Stay Mindful! (Wandering Minds Tend to Lead to Greater Unhappiness)
Harvard scientist Matt Killingsworth built an app to track peoples’ focus and mind wandering tendencies and tracked 15,000 users’ responses across many demographics. The data are nothing short of amazing. As it turns out, people are less happy not only when their minds wander, but actually because their minds wander, relative to when when they’re mindful or “focused, aware and in the moment”–regardless of whatever daily activity they’re doing (held up in traffic, shopping, etc.). Matt explains how he got the data and what the correlations mean, but this fits well with my future “What if…” and past tense “why” theory of worry, stress, and anxiety. In my theory, future what if… thinking is often stressful and anxiety-inducing because we dwell on things in the future (e.g., what if…I don’t get that job; I screw up my relationship; that sensation is a symptom of a serious illness; I can’t pay my bills, etc.). There’s also why…? thinking, wherein we dwell on things that happened in the past (e.g., why did I/he/she/they say/do/act that way? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Why can’t I get a good night’s sleep?) Bottom line? When our minds wander, the research shows, we tend to be less happy than when we’re focused and mindful “in the now.”
But don’t take my word for it, listen to what Matt has to say about the science at his TEDx talk (more amazing TED talks here).