A Wondering Mind Is An Unhappy Mind
- Human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all.
- 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".
- The most reliable method for investigating real-world emotion is experience sampling, which involves contacting people a they engage in their everyday activities and asking them to report their thoughts, feelings, and actions at that moment.
- The study developed an app that would prompt, at random moments during their waking hours, the participants to answer some questions.
- The sample gathered from the method above contains around 250,000 samples from 5000 people from 83 different countries who range from 18 to 88 and who collectively represent every one of 86 major occupational categories.
- To discover how often people mind wander, what topics they wander to, and how those wandering affect their happiness, it was analyzed samples from 2250 adults who were randomly assigned to answer:
- a happiness question ("How are you feeling right now?") answered on a continuous sliding scale from very bad (0) to very good (100)
- an activity question ("What are you doing right now?") answered by endorsing one or more of 22 activities
- a mind wandering question ("Are you thinking about something other than what you're currently doing?") answered with four options:
- yes, something pleasant
- yes, something neutral
- yes, something unpleasant
- The analyses revealed three facts.
- First, people's mind wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing. Mind wandering occurred in 46.9% of the samples and in at least 30% of the samples during every activity except making love.
- The nature of people's activities had only a modest impact on whether their minds wandered and had almost no impact on the pleasantness of the topics to which their minds wandered.
- Second, people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not. This was true during all activities, including the least enjoyable.
- Although people's minds were more likely to wander to pleasant topics (42.5% of samples) than to unpleasant topics (26.5% of samples) or neutral tropics (31% of samples), people were no happier when thinking about pleasant topics than our about their current activity.
- Negative moods are known to cause mind wandering. Time-lag analyses of the data strongly suggested that mind wandering in the samples was generally the cause, and not merely the consequence of unhappiness.
- Third, what people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing.