The key to happiness

When was the last time that you saw a distracted meerkat? Have you seen a day-dreaming rhinoceros lately? Animals tend to stay pretty firmly focussed on the task at hand whether it is searching for food, trying not to become food, or taking a dive into the gene pool. It is a uniquely human thing to think about matters other than what is going on around you: and it may be the cause of our unhappiness.

In a new study Harvard researchers contacted 2250 volunteers at random intervals via an iphone app. They were asked how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or something else pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. More than 250 000 pieces of data were collected in the study.

The results showed that on average people spend 47 per cent of their time not thinking about what they are doing. In fact for any activity, except lovemaking, people’s minds wander for 30 per cent of the time on any given task. They found as well that mind wandering is a better predictor of happiness than the actual task you are engaged in. This held true except for lovemaking, exercise, and talking to people. Aside from these exceptions mind wandering was found to be the cause, not the result, of unhappiness.

In the end the evolutionary achievement of being able to think about what is not happening has come at an emotional cost.

So it seems that…um, actually I meant to say…no,… oh yes, a focussed mind! Keep focussed and in the present moment and that will produce happiness. Thank goodness science has finally told us how to be happy. Oh wait, religions such as Buddhism have been advocating living in the moment and bringing yourself into the here and now for centuries. Still, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the wisdom of the meerkat every now and then does it?

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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