Study: A Wandering Mind Makes You Unhappy




People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.

So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.
The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
 
Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

 
To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.
 

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.
“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”
Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.
“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.
Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.



How To Stay in The Present Moment

This is a skill. You will slip back into involuntarily thinking about the future/past. But the more time and effort you spend connecting with the moment the easier it gets reconnecting with it. And staying there longer.


1. Focus on what’s right in front of you

Or around you. Or on you. Use your senses. Just look at what’s right in front of you right now. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the fabric of your clothes and focus on how they feel. For the last three days the dark winter seems to have left us here in Sweden. It’s been clear skies and sunshine all the time. So I have been using the unexpected light and warmth of the sunshine on my skin to reconnect with the moment.

2. Focus on your breathing

Take a couple of dozen belly breaths and just focus your mind on your inhaling and exhaling. This will align you with the present moment once again.

3. Focus on your inner body

This is a bit similar to focusing on your breathing. In both examples you focus on what’s inside you rather than the outside. What is the inner body? Well, I guess you could say it is energy inside of your body. How your body feels from the inside.
A practical way to do this just to focus on your hand. To just put your focus there and feel how the hand feels to you and how the energy is flowing through it. Yeah, this suggestion may sound a bit weird to the mind. But if you actually try it a few times you’ll probably find that inner energy within your hand.

4. Pick up the vibe from present people

If you know someone that is more present than most people then you can pick his/her vibe of presence (just like you can pick up positivity or enthusiasm from people). If you don’t know someone like that I recommend listening to/watching cds/dvds by Eckhart Tolle. His books work too. But cds/dvds are better than books for picking up someone’s vibe since the biggest part of communication is voice tonality and body language.

5. Surrender to the emotion that is already there

It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of old memories. You may want to move away from them but there is a feeling there that brings them back over and over. So you need to decrease the power that feeling has over you. And you don’t do it by fighting it. You do it by surrendering to it.
The feeling is a loop within your mind that you are feeding with more energy by resisting it. When you accept the feeling then you stop feeding it and it vanishes.
Here’s how you it:
Say yes to the feeling.
Surrender and let it in. Observe the feeling in your mind and body without labelling or judging it. If you let it in – for me the feeling then often seems to physically locate itself to the middle of my chest – and just observe it for maybe a minute or two the feeling just vanishes.
As you can see, this way is similar to ones above. They are all about observing.

6. See things as for the first time

This one pretty similar to the first way. But it can be useful when you have a hard time just observing your surroundings.
That’s when you can look at things as for the first time. Imagine it like that, take that role. Like someone who has never experienced this before. Like a child or someone who has never been here before. I like this one and I have been doing it from time to time for years (although back then I didn’t really understand why it felts nice when I did it).

7. Pinch yourself

Give yourself a little pinch. Or have someone else do it. And focus on that sensation to quickly bring yourself back to the moment.


My Book Picks!      
Knowledge is power! Cozy chair, hot tea and a good book. Nothing better.

 


Mediation is also a very helpful way of learning how to focus on the present. Check out Amazon's Meditation section for useful books, DVD's and tools.

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