wandering mind is an unhappy one

by Jon Krause

From “Happiness is a Focused Mind” (BusinessWeek)

New research from Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard, shows that when people’s minds drifted from the task or activity at hand, they reported being less happy than when they were fully engaged in whatever they were doing. (Apparently Harvard also has a happiness tracking project going on: trackyourhappiness.org)

The human mind is uniquely capable of wandering — that is, to ponder things that have happened, to anticipate things that will happen, and to plan for things that might happen.  The ability is one of the traits that makes human beings human, he noted.Yet, cognitive wandering comes at a cost, which is that when people are thinking about something other than what they’re doing, they feel less happy, the researchers discovered. “Human beings seem to have this unique capacity to focus on the non-present. They have the ability to reflect on the past, plan for the future and imagine things that might never occur,” Killingsworth said. “But at the same time, human beings are clumsy users of this capacity and it tends to decrease, rather than increase, happiness.”

According to the study, the participants reported being the happiest when making love, exercising or conversing. They said they were least happy when resting or sleeping, working or using a home computer.

hmmm….this article makes me wonder if my mind wanders a little too much. I saw my regular psychiatrist (as opposed to the one for ECT) today, and she did say to me that I do better if I have things to do, in a structured manner. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’ve started keeping a daily checklist of things-to-do. But does this study mean that introspection isn’t always a good thing? If this wandering of the mind leads to activities like writing a journal/blog entry, have I negated this unhappiness factor and converted it into a happiness-making one?



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