Monday, August 22, 2011

What makes us happy?


I am not so happy now, for I am using my computer. At least, that is what I have to conclude from a study by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University. Actually it is not using my home computer as such that makes me unhappy but that it makes my mind wandering. As the title of their study indicates, A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind”, so a mind that does not concentrate on the task that it is supposed to do is not happy.
I’ll skip the methodological details, but the researchers asked 2250 people what they were doing, what they were feeling then and whether they were thinking about something else. The surprising result was that most of the time we do not think about what we do: our mind “wanders” and is full of other thoughts. No less than 30% and up to nearly half of the time we spend on an activity we are thinking about something else: about what we did yesterday, about the meal we have to prepare this evening, about our next holiday, and so on. And what turned out, too: this mind wandering makes us unhappy. What we need for being happy is concentration. Do what you do, and nothing else. But as everybody knows, the mind tends to be easily distracted. And so we are unhappiest when we are using our home computer, when we are working and when we are resting. The two latter activities are a bit contradictory, for if both working and resting makes us unhappy, what else can we do in order to feel well? Apparently there are activities that are seen as neither the first nor the second, and it is these that make us happy. Therefore, make love! There is no other activity that requires more concentration. But there are also good alternatives: exercise, or engaging in conservation. They make us happy, too.
Mind wandering has also a positive side: the more you day dream, the more creative you are. It is also important in evaluating how you behaved towards other people and how you’ll behave in future. So, it brings you benefits, but not without emotional costs.
The upshot is that for being happy, you have to concentrate on what you do, on the here and now, something that some religions tell you, too. But should I stop writing my blogs, because using my computer makes me unhappy? I have my doubts, for when I let my mind now wander over the blog that I have just written, I realize that writing it required much concentration. Maybe it is true on the average that using your home computer makes you unhappy; according to me it cannot be taken as a general rule. Anyway, I feel well by writing these sentences. However, after an hour or so, my blog is finished and I am longing for a rest. Then the study by Killingsworth and Gilbert explains to me that it is no good idea. Happily, there is something else I can do so that my state of happiness will continue: to take my bike and make a ride.

2 comments:

Luzdeana (Diana H.) said...

So I have to conclude that I am definitely an unhappy person. My mind keeps wandering all day. Of course I don't agree with that as a final truth, although I have to admit that when I manage to reach that state of deep concentration on a certain activity I feel as happy as children are when enjoying their games, completely immersed in their own thoughts and actions, unaware of the world outside themselves.
And I agree with you: writing can be a most enjoyable activity when we are fully involved in it. For me, reading is even more rewarding.

HbdW said...

Thanks for your reaction, Diana. I have nothing to add.
Henk