Daydreaming Brings on the Blues

Tracking your Happiness

Daydreaming Brings on the Blues

In 2009, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth, a psychology doctoral student at Harvard launched trackyourhappiness.org, a website designed to gauge the mental state and activities of volunteers several times a day. The researchers used iPhones to text volunteers and encourage them to visit an online survey in order to report what they were doing, and describe how happy they were feeling. Subjects were also asked to record whether they were thinking of their activity, or something else. After analyzing the experience of 2250 adults, Gilbert and Killingsworth found that 47% of the time, people weren’t thinking about what they were doing, and that volunteers were less happy when their thoughts were elsewhere. The statistics indicated that mind wandering earlier in the day correlated to a poorer mood later, signifying that daydreaming caused discontent. This upsets the previously believed notion that unhappiness stemming from a current activity prompts people to mentally escape elsewhere. While the study does challenge basic assumptions about psychology, other scientists state that it has its limitations. “For one, not everyone can afford to own an iPhone, so the study sample may not be representative of the population,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston. According to Feldman, “it’s a good start, but not a sufficient answer.”

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