|The Thinker by Auguste Rodin|
“A mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind” – George Harrison.
Meditation teacher and author Eknath Easwaran was once asked what Rodin’s Thinker was pondering. “Easy,” he said – “why can’t I stop thinking?” How many times have I awakened in the dark, to replay or rehearse some unpleasant scenario over and over and over? My mind has a million ways to defy discipline. I think I need to solve problems, or maybe just relax with a daydream, but without careful control, I often just follow the mind into unhappy territory.
A recent report by Harvard psychologists, reviewed by John Tierney in the November 15 New York Times, is an interesting study of what makes people happy. The study was by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, and published in the November issue of Science magazine as: “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.”
The psychologists got 2,200 volunteers to download an iPhone app (“trackyourhappiness”) that called them randomly during the day to ask them how they are feeling and what they are doing.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the 0.5% of the people who were having sex were the happiest, at least until the phone rang. They were also the most focused.
“When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.
When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).”
The psychologists found that even if you’re doing something enjoyable, you aren’t protected from negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower, but when it wanders, it’s just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.
The corollary of the study title is that a focused mind is a happy mind. When Karen sent me pictures from Africa, I couldn’t help but notice how much happier the poor villagers in Malawi looked, compared to the typical Americans at a shopping mall. Perhaps the lack of possessions brings one closer to God. Or maybe the lack of distractions (e.g., iPhones) makes it easier to focus.
— Kelly Nash