Have you ever wondered what makes humans most happy? There’s an app for that! Track Your Happiness lets people report their feelings in real time. The app’s creator, Matt Killingsworth, wants to understand the behaviour behind happiness. In his TED Talk below, Killingsworth discusses some surprising results: We’re often happiest when we’re focused on the present. And the flip side: The more our mind wanders, the less happy we can be.
In the video above, Killingsworth discusses something called the Paradox of Happiness. That is, even though the objective conditions of our lives have improved significantly in the last 50 years, we aren’t actually any happier. He suggests that this is because the things we thought we wanted don’t actually make us happier.
So what can make us happier? After studying more than 650,000 real-time happiness reports from 15,000 responders across a diverse range of age, income, education, and marital status, Killingsworth made some discoveries.
One correlation that Killingsworth found is that responders were substantially less happy when their minds wandered away from their current tasks. That’s because when our minds wander, we often think about unpleasant things: our worries, anxieties, and regrets.
Surprisingly, though, even daydreaming about happier things (instead of focusing on the task at hand) can actually make us less happy. So if you’re stuck in line at the airport and dreaming about how nice it will be to get to your vacation destination, you could actually feel less happy than if you were just focusing on getting through security. Even when thinking about something neutral, responders were considerably less happy than when not mind-wandering. It seems counterintuitive, but Killingsworth’s data supports the theory.
In other words, allowing your mind to wander away from the current task, whether you’re thinking about pleasant, unpleasant, or even neutral things, can actually cause unhappiness.
“Mindfulness” is quite the buzz word lately. You’ve probably heard some variation of the phrase “Be Present” hundreds of times. But simply telling yourself to “be present” doesn’t magically make you more mindful and self-aware. With the number of distractions available at any given moment, mindfulness is now a learned skill, rather than born instinct. Thankfully, there are many ways to practice the skill of being present. Here are a few:
What do you think? Do you believe the data that suggests mind-wandering might be causing your unhappiness? Are you willing to practice focusing on the present and tracking whether your moods improve? Let us know in the comments below!
Camille Fairbanks was born and raised in Arizona and now resides in Lethbridge, AB. She received her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge; she now raises her children and her garden full time, and enjoys writing about minimalism and the Zero Waste lifestyle on her blog, The Non-Waster.