Science has finally conceded to what the zen buddhists and residents of Dagobah have been saying since time immemorial: to be happy, just live in the moment.
People spend 46.9% of their waking lives thinking about something other than what they’re actually doing. It’s a terribly inefficient use of one’s mind and, worse, it actually seems to make people unhappy…
This may seem like a rather intangible area of study, but the researchers collected over 250,000 data points from 2,250 volunteers. The test subjects used a specially developed iPhone app that contacted them randomly to ask how happy there were feeling, what they were doing, whether they were thinking about what they were doing, and, if not, whether they were thinking about something pleasant instead. In order to more easily organize the data, subjects had to choose from twenty-two general activities, which could be anything from working to eating to walking to having sex. We can only hope the subjects weren’t expected to respond immediately if they were prompted during that last one.
They discovered that our minds are wandering about 46.9 percent of the time in any given activity, and the mind-wandering rate was at least 30% for all but one activity. Thankfully, the only activity that generally got people’s undivided attention was making love. That was also one of the activities that made people happiest, along with exercising and conversing with others. On average, the least happy activities were resting, working, and using a home computer (unless you’re reading this site, of course).
Even more intriguingly, they discovered that people’s feelings of happiness had much more to do with where their mind was than what they were doing. Only 4.6% of a person’s happiness could be attributed to what they were doing, but 10.8% of it was caused by what they were thinking about at the time, and people consistently reported being happiest when their minds were on what they were doing.
And it does appear the mind-wandering is a cause, not just a correlation. The researchers did separate time-lag analyses that helped demonstrate people’s mood was affected by their wandering mind, not the other way around.
Or as Yoda puts it, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”