We Don't Pay Attention 50 Percent of Time

But a wandering mind makes us unhappy

Feel like your husband’s or boyfriend’s mind is always wandering while you’re trying to talk to him? It probably is. But don’t blame him. A new study shows that, at any given time, you’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of holding someone’s attention. That’s because, according to research published in the journal Science, people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. Like right now, for instance. Chances are, half of you zoned out at some point while reading that last sentence. The researchers also found that when our mind wanders, it makes us miserable.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” say the study’s authors, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, psychologists at Harvard University.

For the study, Killingsworth and Gilbert, who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, used an iPhone app to follow 2,250 between the ages of 18 and 88. The app contacted volunteers at random to find out what they were doing at the present moment, how happy they were, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or something else that was pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Participants could choose from 22 activities, including walking, eating, shopping, watching TV and having sex. The results showed that our mind wanders 46.9 percent of the time across all activities except sex. They also found that people were happiest when making love, exercising or having a conversation. The least joyful pursuits: resting, working or using a home computer.

According to the authors, their study backs up research that shows living in the present moment can help us be happier.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness,” Killingsworth says. “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.”

Our mind can sidetrack us by dwelling on past events and regrets or worrying about the future. That’s why mindfulness meditation, which teaches us to focus on what’s going on in front of us, can help reduce stress and anxiety, boost well-being and even improve physical symptoms of pain. If you’re new to meditation, you can follow iVillage’s guided meditation video. Or, find more ways to feel happy with these happiness resolutions.

What activities make you happiest? Chime in below!

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