Did you know that less daydreaming is linked to increased happiness? Unfortunately, most of us spend around half of our awake hours with our mind away from what we are doing.
In a study done at Harvard, there was only one task that participants gave their undivided attention to, and that was (how shocking) sex.
The study also revealed that even when people are doing something engaging, their mind wanders a whopping 70% of the time. It seems activities such as listening to music, conversing, and exercising receive only 30% of our aware moments.
(How does this relate to anxiety? Keep reading.)
We daydream even more when we do exciting activities like commute, get dressed in the morning, or take out the garbage, but that is not very surprising.
It is surprising that 42.5% of the time study participant’s minds wandered to something pleasant or enjoyable, but that did not make them feel more cheery than people who kept their mind on task. When their minds floated off to neutral or negative thoughts, participants reported a drop in their level of happiness.
For those interested in details of the Harvard study:
- there were 2,200 participants
- they were sent questions randomly throughout the day via an iPhone app
- participants were asked what they were doing at that moment, how happy they felt, and whether they were daydreaming at that time.
- participants were ages 18 to 88
- most participants were from the U.S.
If the research is correct, we do not begin daydreaming because we are unhappy. We do become less happy about 15 minutes after daydreaming compared to those who keep their awareness in the moment. These study results will not surprise regular meditators.
While the Harvard study did not focus on people who have high anxiety, think about the type of thoughts that cause anxiety. They are daydreams, having nothing to do with what is going on in the moment. Not only are negative thoughts anxiety provoking, but even the act of daydreaming about them diminishes mood; a double whammy.
The opposite of daydreaming is mindfulness, being aware of what is happening in the now. It means when you are driving your focus is on driving, or when sitting in an office meeting your attention is on the content of the meeting (considering the content of many office meetings, this requires a bit of discipline.)
There is a difference between a preoccupation with your thoughts and awareness of your thoughts. When daydreaming we are preoccupied and only partially conscious of the present. Mindful awareness is an observation of what is. Rather than following thoughts wherever they lead us, we notice them and let them go (or, if they are pearls of wisdom, write them down).
Here are a few pearls of wisdom: less daydreaming means a better mood and lower anxiety. It is never too soon to learn a skill such as yoga, qi gong, Tai chi, or mindfulness meditation as a means of managing anxiety.
Baseline of Health Foundation. http://www.jonbarron.org/natural-health/bl110115/daydreaming-inner-focus...