Happiness may depend, in part, on focus

Being happy apparently requires significant concentration skills. The authors of a study on happiness found that while daydreaming -- or mind-wandering or spacing out -- is a robust human characteristic, it’s not good for happiness. Instead, staying firmly in the moment is linked to emotional well being.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, is based on data from an iPhone app designed to study happiness. Data were collected from 2,250 participants age 18 to 88. They were randomly asked to report how happy they were, what they were doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or something else that was pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Researchers found people spend about 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing and that mind-wandering was linked to feel unhappy. Using time-lag analysis, the researchers concluded that mind-wandering was typically the cause, not the result, of unhappiness. The participants were least happy when they were resting, working or at home using a computer. They were happiest when they were making love, exercising or engaging in conversation. What people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than what they were doing.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” wrote the authors, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, both psychologists at Harvard University. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”


According to the authors, about 5,000 people are using the trackyourhappiness iPhone app.

Related: Internet browsing: Searching for happiness?

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