Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 30, 2013

The Good Life: Be here now

By Louise Gorenflo
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — An endless stream of thoughts flows through our minds. And if your mind is wandering right now, come on back and wrap your mind around this: your life is what you experience. All want to have the sense of well-being in all of our dimensions of our lives. Yet one of the most powerful predictors of this sense of well-being is something we often do without even realizing it: mind-wandering.

People’s minds wander a lot. Harvard researchers find that for nearly half of our waking hours we are thinking about something other than what we’re currently doing. Consider that statistic next time you’re sitting in a meeting or driving down the street.

How does mind-wandering relate to happiness? Again, researchers found that people are substantially less happy when their minds wander than when they are focused on the activity at hand. Moreover, the size of this effect is large ― how often a person’s mind wanders, and what they think about when it does, is far more predictive of happiness than how much money they make, for example.

When our minds wander, we often think about unpleasant things: our worries, our anxieties, our regrets. Our relationships and their ambiguities are great fuels for mind wandering. These negative thoughts turn out to have a gigantic relationship to (un)happiness.

Mind wandering is oddly irresistible and can steal an hour of your life before you even realize that you’re doing it again. Besides dividing your attention and wasting your day, mind wandering does have negative effects. Studies show that mind wandering can raise your anxiety level, create a negative outlook and lead you into negative coping behaviors, like binge eating.

Studies find that people are happier if they stay focused on what they are doing, even if they are doing something they don’t want to do. Whenever we pour the energy of our life into what we are doing, we are in a state of flow, and we tend to have a sense of well-being. We barely notice the passage of time or the outside world; we are in the moment and totally into the task at hand. The greater our capacity to attend to the moment, the easier it is for us to enter a state of flow.

Learning how to live in the present requires you to increase your attention level so that you can recognize that you mind is wandering and can choose to do something different. Do activities that bring you fully into the present, like talking to a friend. Singing is guaranteed to put you front and center in your life. While doing something routine, try memorizing a meaningful wisdom passage. Learning requires paying attention to what you want to learn. If you find yourself worrying or distracted by mental activities, note what it is about and, if important enough to you, schedule time to get really into it.

If not, get back to really washing those dishes. May you find what I have reported interesting and something you can use in your life. I invite you to email me your thoughts (lgorenflo@gmail.com).