Have you ever looked at a person and wondered what they’re really thinking about? Recent studies have shown that the average person’s mind deviates from the task at hand about 46.9 percent of the time, and that this mind-wandering is actually a sign of unhappiness.

Harvard psychology professor Daniel T. Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth, a graduate student in Gilbert’s lab, recently published their findings in Science. The two researchers used an iPhone application called “trackyourhappiness” to collect data on people’s feelings, activities, and thoughts at random time points.


At random time intervals, the researchers contacted 2,250 volunteers and asked what they were doing, how happy they felt doing that activity, and if they were thinking about their current activity or thinking about something else. From their analysis of the 250,000 data points generated by this study, the researchers found that people were happiest while having sex, followed by exercising, conversation, and listening to music. People responded that they were least happy when using a home computer or working.

In terms of daydreaming and mind-wandering, people were not thinking about their current activity for about 46.9 percent of the time. During moments of intimacy, people’s minds wandered only about 10 percent of the time. For all other activities, their minds strayed from their activities for at least 30 percent of the time.

Surprisingly, the researchers concluded that there is very little correlation between the happiness granted by a certain activity and the happiness of their thoughts. Through time-lag analyses, the psychologists were also able to conclude mind-wandering was generally the cause of unhappiness rather than the result of it. Similarly, they found that boredom did not lead to mind-wandering; in fact, it was the other way around.

Think about that the next time you’re on Facebook instead of writing that paper.

For more information, check out this article from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16tier.html?ref=science

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