TED Talk of the Day: the wandering mind

matt killingsworth

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You know all that daydreaming you do? It could be making you unhappy — at least, that’s what Matt Killingsworth’s findings suggest. His Harvard doctoral research, which tracked the day-to-day emotions of 15,000 participants, found that a wandering mind causes unhappiness. What’s more is that it doesn’t matter what you’re thinking about; whether it’s your pleasant day at the beach or that upcoming math midterm, your happiness suffers regardless. As a logical antithesis to that finding, Killingsworth also gathered hard data that suggest that living in the moment increases happiness. To watch the video, you can go to this handy-dandy link here, or you can read our breakdown below:

We should be happier. How do you measure happiness? Is it the quality of life you lead, the job you have or the house you keep? Maybe it’s all three? As it turns out, humans are extremely ineffective at measuring their own happiness. To prove this point, Killingsworth reminds us that the lot of the average human is better than it was in the past. We live longer, eat better, utilize modern technology and conveniences — yet we are not appreciably happier. All of our objective measures are met, but our experience of life doesn’t correspond with that. In other words, there is a gap between what we think will bring us happiness and what actually does.

A wandering mind is an unhappy one. Killingsworth used an iPhone app, “Track Your Happiness,” to survey more than 15,000 participants during random parts of the day. What he found was surprising. He discovered that daydreaming was a ubiquitous activity — we do it for about 47 percent of the time — but that it always detracts from our happiness. Even pleasant thoughts make us less happy.

So what can you do given that humans are avid mind wanderers? As it turns out, Killingsworth’s research also found that living “in the moment” is an antithesis to daydreaming. Participants demonstrated increased levels of happiness that directly correlated with living “for the now.” Granted, this finding wasn’t exactly a self-help breakthrough, but it’s significant to see scientific evidence that supports this fact. So next time you’re feeling a little down, utilize your TED Talk expertise (others call it common sense) and live in the moment.

What do you think of this finding? Let us know in the comments!

Image source: TEDxZaragoza under Creative Commons

Contact Griffin Mori-Tornheim at [email protected]