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Wandering minds make us miserable

12th November 2010

A human mind, it appears, is a wandering mind, but one that can be tracked on the internet.


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When people rest, work or use their computer, their minds are wandering nearly half of the time, a US study has shown.

Wandering thoughts and daydreaming are not necessarily linked to feeling good, according Harvard researchers. On the contrary.

We are happiest when living in the moment, according to a team of psychologists at Harvard University, rather than when we are pondering our position in the world.

Our minds spend 46.9% of the time wandering, and yet it is this mental habit that produces the greatest unhappiness.

The antidote, the team found, is to be completely focused on something, which produces more satisfaction than even the pleasantest of daydreams.

Intense conversation with friends, sex and exercise are most likely to get us out of our heads, along with listening to music and playful behaviour.

Rest, work or using a computer were the activities most likely to stimulate the mind to wander.

Neutral activities for the mind included reading, doing the housework and watching television.

Intense physical workouts, extreme sports and socialising were probably popular for a reason, said the study, co-authored by Harvard's Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth.

The ability to review the past and dream about the future is a mixed blessing for humanity: a cognitive achievement for which we pay an emotional price, they conclude.

Using a technique called "experience sampling" via an application that runs on the iPhone and online, Killingsworth sent questions to 2,250 volunteers around the world about their current mental state, at different times of the day.

Participants aged from 18-88 were asked about their levels of happiness, what they were doing and what they were thinking about.

Respondents selected one of 22 general activities and record their happiness levels. They also recorded whether they were focused on their activity, or thinking about something else.

On average, people reported thinking about something other than what they were doing 46.9% of the time.

Sex was the activity that produced the lowest distraction levels. Study participants said they were distracted at least 30% of the time in most other pursuits.

Mind wandering appeared to be found across all activities, Killingsworth wrote, concluding that mind wandering was detrimental to human happiness.

This was true even when we were doing our least favourable activities but were thinking about something pleasant.

Being here and now, a principal found in many religions and philosophies, seemed to be the happiest state.

Volunteers around the world are being encouraged to sign up to expand the research.

The app is a free download, and can be accessed via Twitter, e-mail or mobile phone.

 

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Comments

Michele Moore

Sunday 14th November 2010 @ 2:47

Do the results of this study make sense to you? Do the happiest people you know show laser like focus? Do they avoid daydreams?

How we feel about what we are doing determines our happiness and our levels of attention.

When we are enjoying what we are doing we pay attention to it.

When we don't particularly enjoy what we are doing our mind wanders.

When we focus our time and attention on things we like and find pleasurable we feel energized, enthusiastic and excited. When we focus on things we think are bad we feel sad, angry, anxious or dissatisfied.

Our Focus Determines Our Feelings!

MicheleMoore- Happy1 ~ HappinessHabit.com


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