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Study Finds A Surprisingly Accurate Predictor Of Happiness

Study Finds A Surprisingly Accurate Predictor Of Happiness

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.

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How The Study Was Done

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.

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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 Results

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.

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The Relationship between Focus and Happiness

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.

The Prescription for Happiness:

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.

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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.

Conclusion:

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.

More by this author

Tara Massan

Founder of Be Moved, Life Coach and Writer.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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