Navigation Links
Happiness Is a Focused Mind

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

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, participants could choose from 22 activities, including walking, eating, shopping, watching TV, commuting and working.

The only activity during which people seemed to be quite good at staying on task mentally was while making love. During sex, only 10 percent of people reported wandering thoughts.

Generally, people also reported being the happiest when making love, exercising or conversing. They said they were least happy when resting or sleeping, working or using a home computer.

When it came to what they were thinking about, 42.5 percent thought of pleasant topics, 26.5 percent thought of unpleasant topics, while 31 percent were thinking neutral thoughts.

And while people who were thinking of pleasant things were happier than people thinking of unpleasant things, even those thinking happy thoughts were less happy than people who were fully engaged in whatever they were doing.

The study is published in the Nov. 12 issue of Science.

In some ways, the research provides scientific evidence of what many self-help books and some religious traditions espouse, which is that being in the "here and now" is critical for happiness, Killingsworth said.

Participants were from 83 counties, a wide range of occupations and ranged in age from 18 to 88.

Barbara Becker Holstein, a psychologist and "happiness coach" in Long Branch, N.J., said the findings speak to the importance of doing things that provide a sense of purpose and meaning. Such activities make it easier to stay focused, Holstein explained.

"This research is fabulous and fascinating," Holstein said. "But long before the research, psychologists and many educators recognized that in order to feel a sense of well-being, you need to feel you have purpose and meaning in life. That means you are containing the mind around certain projects and activities, and are forcing the mind not to be all over the place all day long."

If you feel your mind starting to head down a "dark tunnel" of worry and anxiety, try to snap yourself out of it by bringing your thoughts back to the present, she said.

"It's such a natural tendency to go over bad news or things that haven't worked out, to dramatize the drama we are already experiencing," she said. "But if we can distract ourselves by getting involved doing something, we get some distance from whatever we were ruminating on and it's better for us."

More information

If you'd like to be part of Harvard's happiness research project, visit

SOURCES: Matthew Killingsworth, doctoral candidate, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Barbara Becker Holstein, Ed.D., psychologist and happiness coach, Long Branch, N.J.; Nov. 12, 2010, Science

Copyright©2010 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved  

Related medicine news :

1. Chinese New Year Banquets Bring Good Luck, Happiness and Prosperity for the New Year
2. Happiness Protects Your Heart
3. Explore, Love, Happiness, Life Purpose, and Destiny with World Renowned Yogi and Mystic, Sadhguru
4. Motivational and Inspirational Author Dr. Terry Cole-Whittaker's New Book: "Live Your Bliss: Practices that Produce Happiness and Prosperity"
5. Behavioral Laboratory Cracks the DNA Code of Happiness
6. UC Berkeley psychologists bring science of happiness to China
7. After $75,000, Money Cant Buy Day-to-Day Happiness
8. Time to Get Focused at Exploration Summer Programs
9. GenomeQuest Hosts Seminar Focused On Web-based Searching for Patent Information Across Global Sequence Databases
10. Bally Total Fitness Launches Music-Focused Marketing Platform
11. HO Insurance Brings Community Focused Homeowners Insurance to Central Florida
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Happiness Is a Focused Mind
(Date:11/29/2015)... , ... November 29, 2015 , ... While conventional walkers ... or provide ready access to exercise weights. Fortunately, an inventor from Uniontown, Pa., has ... TOMMY WALKER to enhance the benefits of a standard walker to improve the user’s ...
(Date:11/28/2015)... ... November 28, 2015 , ... ... and teleradiology services, has added Chris Hafey and Claude Hooton to its board ... Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) 2015 Annual Meeting and continues to strategically ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... , ... November 28, 2015 , ... There is only ... outperform our billings from last year? , This question has not been an easy ... coming to the retirement age and the younger workforce don’t share the same discipline ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... Raleigh, NC (PRWEB) , ... November 27, 2015 , ... ... most effective ways to treat it. Surviving Mesothelioma has just posted the findings ... Researchers at University Hospital Zurich analyzed the cases of 136 mesothelioma patients who were ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... Aliso Viejo, CA (PRWEB) , ... November 27, 2015 , ... ... exclusively for use in Final Cut Pro X. With ProSidebar: Fasion, video editors ... banners, or use ProSidebar as a minimalist title opener. Utilize presets featuring self-animating ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:11/29/2015)... Germany , Nov. 29, 2015  At this ... attendees to experience the most complete mobile C-arm portfolio ... display is Ziehm Vision RFD 3D, the world,s only ... cm edge length per scan volume. In addition, Ziehm ... fully motorized mobile C-arm in four axes which is ...
(Date:11/29/2015)... 2015 CIVCO Medical Solutions will demonstrate ... Radiological Society of North America ... November 29 – December 4, 2015. The ... customers unrivaled versatility, enhanced user experience and deliver ... --> --> ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... Pays-Bas, November 27, 2015 ... traitement photodynamique au Bremachlorin contre le cancer avancé. ... consistant à combiner l,immunothérapie au traitement photodynamique au ... --> Une nouvelle approche consistant à ... le cancer avancé.    Clinical ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: