In recent weeks I have come across different views on mind wandering.
Unlike other animals, we have the ability to spend time thinking about something other than what we are doing – either caught up in the past or wondering about the future.
Research carried out by the psychologists Matthew A Killingworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, suggest we spend up to 46.9 percent of our time mind-wandering and that this mind-wandering makes us unhappy. They claim that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind – our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present and this makes us unhappy.
Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost”. They go on to say that, “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.”
As we know, many traditions teach us to live in the now and to resist mind wandering. Killingsworth and Gilbert note in the journal Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Their research suggests that these traditions are right.