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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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Nick Darlington

Nick is a Multipotentialite, an entrepreneur, a blogger and a traveler.

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Last Updated on October 17, 2019

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

You see your partner every single day. They are the first person you talk to in the morning and the last person you kiss goodnight.

But does seeing each other day in and day out equal a healthy relationship? Not necessarily.

Spending quality time with your partner is the best way to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. This means going above and beyond sitting together while you watch Netflix or going out for the occasional dinner. You deserve more from your relationship – and so does your spouse!

What does quality time mean? It means spending time with your spouse without interruption. It’s a chance for you to come together and talk. Communication will build emotional intimacy and trust.

Quality time is also about expressing love in a physical way. Not sex, necessarily (but that’s great, too!) but through hand-holding, cuddling, caressing, and tickling. Studies show that these displays of affection will boost partner satisfaction.[1]

So how do you spend quality time with your partner? Here are 13 relationship tips on making the most out of your time with your partner.

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1. Recognize the Signs

If you want a healthy relationship, you have to learn how to recognize the signs that you need to spend more quality time together.

Some telltale signs include:

  • You’re always on your phones.
  • You value friendships or hobbies over quality time with your spouse.
  • You aren’t together during important events.
  • You are arguing more often or lack connection.
  • You don’t make plans or date nights.
  • You’re not happy.

If you are experiencing any of these relationship symptoms, know that quality time together can reverse the negative effects of the signs above.

2. Try New Things Together

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or speak another language? How about skydive or ballroom dance?

Instead of viewing these as solo hobbies and interests, why not involve your partner?

Trying new activities together builds healthy relationships because it encourages spouses to rely on one another for emotional and physical support.

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Shared hobbies also promote marital friendship, and the Journal of Happiness Studies found that marital satisfaction was twice as high for couples who viewed each other as best friends.[2]

3. Schedule in Tech-Free Time

Your phone is a great way to listen to music, watch videos, and keep up-to-date with friends and family. But is your phone good for your relationship?

Many couples phone snub, or ‘phub’, one another. Studies show that phubbing can lower relationship satisfaction and increase one’s chances of depression.[3]

Reduce those chances by removing distractions when spending quality time together and showing your partner they have your full attention.

4. Hit the Gym as a Couple

One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together.[4] Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.[5]

Join a gym, do at-home couples’ workouts, try couples yoga, hit the hiking trails, or get your bikes out. No matter which way you choose to exercise, these healthy activities can promote a healthy relationship.

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5. Cook Meals Together

Pop open a bottle of wine or put some romantic music on while you get busy – in the kitchen, of course!

One of the best relationship tips for spending quality time together when you both have busy schedules is to cook meals together.[6]

Spice things up and try and prepare a four-course meal or a fancy French dish together. Not only is this a fun way to spend your time together, but it also promotes teamwork.

If all goes well, you’ll have a romantic date night meal at home that you prepared with your four hands. And if the food didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you are guaranteed to have a laugh and create new memories together.

6. Have a Regular Date Night

Couples experience a greater sense of happiness and less stress when they are spending quality time together.[7] One of the biggest relationship tips for a healthy partnership is to include a date night in your weekly routine.

The National Marriage Project found that having a weekly date night can make your relationship seem more exciting and helps prevent relationship boredom.[8] It also lowers the probability of divorce, improves your sex life, and increases healthy communication.

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Some great ideas for what to do on your date night include:

  • Have a movie marathon – Gather up your favorite flicks and cuddle up on the couch.
  • Play games together – Cards, board games, video games, and other creative outlets are a fun way to spend quality time together.
  • Recreate your first date – Go back to that restaurant and order the same meal you did when you first got together. You can spice up your evening by pretending you’re strangers meeting for the first time and see how sexy the night gets.
  • Plan a weekend getaway – There’s nothing better than traveling with the one you love.
  • Dinner and a movie – A classic!
  • Try a new restaurant – Make it your mission to rate and try all of the Mexican restaurants/Irish pubs/Italian trattorias in your area.
  • Have a long sex session – Intimacy promotes the release of the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for a myriad of great feelings.[9]

Here’re even more date night ideas for your reference: 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

Final Thoughts

The benefits of spending quality time together are endless. Here are just some of the ways it can contribute to a healthy relationship:

  • Improves emotional and physical intimacy
  • Lowers divorce rates
  • Improves communication
  • Reduces marital boredom
  • Bonds couples closer
  • Improves friendship
  • Boosts health
  • Reduces stress

These are all excellent reasons to start making date night a regular part of your week.

It’s easy to have a healthy relationship when you set aside dedicated time to share with your spouse. Try new things together, make your spouse your workout buddy, and look for innovative ways to be close and connected.

These relationship tips will bring great benefits to your marriage.

Featured photo credit: Allen Taylor via unsplash.com

Reference

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