Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T.Gilbert recently published findings in the journal Science relating to their research of mind wandering. Killingsworth developed an iphone app that kept in touch with over 2,000 volunteers about their current activity, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was neutral, pleasant or unpleasant. On average, the volunteers reported that their minds wandered 46.9 percent of the time. “Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities. This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non present,” said Killingsworth.
In fact, it seems that humans spend lots of time thinking about things other than what is happening around them – reflecting on events from the past, or situations that might occur in the future. Killingsworth added, “mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. 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.” The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. The article noted that many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness comes from living in the moment – and the aspiration to “be here and now.” Harvard Gazette 12/2/12