A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle with trying to find a balance between looking ahead and planning ahead. I ended the post with a quote from late Christian missionary Jim Elliot who explained that in everything we do, we should “be all there.”
I recently learned that this characteristic of being “all there” has a name: Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been defined as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
While that sounds nearly impossible (I mean, who can really be aware of every single thought, feeling or sensation that occurs all day long?) it actually isn’t as difficult as it may seem. To be mindful, we simply have to tune into what is going on around us in the present moment rather than questioning the past or picturing the future.
And one particular study shows that our ability to do this can directly affect our happiness.
Matthew Killingsworth, one of the foremost researchers on mindfulness, ran an experiment that collected over 650,000 reports on happiness from over 15,000 people. He did so by creating an app that gathered real-time reports of thoughts, feelings and actions of a broad range of people as they went about their daily activities.
Killingsworth’s data found that people’s minds wander a lot. Forty-seven percent of the time, people are thinking about something other than what they are currently doing.
I was skeptical when I first read that. 47% seems like too much. But the more I thought about it, the more it actually makes sense. Consider your day…As you are driving to work you are probably thinking about the busy day you have on your plate. When you are working, you are likely thinking about the happy hour you can’t wait to get to. People are even constantly checking their phone while they are going to the bathroom.
We are a society of wandering minds, and Killingsworth says that isn’t a good thing.
His study found that people are significantly less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re not. He also found that how often a person’s mind wanders and what they think about is “far more predictive of happiness than how much money they make.”
People are less happy even when they are mind-wandering away from something that isn’t enjoyable to think about something they find more amusing.
To explain this, Killingsworth uses the example of commuting to work: “For example, people don’t really like commuting to work very much; it’s one of their least enjoyable activities. Yet people are substantially happier when they’re focused only on their commute than when their mind is wandering off to something else. This pattern holds for every single activity we measured, including the least enjoyable. It’s amazing.”
In conclusion, the study found that mind-wandering appears to be a cause, and not a consequence, of unhappiness.
Killingsworth says, “The lesson here isn’t that we should stop mind-wandering entirely—after all, our capacity to revisit the past and imagine the future is immensely useful, and some degree of mind-wandering is probably unavoidable. But these results do suggest that mind-wandering less often could substantially improve the quality of our lives. If we learn to fully engage in the present, we may be able to cope more effectively with the bad moments and draw even more enjoyment from the good ones.”
As Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
Photo credit: Pixabay