Saturday, November 13, 2010

Study Surprises Researchers

It appears that a wandering mind, may be an unhappy mind.

An interesting research study of 2,250 volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 85, were monitored for their level of happiness as they went about their daily activities. They each were randomly contacted on their iPhones and prompted to answer an automated series of questions including how they were feeling at the moment, where they were doing, and whether they were focused on what they were doing or thinking about something else. If their mind had wandered, they were asked whether the thought was about a pleasant, neutral or unpleasant topic.

The findings, published recently in Science, revealed that the subjects spent 46.9 per cent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they were doing. What’s more, people were considerably less happy when their mind was wandering.

“These results certainly surprised me,” said the study’s lead author, Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard University. He had expected that people’s wandering thoughts would make them more happy – not less so.

Killingsworth pointed out that human beings, unlike other animals, spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them. People have the ability to contemplate “events that happened in the past, might happen in the future or will never happen at all.”

'The free-roaming human mind represents a remarkable evolutionary achievement, because it “allows people to learn, reason and plan,” they write in the journal. But, the researchers add, this unique trait also seems to take an emotional toll.

“When people turned inward and started mind wandering they tended to be quite a bit less happy,” Mr. Killingsworth said in an interview.'

'Even when the mind drifted into seemingly pleasing subjects, people were still less happy than when they remained focused on what they were actually doing.

He noted that some ancient philosophies and religions have taught that focusing the mind on the present is the path to inner peace and contentment. These old traditions may have a valid point, he said.'

The study encourages one to think about how we can use our minds and imagination in productive and fulfilling ways. Does our modern lifestyle contribute to more unhappiness?

Photo Credit: