FOCUS if you want to be HAPPY! Oh look, Squirrel!

An article that I read and wanted to re-post from quite a few years ago from the NY Times... also because I read a part in another post by Ayo (Different Sides for Bad Situations) that mentioned meditation (I'm working on this so it stood out to me) and I thought about being focused during meditation and regular life and how much of a difference it makes to step out of the box and let your mind re-focus on the world, your current position, mental, emotional and spiritual states and what a great tool it is to gain happiness.. Focus counts for a lot, more than we actually 'focus(realize)' on really.. There's a part in this post here that caught my attention from Dr.Gilbert that said "I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren't really there"... You'll understand what that means in a bit... but the question is Are you really all there when you are going about your day? What is it that you focus on?
I'm on the belief that we shape our realities by the things that we focus upon most throughout our daily life. It's important to keep that focus, synchronicity has it's way of showing you why that works out in the end :)
So on to the article...

A quick experiment. Before proceeding to the next paragraph, let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Close your eyes for a few seconds, starting ... now.

And now, welcome back for the hypothesis of our experiment: Wherever your mind went — the South Seas, your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills — that daydreaming is not likely to make you as happy as focusing intensely on the rest of this article will.

I’m not sure I believe this prediction, but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappinesspsychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted.

The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren't really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant — and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 percent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn't seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

Still, even if people are less happy when their minds wander, which causes which? Could the mind-wandering be a consequence rather than a cause of unhappiness?

To investigate cause and effect, the Harvard psychologists compared each person’s moods and thoughts as the day went on. They found that if someone’s mind wandered at, say, 10 in the morning, then at 10:15 that person was likely to be less happy than at 10 , perhaps because of those stray thoughts. But if people were in a bad mood at 10, they weren’t more likely to be worrying or daydreaming at 10:15.

“We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering,” Mr. Killingsworth says.

This result may disappoint daydreamers, but it’s in keeping with the religious and philosophical admonitions to “Be Here Now,” as the yogi Ram Dass titled his 1971 book. The phrase later became the title of a George Harrison song warning that “a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind.”

What psychologists call “flow” — immersing your mind fully in activity — has long been advocated by nonpsychologists. “Life is not long,” Samuel Johnson said, “and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent.” Henry Ford was more blunt: “Idleness warps the mind.” The iPhone results jibe nicely with one of the favorite sayings of William F. Buckley Jr.: “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.”

Alternatively, you could interpret the iPhone data as support for the philosophical dictum of Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t worry, be happy.” The unhappiness produced by mind-wandering was largely a result of the episodes involving “unpleasant” topics. Such stray thoughts made people more miserable than commuting or working or any other activity.

But the people having stray thoughts on “neutral” topics ranked only a little below the overall average in happiness. And the ones daydreaming about “pleasant” topics were actually a bit above the average, although not quite as happy as the people whose minds were not wandering.

There are times, of course, when unpleasant thoughts are the most useful thoughts. “Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has shown that mind-wandering can lead people to creative solutions of problems, which could make them happier in the long term.

Over the several months of the iPhone study, though, the more frequent mind-wanderers remained less happy than the rest, and the moral — at least for the short-term — seems to be: you stray, you pay. So if you’ve been able to stay focused to the end of this column, perhaps you’re happier than when you daydreamed at the beginning. If not, you can go back to daydreaming starting...now.

Or you could try focusing on something else that is now, at long last, scientifically guaranteed to improve your mood. Just make sure you turn the phone off.

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Comment by PuzzleSolver on August 10, 2013 at 8:42am

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children.. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly..

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

At the end there was only 1 person that was aware

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

If you want to read the full story it's at Washington Post

Comment by PuzzleSolver on August 9, 2013 at 3:36am

No prob Seth, glad it hit home :)  

Yes Joe I agree it's definitely good to practice focusing on certain things until it's possible to attain full concentration.. things pop out of the wood-works when you(generally speaking) are able to view things with the eye of an eagle. It's honing in on how to do it and how how how :)

Paige, I think Ford has a lot in that statement "Idleness warps the mind"... I'm sure you've heard of the old quote "an idle hand does the Devil's work" I don't know who said that quote but I remember it since I was a kid... It's along those lines... he meant in my opinion, that if you are Idle, meaning not in motion, motivated, shooting for something, having a goal, feeding your mind, then you are stagnant... just sittin' there like a piece of bread waiting for mold.  Think about it... I've noticed when I'm extremely busy, either doing what I like or I don't lol, I'm not thinking of daily stresses, I'm in "the zone" doing what I do... sometimes even time isn't a factor... I could be at it all day and suddenly stop to check the time and it's been 8 hours.. that's part of focus, beaming in on your task and staying diligent to what your trying to accomplish.  That time that passed so quickly also could have been wasted idleness... in that idleness I'm sure every one has sat doing nothing, easiest thing to do is pick up the TV remote or jump on Facebook etc,(I'm sure you can think of other things that fall in those categories) and have that same few hours pass by off in another mind state.  That's time... TIME! So precious a thing not to focus on how people can use it wisely to make themselves happy!  My guess right now is to Focus on learning things that accomplish and put things in action... Studying Theosophy, meditation, schooling, work, ahh there's just so much to do :D

I'll bring up Ford again... Imagine if Ford was idle? Like if he thought of ideas about bringing a moving horseless cart to life and then just kept thinking about it and never actually tried. He didn't stop there, he put action behind his dreams, not just to make himself Happy but to make all the people happy that would ever get a motorized buggy!  He had focus on getting things started, and especially noted that he would try no matter what to come up with better ideas.. What people thought he was doing was day dreaming all the time... ah but no no no.. this was not day dreaming this was his passion for Focusing his Will on what he wanted to create!

Imagine this ---------------------------------->

Comment by Seth Edwards on August 8, 2013 at 11:15pm

Talk about synchronicity, this exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thanks for this.

Comment by Paige on August 8, 2013 at 12:25pm

Nice post. I just was wondering what Ford was meaning about "Idleness warps the mind'" That is a cool quote, I just want to find out more on what he had meant here. Yes, focusing and 'being here now' like Ram Dass's book is also very true. If a person is here always now and not wandering off worrying about all other things, the creatively and more effectively the mind is then able to collect itself for what is inside of the present moment. That is at least my take on it, though. 

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