Jumping on the happiness research bandwagon, Matt Killingsworth developed an app that tracks people’s happiness in real time (trackyourhappiness.org). Analyzing 650,000 real time reports from a diverse group of 15,000 people, he asked participants to report on three things at random times throughout the day: how they feel, what they’re doing right then, and if they’re thinking about something other than what they’re doing. He learned that 47% of the time we’re mind-wandering – thinking about things other than what we’re doing.
We all know that it’s important and even necessary to be able to focus on more than one thing at a time. There’s been a lot of talk about mindfulness lately but there’s also been substantial research on the benefits of mind-wandering (planning, digging deeper for the meaning of an event, cultivating empathy and compassion, exploring memories, moral reasoning, improvisation, creative pursuits, etc). Killingsworth’s data indicates that we’re less happy when we’re mind-wandering. Not only that, but we’re less happy because we’re mind wandering (rather than mind-wandering to soothe already feeling unhappy). He learned that even when people are focused on something unpleasant they’re happier than when they’re mind-wandering.
So 47% of the time we’re making ourselves less happy because we’re not focusing one-mindfully on what we’re doing. As with so many happiness skills, mindfulness is something we can cultivate. So let’s focus and get happy!