How often do you let your mind wander? A study out of the US suggests most of us spend about half our time thinking about being somewhere else, or doing something other than what we’re doing, and this perpetual mind-wandering makes us unhappy. Researchers used an iPhone application to gather data on 2,250 volunteers’ thoughts, feelings and actions.
In the study, participants were asked at random intervals how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral or unpleasant.
The real-time data showed that on average, people reported that their minds were wandering 46.9% of the time, and no less than 30 per cent of the time during every activity except making love.
And people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working or using a home computer.
This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present. The researchers, writing in the journal Science, say the ability to think about what is not happening at the moment is a cognitive achievement but comes at an emotional cost. And they say mind wandering was generally the cause of unhappiness rather than a consequence.
So maybe we should listen to yoga teachers. Or adhere to other philosophical and religious traditions that train practitioners to resist mind wandering and teach us that happiness is found by living in the moment. The research says these findings lend support to those traditions.