#### TL;DR Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time ***m...
Daniel T. Gilbert is social psychologist and a writer - his book St...
Dr. Matt Killingsworth is a researcher whose main focus is the stud...
it's interesting claim that mind-wandering is the cause of unhappin...
Another interesting finding of this study is that **the specific ac...
Here is a great talk - by one of the authors Matt Killingsworth - s...
In this study the authors found that: 1. People spend 46.9% of the...
In this study the researchers used time-lag analyses and found that...
A Wandering Mind Is an
Unhappy Mind
Matthew A. Killingsworth* and Daniel T. Gilbert
U
nlike other animals, human beings spend
alotoftimethinkingaboutwhatisnot
going on around them, contemplating
events that happened in the past, might happen
in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed,
stimulus-independen t thought or mind wan-
dering appears to be the brainsdefaultmode
of operation (13). Although this ability is a re-
markable ev o lutio nary ac h iev ement th a t al lows
people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an
emotional cost. Many philosophical and religious
traditions teach that happiness is to be found by
living in the mom e nt , an d p r a ct i ti on e rs are trai n ed
to resist mind wandering and to be here now .
These traditio ns suggest that a wandering mind is
an unhappy mind. Are they right?
Laboratory experiments have revealed a great
deal about the cognitive and neural bases of mind
wandering (37), but little about its emotional
conseque nces in everyday life. The most reliab le
met hod f or in ve st ig at in g rea l- wo rl d emo ti on i s ex-
perience sampling, which involves contacting peo-
ple as they engage in their everyday activities and
asking them to report their thoughts, feelings, and
actions at that moment. Unfortunately, collecting
real-time reports from lar ge numbers of people as
they go about their daily lives is so cumbersome
and expensive that experience sampling has rarely
been used to investigate the relationship between
mind wandering and happiness and has always
been limited to very small samples (8, 9).
We solved this problem by developing a Web
application for the iPhone (Apple Incorporated,
Cupertino, California), which we used to create
an unusually large database of real-time reports
of though ts, feelings, and actions of a broad range
of people as they went about their daily activ-
ities. The application contacts participants through
their iPhones at random moments during their
waking hours, presents them with questions,
and records their answers to a database at www.
trackyourhappiness.org. The database currently
contains nearly a quarter of a million samples
from about 5000 people from 83 different coun-
tries who range in age from 18 to 88 and who
collectively represent every one of 86 major oc-
cupational categories.
To find out how often peoplesmindswander,
what topics they wander to, and how those wan-
derings affect their happiness, we analyzed samples
from 2250 adults (58.8% male, 73.9% residing in
the United States, mean age of 34 years) who were
randomly assigned to answer a happiness question
(How are you feeling right now?)answeredona
continuous sliding scale from very bad (0) to very
good (100), an activity question (Wh at are you
doing right now?)answeredbyendorsingoneor
more of 22 activities adapted from the day recon-
struction method (10, 11 ), and a mind-wandering
question (Are you thinking about som e t hi n g
other than what youre currently doing?)answered
with one of four options: no; yes, something pleas-
ant; yes, something neutral; or yes, something un-
pleasant. Our analyses revealed three facts.
First, peoplesmindswanderedfrequently,re-
gardless of what they were doing. Mind wandering
occurred in 46.9% of the samples and in at least
30% of the samples taken during every activity
exce pt making love. The frequ e ncy of mind wan-
dering in our real-world sample was considerably
higher than is typically seen in laboratory experi-
ments. Surprisingly, the nature of peoplesactiv-
ities had only a mod est impact on whether their
minds wandered and had almost no impact on the
pleasantness of the topics to wh ich their minds
wandered (12).
Second, multilevel regression revealed that peo-
ple were less happy when their minds were wan-
dering than when they were not [slope (b)=8.79,
P <0.001],andthiswastrueduringallactivities,
including the least enjoyable. Although peoples
minds were more likely to wander to pleasant topics
(42.5% of samples) than to unpleasant topics
(26 . 5 % of sa m p le s ) or neu t ra l to p i c s (31 % of sam -
ples), people were no happier when thinking about
pleasant topics than about their current activity (b =
0.52, not significant) and were considerably un-
happier when thinking about neutral topics (b =
7. 2, P <0.001)orunpleasanttopics(b = 23.9,
P <0.001)thanabouttheircurrentactivity(Fig.1,
bottom). Although negative moods are known
to cause mind wandering (13), time-lag analyses
strongly suggested that mind wandering in our
sample was generally the cause, and not merely
the consequence, of unhappiness (12).
Third, what people were thinking was a better
predictor of their happiness than was what they
were doing. The nature of peoplesactivitiesex-
plained 4.6% of the within-pe rson variance in hap -
piness and 3.2% of the between-person variance in
happiness, but mind wandering explained 10.8%
of within-person variance in happiness and 17.7%
of between-person variance in happiness. The var-
iance explained by mind wandering was largely
independ ent of th e varia nce exp la ined b y the na-
ture of activities, suggesting that the two were in-
dependent influences on happiness.
In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering
mind, and a wan de ri ng mind is an unh ap py mind .
The ability to think about what is not happening
is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emo-
tional cost.
References and Notes
1. M. E. Raichle et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98,676
(2001).
2. K. Christoff, A. M. Gordon, J. Smallwood, R. Smith,
J. W. Schooler, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106,8719
(2009).
3. R. L. Buckner, J. R. Andrews-Hanna, D. L. Schacter,
Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1124,1(2008).
4. J. Smallwood, J. W. Schooler, Psychol. Bull. 132,946(2006).
5. M. F. Mason et al., Science 315,393(2007).
6. J. Smallwood, E. Beach, J. W. Schooler, T. C. Handy,
J. Cogn. Neurosci. 20,458(2008).
7. R. L. Buckner, D. C. Carroll, Trends Cogn. Sci. 11,49(2007).
8. J. C. McVay, M. J. Kane, T. R. Kwapil, Psychon. Bull. Rev.
16,857(2009).
9. M. J. Kane et al., Psychol. Sci. 18,614(2007).
10. D. Kahneman, A. B. Krue ger, D. A. Schkade, N. Schwarz,
A. A. Stone, Science 306,1776(2004).
11. A. B. Krueger, D. A. Schkade, J. Public Econ. 92,1833(2008).
12. Materials and methods are available as supporting
material on Science Online.
13. J. Smallwood, A. Fitzgerald, L. K. Miles, L. H. Phillips,
Emotion 9,271(2009).
14. We thank V. Pitiyanuvath for engineering www.
trackyourhappiness.org and R. Hackman, A. Jenkins,
W. Mendes, A. Oswald, and T. Wilson for helpful comments.
Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/330/6006/932/DC1
Materials and Methods
Table S1
References
18 May 2010; accepted 29 September 2010
10.1126/science.1192439
BREVIA
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
mkilling@fas.harvard.edu
Fig. 1. Mean happiness reported during each ac-
tivity (top)andwhilemindwanderingtounpleas-
ant topics, neutral topics, pleasant topics or not
mind wandering (bottom). Dashed line indicates
mean of happiness across all samples. Bubble area
indicates the frequency of occurrence. The largest
bubble (not mind wandering)correspondsto
53.1% of the samples, and the smallest bubble
(pra ying/worshipping/meditating)correspondsto
0.1% of the samples.
12 NOVEMBER 2010 VOL 330 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org
932
on November 11, 2010 www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from

Discussion

In this study the researchers used time-lag analyses and found that more than just correlation there is **causality between a wandering mind and an unhappier state of mind.** > ***"people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not"*** In this study the authors found that: 1. People spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing 2. There is a causal relationship between Mind Wandering and unhappiness 3. The specific activities you do matter less for your happiness then your mind-wandering state. Another interesting finding of this study is that **the specific activities you do matter less for your happiness then your mind-wandering state.** The researchers estimate that: - 4.6% of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity they were doing - whereas 10.8% of their happiness was attributable to their mind-wandering status it's interesting claim that mind-wandering is the cause of unhappiness. I've always considered mindfulness to be a strong "base" which could solve most (and not all) of my problems. This is aligned to that. Here is a great talk - by one of the authors Matt Killingsworth - summarizing the findings of this study: **Want to be happier? Stay in the moment** [!["tedtalk"](https://i.imgur.com/ckLqa33.png)](https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment/transcript?language=en) #### TL;DR Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time ***mind wandering*** thinking about ***what isn't going on around them.*** Mind-wandering appears to be the human brain's default mode of operation: we contemplate past events, think about things that might happen in the future and even imagine events that might not happen at all. Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found in the present moment - "be here now". In this study the authors found that: 1. People spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing 2. There is a causal relationship between Mind Wandering and unhappiness 3. The specific activities you do matter less for your happiness then your mind-wandering state. > “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” Dr. Matt Killingsworth is a researcher whose main focus is the study of the nature and causes of human happiness, including happiness at work, the relationship between money and happiness, how social relationships affect happiness. He is the creator of www.trackyourhappiness.org, a global research project that uses smart phones to study happiness in real-time during everyday life. He holds a PhD in Psychology from Harvard. You can learn more here: [Dr. Matthew Killingsworth](http://www.mattkillingsworth.com) !["www.mattkillingsworth.com"](https://i.imgur.com/JuhRXgt.jpg) Daniel T. Gilbert is social psychologist and a writer - his book Stumbling on Happiness, spent 6 months on the New York Times bestseller list. He is currently the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His main research interests are related to how human beings navigate the complexities of time and social life. You can learn more about Daniel here: [Daniel Gilbert - Harvard Department of Psychology](https://psychology.fas.harvard.edu/people/daniel-gilbert) !["dgilbert"](https://i.imgur.com/ZtNge7t.jpg)