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Science Says You’ll Be Much Happier If Your Mind Wanders Less

Science Says You’ll Be Much Happier If Your Mind Wanders Less

Our minds are a wandering machine. A study found that almost half of our thoughts are not related to what we are doing. If that isn’t a telling statistic, then I don’t know what it is. This raises questions: “How does this brain activity affect our happiness?” and “Does it make us happier (or not)?”

Much of the research on the factors that contribute to happiness has focused on factors like income, gender, education, and marriage, but as Harvard Psychologist Matt Killingsworth mentioned in Greater Good, “Factors like these don’t seem to have particularly strong effects.”

It seems, according to Killingsworth, that fleeting aspects of our everyday lives—such as what we’re doing, who we’re with, and what we’re thinking about—have a big influence on our happiness. And yet these are the very factors that have been most difficult for scientists to study. This drove Killingsworth and Daniel T.Gilbert to test the influence that such factors have on happiness.

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The Research

The Harvard study titled “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind”, made use of an unconventional technique known as experience sampling – where people were interrupted at various intervals during the day. This technique is extremely powerful. It allows you to find large patterns in human thought and behavior, develop a portrait of someone and find distinct correlations between thoughts, actions, and happiness.

The psychologists developed an iPhone app to sample ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions. At intervals throughout the day, people were sent a brief questionnaire asking them about their experience at that moment just before the signal.

They were asked how they felt (on a scale of very bad to very good), what they were doing (22 activities including watching tv and eating were provided) and whether they were thinking about something else. They could answer yes or no to this last question. If they were thinking about something else, they were asked whether the feelings were neutral, unpleasant or pleasant.

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A diverse group – ages 18-80, representing a wide range of incomes, education levels and marital statuses and nationalities – of 15000 people formed part of the sample. This allowed the researchers to gather over 650 000 real-time reports.

Our Mind Wanders Toward Unhappiness

The study found that 47% of the time people were thinking about something other than their current activity. This varied across the 22 activities – from 65% when taking a shower, 50% when working, 40% when exercising, all the way to 10% while having sex. Aside from sex, people’s minds were wondering at least 30% of the time. Our minds then wander a considerable amount of the time, even when we are resting and following instructions to think about nothing in particular.

According to psychology, if your mind wanders often, there is an 85% chance that you are subconsciously unhappy with your life. This study supports this notion. It was found that people were significantly less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not and the size of the effect is considerable. In the words of Killingsworth:

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“…how often a person’s mind wanders, and what they think about when it does, is far more predictive of happiness than how much money they make, for example.”

This holds true for all 22 activities and regardless as to what the person is doing, even if what they are doing is not enjoyable, for example, commuting to work. This can be explained by the fact that when our minds wander, we often think about negative and unpleasant things – our worries, our anxieties, and even our regrets. These, in turn, have a big impact on our happiness.

How Mental Presence Affects Happiness

The data from the Harvard Group study also points to the fact that your happiness is not determined by the way we spend our day. Rather it has to do with engaging in the present.

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Mental presence then, where we match our thoughts to our specific actions, is a massive predictor of our happiness and should be cultivated for a happier life. However, as Killingsworth said, “The lesson here isn’t that we should stop mind-wandering entirely—after all, our capacity to revisit the past and imagine the future is immensely useful, and some degree of mind-wandering is probably unavoidable.”

What is suggested is that we cultivate ways to reduce mind wandering (e.g. meditation practice) as this ultimately will improve the quality of your life, help us more effectively cope with bad moments, achieve greater enjoyment from the good ones and become happier.

Featured photo credit: Martina K via magdeleine.co

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Last Updated on October 18, 2018

50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

Life is filled with highs and lows —happiness and struggles that will test your resilience and integrity, push you to overcome challenges and leave you with lessons that will make you even stronger on your way up.

It’s the way you feel and think about yourself, including your expectations and beliefs about what is possible to you, greatly determines everything that happens to you.

It all starts with your thoughts. When you change your thoughts, you transform the quality of your life. (Right, Nancy’s story is a typical example!)

Below is a list of the best motivational quotes to inspire you to start your day with a blast:

Quotes for self-assurance

1. Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality, upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.

    2. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.

      3. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

        4. The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others

          5. You attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, then be great.

            6. It’s not who you are that holds you behind, it’s who you think your are not.

              Quotes about positivity

              7. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.

                8. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

                  9. Falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice.

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                    10. If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that.

                      11. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.

                        12. Don’t be afraid to give up the good and go for great.

                          13. Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned from worst times and from the worst mistakes.

                            Quotes for work and success

                            14. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

                              15. Never stop doing great just because someone doesn’t give you credit.

                                16. Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.

                                  17. Work while they sleep. Learn while they party. Save while they spend. Live like they dream.

                                    18. The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.

                                      19. Never apologize for having high standards, people who really want to be in your life will rise to meet them.

                                        20. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

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                                          21. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

                                            22. Don’t fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.

                                              23. A hill is just another opportunity to leave your competition behind.

                                                24. Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.

                                                  25. Hustle until you no longer need to introduce yourself.

                                                    26. You didn’t come this far only to come this far.

                                                      27. Be selective in your battles for sometimes peace is better than being right.

                                                        28 If we keep doing what we are doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.

                                                          29. You will never know your limits until you push yourself to them.

                                                            30. Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.

                                                              31. The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.

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                                                                32. If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.

                                                                  33. If you can’t handle stress, you won’t manage success.

                                                                    34. Don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams.

                                                                      35. Don’t mistake silence for weakness. Smart people don’t plan big moves out loud.

                                                                        36. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

                                                                          37. Obsessed is the word the lazy use to describe dedicated.

                                                                            38. You become who you spend your time with.

                                                                              39. Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods.

                                                                                40. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

                                                                                  41. If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

                                                                                    42. Between stimulus and response is our greatest power –the freedom to choose.

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                                                                                      43. What comes easy won’t last, what lasts won’t come easy.

                                                                                        44. Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.

                                                                                          45. Work until your idols become your rivals.

                                                                                            Quotes about money

                                                                                            46. Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.

                                                                                              47. I create new enemies every day, it’s called business.

                                                                                                48. When you have a Million Dollar vision, don’t surround yourself with 1 cent minds.

                                                                                                  49. You can’t get rich thinking poor.

                                                                                                    50. Doing what is comfortable is rarely profitable.

                                                                                                      51. If you can count your money, work harder.

                                                                                                        If you find yourself feeling lost and frustrated, it’s never too late to change things up. Check out this guide:

                                                                                                        How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

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