Spacing Out Half the Day Makes People Unhappy in Harvard Study
November 11, 2010
Bloomberg Business Week
By Elizabeth Lopatto
People spend almost half of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and their daydreaming usually doesn’t take them to a happy place, a study reports.
People’s minds wandered about 46.9 percent of the time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except sex, according to a study in the journal Science. Straying attention occurred most often at work.
Some religions suggest happiness is to be found by focusing on what’s happening at the moment, or “be here now,” the authors wrote, using a title of a 1971 book by spirituality and meditation guru Ram Dass. By analyzing the data over time, the researchers discovered that people didn’t merely fantasize when they were unhappy; instead, wandering minds led to unhappiness, said study author Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“People spend a lot of time with their minds wandering and that seems to be damaging for their happiness,” Killingsworth said in a telephone interview. The ability to think about things other than the present is a uniquely human trait, and seems to come with an emotional trade-off, he said...