Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Pay attention to be happy?

What’s the recipe for being happy? The media have recently reported that research shows when our minds wander we tend, on average, to be unhappy. So should we simply pay attention to improve our happiness? The same research shows the answer is most definitely not. And buried in the detail is what we should really do for more happiness.

According to Matthew A Killingsworth and Prof Daniel T Gilbert, both of Harvard University, as published in Science, “We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

2,250 people took part. Their smart phone went off and they answered whether they were focussed, or if they weren’t, whether they were happy, neutral or sad. Plus they said what they were doing.

Just under half had minds-a-wandering when phoned. Out of 22 possible activity answers, 21 resulted in thinking of other things at least 30% of the time.

The only exception was sex. When people who were involved in sex were phoned – at least of those who actually answered the call – most were focussed on – sex.

Killingsworth and Gilbert concluded from another check they ran that mind wandering did indeed cause unhappiness, as we worked on more unhappy things than happy things. If so, it might make sense to pay attention to be happy, though the researchers recommended otherwise.

Here’s a quite different view that has been around for a while. It’s called creativity, or ‘flow‘. If you are being really inventive, really creative, having a much better time, or simply much more into the activity, what do you do when your smart phone goes off?

Perhaps you’ll just ignore it. Perhaps you’ll answer, and say you were really involved in what you were doing. After all, the activity that headed up this list was having sex. More people who reported having sex said their mind was on the job than for any other activity.

This research may show up something much simpler, and something much more important. Forget paying attention to scrape out a tiny little bit of extra happiness. Focus on sorting out the activities people were doing that caught their attention, and the ones where their minds wandered (to an even less happy place).

The 3 activities at the bottom the pile, where minds wandered the most, were resting, working, and using a home computer.

Out of the 22 activities surveyed, here are the top 3. Sex – exercise – having a chat.

Take your pick. It’s whatever you prefer most that will do you most good.


November 14, 2010 - Posted by | Activity, Exercise, Health, Positive Psychology, Social networks, Success

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