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Wandering Minds Bring Unhappiness

Source: www.nytimes.com
NEW YORK, November 15, 2010: The simple way to happiness? Just focus on whatever you are be doing, according to a new research from Harvard University.

Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good.” The top-rated activities were sex, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, people’s minds wandered a lot. On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert. “I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant. But there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

People who were most distracted away from the task in hand were more likely to report feelings of unhappiness.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

“Our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.” says Dr. Gilbert.

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