancer”. 4585

“In this model, disattention leads to disconnection, disconnection to dysregulation, dysregulation to disorder, and disorder to disease.”  5055

It’s not that there’s no connection between psychological factors and physical health – it’s that Kabat-Zinn repeatedly exaggerates the link, overstating the danger and over-interpreting the research. A classic case of fearmongering.


* Bold emphasis all mine. Kindle pagination is used.

** The idea being shorter telomeres = shorter life. Then: not being present shortens your telomeres. Draw your own conclusions.


Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2013) Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Kindle Version, Revised Edition; Bantam Books, New York