Happiness. We all search for it and we may even spend money on the quest of attaining happiness. Nowadays, you will find countless resources that assert that happiness could be bought, found, etc. However, a recent study conducted at Harvard University finds several surprising and accurate predictors about happiness.
Sometimes when we see friends enjoying their vacation we would think they must be having a greater time than you sitting at home or working in the office. What’s surprising is that the study suggests that it does not matter exactly what you are doing that will predict happiness. According to the data gathered from the Harvard study group, the specific way you spend your day does not predict how happy you are. Rather, the predictive element to happiness is matching your thoughts to your action. To have a strong mental presence of what you are doing.
In order for the psychologists to study everyday happiness they had to catch their subjects in the act of feeling good or the opposite, feeling bad. Measuring the ingredients in a lab would be extremely difficult and undeniably hard to measure.
In this study the psychologists invested in a technique called experience sampling. Meaning, to interrupt people at random intervals and ask them what they are doing and what is on their mind. You can begin to assemble a specific portrait about someone when you do this multiple times a day for several days at a time.
The participants in the study were surveyed via an iPhone app. The app would notify the participant to fill out out a quick questionnaire. The questionnaire would ask what they were doing and if they were thinking about what they were doing. If a participant answered that they were not thinking about what they were doing they would answer additional questions inquiring if what they were doing was enjoyable, neutral or not enjoyable.
The data gathered by the study reveals that we tend to be at our happiest when we are thinking about what we’re doing. For example, a person who is washing the dishes and thinking about washing the dishes is happier than a person who is washing the dishes and thinking of a future vacation.
Psychologists discovered a large portion of our thoughts, approximately half, are not related to what we are actually doing. Some may hope that a mind that wanders like this would bring us to a happier state of being, but the data gathered during the study suggests otherwise. Turns out, we are happiest when our thoughts and actions are perfectly in line with one another, even if it’s a simple task like taking the trash out.
Sure this sounds like an easy fix, but our mind tends to wander and it happens that our minds are wired to wander from time to time. Our brains prefer an arousal state of existence. If a task can be completed without going into too much thought, our brain figure out a specific ways to create an exciting alternative and send the mind wandering.
Do know that the mind can be trained to wander less? It takes practice and dedication, but it can be done! You can engage in a meditation practice, work on being mindfully present throughout your day and work on being contentment.
If you’re like most people and seek happiness, try practicing the art of matching your thoughts to your action. Think about what you’re doing and see how this impacts your overall happiness.
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