Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mind-Wandering and Happiness

There's a new study accepted in Science by Dr. Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth at Harvard University. Dr. Gilbert is also the author of Stumbling on Happiness. I haven't read the journal article yet, and as far as I can tell, it hasn't been published, but has a write up about it.

The researchers created an iPhone app that volunteers could download. At random intervals, they were asked: 1.) what they were doing; 2.) how happy they were; 3.) and whether they were focused on their current situation or thinking about something else--rating it pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. Thinking about something other than the task at hand was referred to as "mind-wandering."

According to the article:

"Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness," Killingsworth says. "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."

This is an interesting finding, and one that, as the researchers note, supports the various mindfulness traditions. Ecological momentary assessments such as the app used in this study may be more accurate in sampling mindfulness than self-report questionnaires. Whether iPhone users make up a representative sample is another question...

To read the article, click here.

To download the iPhone app and become part of the research, go to

For the full citation of the upcoming Science article:

Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (in press). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science.

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