â€œBreathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.â€~ Oprah Winfrey
Living in the Moment?
Thatâ€™s one good reason to savor the moment.Â Hereâ€™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 â€“ The New York Times‘ coverage of this piece was the most emailed article for a bit â€“ a testament to our ardent pursuit of happiness (and to the quality of John Tierneyâ€™s writing).
The authors of the study, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, developed an iPhone app to sample peopleâ€™s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions. This reported study included 2250 people, who were asked, at random times, three questions:
Questions about Happiness?
- How happy are you now? (sliding scale from 0-100)
- â€¢What are you doing right now? (22 categories)
- Is your mind on something other than what youâ€™re doing now? (4 choices: no, and if yes, is what youâ€™re thinking positive, neutral or negative)
What Are You Thinking About?
Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they were thinking about what is â€“ a whopping 46.9 percent of people admitted they were miles away â€“ 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 youâ€™re doing. If youâ€™re right here, right now, youâ€™re more likely to be happy, whether in a traffic jam or listening to music.
We canâ€™t be sure what animals think, but if dogs are indeed in the moment, and this study is correct, a dogâ€™s life (any non-suffering animalâ€™s for that matter) might be more blissful than ours.
But on the other hand, itâ€™s because we live in our head that weâ€™re able to expand beyond our mere existence, and escape prison cells and physical disability with the power of mental travel. William Ernest Henleyâ€™s poem, Invictus inspired so many with the words: â€œI am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.â€
Is a sample of people willing to be disturbed by an app anytime, anyplace representative? Iâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 itâ€™s going from. I find it hard to believe that if youâ€™re hopeful in times of adversity itâ€™s as useless as being burdened by pointless worries when all is right.
But I do believe that our mindâ€™s always going, is almost impossible to shut off, a fact that may interfere with our ability to enjoy the moment.
How to Stay in the Moment
I learned from Barbara Strauchâ€™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 Iâ€™m doing something that doesnâ€™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. Itâ€™s no use wondering if the flight youâ€™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.)
Here are my two bits about being present:
- Spend time with kids. No oneâ€™s better at being present than a kid. No one appreciates your total presence as much as they do.
- Eat something that gives you pleasure. Yes, it may be dessert. Nothing speaks of living in the moment as much as an indulgent dessert.
- Turn off the electronics, especially the smart-phone
- Laugh out loud (can anyone laugh and be elsewhere?)
- Make love. And thatâ€™s directly from Killingsworth and Gilbertâ€™s study.
Do you have any tricks?
I hope this holiday season brings you much happiness, peace and joy.
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