“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”~ Oprah Winfrey
That’s one good reason to savor the moment. Here’s a more practical reason for being present: Live in the moment, because it will make you happier. This is the conclusion of a brief article in the journal Science and it provides evidence to back this statement. The article got quite a lot of attention – The New York Times‘ coverage of this piece was the most emailed article for a bit – a testament to our ardent pursuit of happiness (and to the quality of John Tierney’s writing).
The authors of the study, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, developed an iPhone app to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions. This reported study included 2250 people, who were asked, at random times, three questions:
Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they were thinking about what is – a whopping 46.9 percent of people admitted they were miles away – and surprisingly, mind travel occurred during every type of activity besides making love (or maybe admitting it at that moment was difficult).
They also found that mind wandering typically made people less happy. People reported less happiness when their minds were wandering to a neutral or a negative place. If the mind wandered to a positive place people were no happier than if their mind stayed put on task.
And their third intriguing finding: Where your mind is seems to predict happiness better that what you’re doing. If you’re right here, right now, you’re more likely to be happy, whether in a traffic jam or listening to music.
We can’t be sure what animals think, but if dogs are indeed in the moment, and this study is correct, a dog’s life (any non-suffering animal’s for that matter) might be more blissful than ours.
But on the other hand, it’s because we live in our head that we’re able to expand beyond our mere existence, and escape prison cells and physical disability with the power of mental travel. William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus inspired so many with the words: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
Is a sample of people willing to be disturbed by an app anytime, anyplace representative? I’d argue that the study participant sample may be skewed towards the always-on-grid hyper-connected wired-to-distraction types. I wonder how many apps, email pushes, messages and other distracters the study subjects allow, and would suggest that more serene, Zen types wouldn’t dream responding to a prompt during love-making or a conversation to report on current happiness levels.
I find it very hard to believe that staying in the moment matters more than where the mind is going and where it’s going from. I find it hard to believe that if you’re hopeful in times of adversity it’s as useless as being burdened by pointless worries when all is right.
But I do believe that our mind’s always going, is almost impossible to shut off, a fact that may interfere with our ability to enjoy the moment.
I learned from Barbara Strauch’s The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain that as we age our brain tends to go into daydreaming mode more readily.
I consider myself young, but I find my mind travels a lot. I enjoy it, for the most part. I also do it on purpose, especially when I’m doing something that doesn’t require a lot of thought. I drift to nature trails, paintings, vacations, food, people I love.
I try to stay away from idle worry. It’s no use wondering if the flight you’re already on will land safely. I try not to be awake at night, the well-known time for idle cyclical worries. (Best way to scare away stray thoughts for me is reading a book.)
Do you have any tricks?
I hope this holiday season brings you much happiness, peace and joy.
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