Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mental focus and happiness

Everyone knows they do it, but new research by Harvard researchers, which used the iPhone to periodically interrupt 2,250 people’s lives, found that about half the time, people’s minds are wandering. Most strikingly, they found that overall, people whose minds are wandering are less happy than those focused on the task at hand.

“It’s paradoxical and ironic, in the sense that you would think if you leave the present, you’d go someplace better, but people seem to go to places that make them less happy,’’ said Matthew Killingsworth, a psychology graduate student at Harvard University and lead author of the work, published today in the journal Science. ...

In order to measure people’s errant minds and moods, Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, took advantage of modern technology to randomly and seamlessly interrupt people’s days to ask a few simple questions. People from ages 18 to 88 signed up for a Web application that periodically sent them an e-mail or text message to ask a simple set of questions: How happy were they at the moment? What were they doing? Were they thinking about something other than the task at hand, and if so, were they thinking of something pleasant, neutral, or negative?

Researchers found that 47 percent of the time, people reported that their minds were wandering. In nearly two dozen activities reported, people’s minds were wandering more than 30 percent of the time, with a single exception — sex — in which people seemed to be both single-mindedly focused on what they were doing and happy.
--Carolyn Johnson, Boston Globe, on a possible downside of daydreaming

No comments: