Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Monday, November 22, 2010

People Are Happiest When Their Minds Are Fully Engaged

I have written about mindfulness in the past, new research confirms that it is a good thing.  In a study published in the Nov. 12 issue of Science, people reported being happier when they were fully engaged in activity. 2250 people were involved in the study, from 83 countries and ages 18-88.  They were prompted at random times during the day by an iPhone application to answer several questions re: how they were feeling, what they were doing, whether their mind was wandering, and if their thoughts were pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
It turns out that they spent about 47% of the time with wandering minds.  The activity with the least amount of mind wandering was sex.  People reported being happiest when making love, exercising or talking, and least happy when resting or sleeping, working or on the computer.  People were happier when thinking pleasant thoughts than unpleasant thoughts, but happier still when they were fully engaged in what they were doing at the time.
Study author Matthew Killingswoth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University stated that the human mind has the unique ability to wander.  We tend to ponder things that have happened and to anticipate and plan for things that might happen.  Apparently, that ability can make us less happy.  There is a saying I have heard, that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans. We miss out on a great deal of our own lives, because our minds are on other things.
Think about what you have been doing for the past hour. Obviously, one thing you have been doing is reading blogs.  Are you actively paying attention to what you read, or are you just skimming the pages while you plan tomorrow's dinner?  You get more out of what you read, and also remember more of it, if you pay attention. Imagine how much more satisfying your relationships would be if you really paid attention to the other person, and they to you. My kitten is asleep next to me.  I love to pet her, she is so soft. Paying attention to the sensations when I pet her makes the experience so much more intense, and it can change my mood and my day for the better.
During your day, try to really be present for at least one activity that you normally don't pay attention to. Think about the experience of standing in line at the grocery store.  Normally, people stand there, waiting their turn, either mindlessly letting the time go by, or thinking about what they have to do next, and maybe getting annoyed by how long it is taking.  Next time you are standing in line, look around you. Observe your surroundings, other people, Notice any smells, sounds, sights.  Feel the texture of each item as you place it on the counter. Chat with other people in line and/or the cashier, give complements, look for things you never noticed before.
Try to keep your mind either neutral or positive while making your observations. If your mind wanders, don't get mad at yourself, after all, you are only human.  Just gently turn your mind back to whatever you are doing.
You may be surprised by how this changes your experience. Pick out other situations, and practice being in the moment.

No comments:

Post a Comment