When minds go on vacation, so does happiness

By EmilyM

Perhaps this is a topic that hits close to home today. With today, Monday, clearly the most ill regarded day of the week, minds seem to have a tendency to wander to nearly anywhere…except work.

We seem to welcome distractions, interruptions or daydreams rather than face the reality that the new work week has come, however, a new study has found that when minds frequently wander, unhappy feelings fill the void.

According to the study, led by Harvard University and published in Science this month,  collectively humans spend 30 percent of the day thinking about things other than what they are supposed to focusing in. With one, perhaps predictable exception, there appears to be focus nearly all the time during sex.

While it seems nearly all minds do wander, where they head to is different for each person. Discontent is highest in those with neutral or unpleasant thoughts but the study also reveals that happiness doesn’t increase while thinking about pleasant thoughts or reflecting on the past. In fact, among those surveyed, their minds more frequently gravitated towards happy thoughts yet still the overall mindset was a negative one.

Participants were surveyed at random intervals by iPhone. While the findings of the study seem fairly concrete, those involved in leading the research make sure to state that these are only “short term” effects. People who spend large amounts of time daydreaming have often gone on to create some of the most imaginative inventions or masterpieces that have bloomed from these wandering thoughts. For most of us, however, sitting in an office and allowing our minds to wander not only cuts down on productivity but also our overall happiness as well.

Through iPhone surveys, 2,250 volunteers were asked to select what they were currently doing from a list of 22 possible activities, what they were thinking about (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) and how they were feeling at the moment on a scale of 0 to 100. Since there was no real tie between type of thoughts and activity,  researchers concluded that perhaps happiness comes from a combination of the activity of the moment and mind wandering.

If you put this all in perspective, maybe you can see where this might apply. Imagine a day at the office where you are mindlessly clicking around the Internet or  catching yourself in a daydream when co-workers (or worse yet, your boss) comes up to talk to you. You finally get to 5:00 and head home, sitting in rush hour thinking about all you did not accomplish and will have waiting for you in the office the next morning. Compare this to a day that may have been a bit hectic but very productive. You kept your thoughts tuned in closely to the tasks at hand and managed to check many things off your list for the day. Feels good right? Perhaps it’s as simple as the age-old advice  “stay in the moment.” When we spend our time stuck between the past, present and perhaps even thoughts of the future, we begin to feel displaced and discontented.

While no one particularly loves Mondays, it may actually boost your happiness level to try and stay on track. So stop reading already and get back to work and have the happiest day yet!

What do you think about this study? Do you find this to be true in your life? What do you do to keep your mind from wandering aimlessly?