A wandering mind is an unhappy mind

People are constantly looking for happiness, but forgetting our ancestors and ancient culture taught that happiness cannot be found or bought with money and that we should live for the present, in the moment and there we’ll find true contentment and happiness. Our fulfilling experience is the one when we include the mind and body in them. It is precisely this experience, in which they are involved the mind and body, during which is a clear relationship between happiness and focus, spurred psychologists M. Killingsworth and D. Gilbert to examine whether such a relationship happiness and focused mind can keep, and whether is focused mind is truly happy mind. In their study published in the journal “Science” reveals that almost half of our minds wander even when performing the most pleasant and the simplest tasks. Although most people think that our thoughts go to a more comfortable place, the data show otherwise. It also indicated that it is true what tradition teaches us, that we are happiest when we can align our thoughts and actions, even in the most banal actions such as performing household chores.

Study happiness is very difficult, because it cannot be studied in the laboratory, measured with experiments, observation and examination, and a moment of happiness is very short. In order to study the causes of happiness, it is necessary to catch people at the moment of good or bad feelings in real time, in real environment. Psychologists Killingsworth and Gilbert used a powerful and unconventional technique called “experience sampling”. The principle of this technique is that the people for a long time suddenly interrupted in their daily activities  more times a day, and wondering what exactly they do and what they think. Using this method they were able to compile a quantitative existential portrait of the observed person. When they managed to do this with many people, they get the patterns and tendencies of human thought and behavior, and the correlation between the moments of happiness and certain types of thought and action. To succeed conduct research, they have developed a mobile application that respondent during the day, in different random intervals, examining what people are doing at that moment, that they think about what they are doing at that moment, and how happy they were at that moment on a scale 1 – 100. At the moment that they did not think about what they were doing, they had to report is that what they think favorable, neutral or unfavorable. All responses were standardized, and they later allowed them to compile a database that accompanied the collective mood, actions and thinking about 5000 participants. For the results of this research it was taken a subset of 2,250 participants. Results showed that we are happiest when we think just about what we’re doing now, even if this activity was quite banal. For example, when ironing, we are happy if at the moment of ironing we also think about ironing. Although at first glance it seems that this research brought a simple recipe to be happy, but be warned that like any prescription, following it is very different from just knowing it’s good for you. In addition to the usual difficulties of breaking bad or unhelpful habits, your brain may also be wired to work against your attempts to stay present.

Functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) shows that even when we are calm and relaxed, and following instructions to think of nothing in particular, our brains conspiratorially into Standby wandering thoughts. Such a “wandering” template of the brain at rest extends over several broad areas of the brain, and many experts believe that this is a fundamental (default) form of network activity of brain cells. From this way of functioning brain cells emerge only as a result of the bombing of input stimulus or exposure to challenging tasks, but always with a tendency to return to the “wandering” ground state when an external stimulus or challenge pass.

It is not known why our brain likes to wander with thoughts, but there are two theories. One believes that our brain reacts only after a certain level of stimulus and excitement, and when he set ourselves a light task that can be automatically done, the brain creates exciting alternatives and coming into the template of wandering thoughts. This theory is somewhat contrary to the research and the results reached by Killingsworth and Gilbert, as they are proven to mind drifts even with interesting activities. Another theory suggests that the wandering thoughts represent some form of mental housekeeping or some kind of an important regulatory process that we are not even aware. Then the different parts of our memories and experiences merge into a unified whole.

Of course, it’s also possible that wandering isn’t really ‘for’ anything, but rather just a byproduct of a brain in a world that doesn’t punish the occasional (or even frequent) flight of fancy. But no matter what our brain makes such behavior, his tendency to act in this way has a negative impact on the state of happiness, as Killingsworth and Gilbert described the following sentence: “The human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Brain and mind can be trained to wander less, and we will do this by using regular and dedicated meditation, and we can certainly become much more present, mindful, and content. For the trained brain takes very hard work and the best results are achieved by those who practice meditation often, thousands of hours, and these are mostly monks.

It is expected that the next steps of this study provide very interesting information. As during the research collected large amounts of data, will be able to see how people differ in their tendency to mind wander, and whether these differences are associated with mental disorders and diseases. This could help in adapting therapy for psychiatric disorders. Also, the new results could finally discover what motivates and what is responsible for our mind and thoughts wander.