Harvard University study has shown that most people spend 46.9% of their wakinghours in a state of distraction. The study found that people were thinking of anything other than what was happening around them for nearly half their time awake.
The study utilised the technology of an iPhone web app to collect data from volunteers as they spent their days. The 250,000 points of data covered feelings, thoughts and actions of the participants. The app randomly contacted the 2,250 participants to ask what they were currently doing and how happy they were. They were also asked if they were actually thinking about the activity they were engaged in.
This fascinating study was created by Daniel T. Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth both of whom are psychologists at Harvard University. In their paper which was published in the Science journal, they wrote that “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” adding that “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
They also found that people’s brains seem to have a default pattern of mind wandering spending time thinking about past events, possible future events and total imaginations, all of which is unique to humans; animals only think about what is happening around them. Killingsworth explained that “Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” and that “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present.”
An interesting statistic emerged revealing that only 4.6% of someone’s happiness was due to their current activity, whereas 10.8% of their happiness was due to mind wandering.
To sum up, Killingsworth said, “Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” adding that “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”