Daydreaming zaps happiness

Daydreaming zaps happiness

Wherever your mind went—your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills—the daydreaming takes chunks away from your happiness.

Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good”, the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.  When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 per cent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavours. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 per cent of the time, and as much as 65 per cent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 per cent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realise that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant—and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 per cent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander towards negative thoughts.”

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

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