THURSDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- If you want to be happy, try to stay focused.
New research shows that when people's minds drifted from the task or activity at hand, they reported being less happy than when they were fully engaged in whatever they were doing.
The human mind is uniquely capable of wandering -- that is, to ponder things that have happened, to anticipate things that will happen, and to plan for things that might happen, explained study author Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University. The ability is one of the traits that makes human beings human, he noted.
Yet, cognitive wandering comes at a cost, which is that when people are thinking about something other than what they're doing, they feel less happy, the researchers discovered.
"Human beings seem to have this unique capacity to focus on the non-present. They have the ability to reflect on the past, plan for the future and imagine things that might never occur," Killingsworth said. "But at the same time, human beings are clumsy users of this capacity and it tends to decrease, rather than increase, happiness."
In the study, 2,250 participants were prompted at random times throughout the day using an iPhone Web application. They were asked how they were feeling, what they were doing, if they were thinking about something other than what they were doing and whether whatever they were contemplating was pleasant (say, daydreaming about a vacation), unpleasant (perhaps worrying about a relationship or finances) or neutral in nature.
According to the study, participants spent nearly 47 percent of their waking hours with their mind in a wandering state. "This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present," Killingsworth said.
That is, with one notable exception. When describing what they were doing, par
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