Last week I watched a talk on TED by Matt Killingsworth – Want to be happier? Stay in the moment, and it really got me thinking. How present are we actually? Do our minds wander a lot? Do we live in the moment?
So, the talk was about this app Matt developed – Track Your Happiness that lets people report their feelings and moods in real time. Among the surprising results: We’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment. And the flip side: The more our mind wanders, the less happy we can be.
Track Your Happiness: about the app
The idea of the app is they send people signals at random points throughout the day, and ask them a bunch of questions about their moment-to-moment experience at the instant just before the signal. The idea is that, if they can watch how people’s happiness goes up and down over the course of the day, minute to minute in some cases, and try to understand how what people are doing, who they’re with, what they’re thinking about, and all the other factors that describe our day, how those might relate to those changes in happiness, they might be able to discover some of the things that really have a big influence on happiness.
Matt’s team succeeded in collecting over 650,000 real-time reports from over 15,000 people. And it’s not just a lot of people, it’s a really diverse group, people from a wide range of ages, from 18 to late 80’s, a wide range of incomes, education levels, people who are married, divorced, widowed, etc.
The results of the research
Well, how often do people’s minds wander? Turns out, they wander a lot. 47% of the time, people are thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing. There’s something quite interesting and it is that, basically with one exception, no matter what people are doing, they’re mind-wandering at least 30% of the time, which suggests that mind-wandering isn’t just frequent, it’s ubiquitous. It pervades basically everything that we do.
How to be more present?
It’s difficult to give a definite guide to that, but what should be an easy start is:
- Think about all the things in your life that you appreciate and you are grateful for
You finally made it through grad school? You have friends and family that support you? You have a job you love? You have found love? You’re planning to go on a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit? The little things that we usually don’t pay much attention to are those that actually make us happy in the long run. Not the shiny new car. Not the expensive watch you bought. Not the edgy apartment you live in. Forget about the material things, focus on the things money can’t buy.
- Make a list of goals for the future
Once you make the list, stop re-estimating and rewriting it. Just focus on your little goals that will help accomplish the big goal. If you think about the future all the time and worry about it, then change the list of goals.
- Music for meditation and relax
There’s a lot of great music to help with meditation and relax. You can check out these Spotify playlists to see if you can find something you like: Meditation, Yoga and meditation, Meditation Relaxation.
- Practice mindfulness
This isn’t so much of a tip as it is a staple in living in the present. Practicing mindfulness means we practice our awareness in all our actions. Whether we are washing the dishes or brushing our teeth, our mind is focused on whatever we are doing. We are not thinking about the bills that we need to pay, or the mails we need to write when we get to the office. We are simply living in the moment.
Thoughts on reminiscing, nostalgia and mind-wandering
To be honest here, I’ve always had a problem with that. Thinking about the past or the future, when I should be focusing on the present. Thinking about work when I’m supposed to relax, thinking about what I should do after work when I’m at the office. I believe that more or less we all do that sometimes. But, as I read in a quote by an unknown author recently “If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is”. Only when you let go of the memories and plan making, will you be able to enjoy the present moment and take most out of it.
A favorite author of mine, John Green wrote in Looking for Alaska, “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia”. So try to avoid that reminiscing, that mind-wandering, that nostalgic feeling you get. You can only learn from your mistakes, but you can’t linger in the past forever. Move on. Let it go. Enjoy the moment. Or Carpe diem.