November 12, 2010

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind."

"The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

A report of another one of those "happiness" studies. If unhappiness correlates with a wandering mind, is it because a wandering mind makes you unhappy or because it's when you're unhappy with what you're doing that you think about doing something else?


Joe said...

Ah, another "lets make shit up" study.

Quaestor said...

The happiest kids are in special education, aren't they?

Hagar said...

Well, if a wandering mind creates unhappiness, Althouse must be an unhappy woman indeed, though she does not immediately appear so.

(You walked into that one Professor!)

Ann Althouse said...

I have a wandering mind, but my task IS wandering, so that's a happy paradox.

Gordon Freece said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Freece said...

We need to start recognizing the distinction between real science and this stuff, what you might call Entertainment Science: Where people dress up in white coats and say dumb "makes-ya-think-dunnit?!" stuff like this, based on a sample size of, basically, both their kids and the family cat, with no control group. Or when somebody measures the rings in one tree from Siberia along one radius, and thus proves that the world will end if we don't give all our money to the Democrats.

There's not a darn thing wrong with people having some fun, but — and maybe I just have a too-orderly mind — sometimes I worry that somebody might miss the distinction between Reality Science and actual quantifiable advances in human knowledge.

Paul Zrimsek said...

A mind that does its wandering on a cruise ship is the unhappiest mind of all.

traditionalguy said...

The happiness from mental focus is under attack by noise, flashing lights and fast moving traffic, not to mention a continuous stream of millions of radio waves in metropolitan areas. The daily pre-programming of our minds with good thoughts is possible by scripture reading and speaking those good thoughts out loud so that we hear our own voices speaking the truth along with the cacophony of life's messages. Like a good football team's strategy ( E.g., the middle school QB's stroll) there are now a flood of falsehoods being sent at us in hopes that we will be mislead. I recall that the first promise to men by the Jewish Messiah was that his truth would bring us peace of mind.

Coketown said...

Maybe this study says more about the people who use iPhones and downloaded the happiness app than the general population? Maybe the type of person who would load their phone up with ridiculous apps and relish the thought of being interrupted at random times during their redundant, unfulfilling days are the type who, you know, just generally aren't happy and aren't focused on the here-and-now?

Richard Dolan said...

It's more trivial than fake.

Life is filled with activities that we all do but which don't require much attention during the doing. Washing the dishes, for example, which I do most nights. It's a perfect time to let the mind wander, into whatever subjects may be beckoning. Or walking to work over the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking isn't all that thought-intensive an activity. With a beautiful cityscape all around and a little Chopin to help things along, it's quite delightful how the wandering can become.

What the author of this study doesn't say, but what may better explain the results, is that a wandering mind has an audience of one. You'll never find an audience more finely attuned to indulging whatever interests you than that.

Quaestor said...

Ah, the simple correlation model study, the meat and potatoes of the social sciences (ought to be called "social voodoo" as there's no science in it)

Back in the day us grad students in the math dept used to find sheaves of questionaires left in our lounge by undergrads from the social sciences and developmental psych department in next building over. It seemed that the profs over there could think of nothing else to assign their charges but yet another questionaire. We used to invent myriad subtle ways to skew their models all to hell. Eventually they learned their lesson and started polling other departments.

Meade said...

Whenever my mind wanders to thoughts of Roy Edroso growing up contemplating his white privileges, it makes me happy... for him.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ricardo said...

A study that tells you to focus on what the puppet-masters want you to focus on, or else you won't be happy. Join the group mind-control and you'll be ecstatic.

Or, you can learn how to meditate, and any meditator will tell you that it's perfectly fine to let thoughts just drift in and out of your head, simply observing them, and not giving them much notice.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I couldn't finish reading the article. It was boring me to death and my mind was wandering to think about what I want to eat for lunch and if I should go to the store after work for dinner or just use left over pork tamale casserole.

traditionalguy said...

What were we talking about again? The Wanderer was Dion's next hit after Run Around Sue. I blame Sue.

ricpic said...

You're on earth, there's no cure for that.

--Samuel Beckett

Ankur said...

I would be deeply, DEEPLY unhappy if my mind couldn't wander.

In fact, all my best ideas and funnest thoughts occurred when my mind was wandering.

Also - a wandering mind is invaluable for any kind of academic research. I dare say, the Black Scholes equation would never have been developed fully without the benefit of wandering minds.

And Richard Feynman - would he EVER have done ANYTHING if his mind didn't constantly wander?

Revenant said...

I started reading the article, but got distracted part way through.

I feel really bad about that.

Lem said...

The study said "time-lag analyses" suggested that "subjects' mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness."

This reminded me of Deep Thoughts Jack Handey.

Lem said...

The Chilean miners were unhappy because they were wondering when they be rescued.. see.. not because they were entombed about a mile deep under the ground or anything.

Up above we all wondered what were they doing to pass the time down there.. and now we know that made us unhappy.

Lem said...

I just wondered about the "one hit wonders".. they are happy?

So if you have many hit songs you are not happy..

I'm wonderful ;)

EDH said...

I let my mind wander, by Willie Nelson

I let my mind wander
And what did it do?
It just kept right on goin'
Until it got back to you
I let my mind wander

Can't trust it one minute
It's worse than a child
Disobeys without conscience
It's drivin' me wild
When I let my mind wander

Try to keep my mind busy
On thoughts of today
But invariably memories
Seem to lure it away

My lonely heart wonders
If there'll ever come a day
When I can be happy
But I can't see no way
'Cause I let my mind wander

I try to keep my mind busy
With thoughts of today
But invariably mem'ries
Seem to lure it away

My lonely heart wonders
If there'll ever come a day
When I can be happy
But I can't see no way
'Cause I let my mind wander

Lem said...

The point of the study is to help us keep our minds on a leash.. a wandering mind could get lost out there.. then they have to put out a mind alert.

Avoid cafes ;)

k*thy said...

In fact, all my best ideas and funnest thoughts occurred when my mind was wandering.

Ankur, I would think that if you're getting some kind of pleasurable results out of the wandering (relaxation, great ideas, fun, productive blog entries), THAT'S what's making you happy. If your wandering creates chaos in your life, then that's where the unhappiness would be stemming from.

Ricardo, are you saying that observing those thoughts while meditating is to wander? I would think that following them would be.

Lem said...

An evolving (wondering) constitution is an unhappy constitution..



Jim S. said...

That reminds me of a passage from Stephen R. L. Clark's From Athens to Jerusalem:

"Only those who have never attempted to organize their thoughts find it easy to believe that they themselves own those thoughts, or that they themselves are the very stream of thought. The self that awakens in me when I seek to contemplate the thoughts that arise in me, or float across me, is something other than the sea of thought in which I drown. Unless my life is wholly incoherent I must choose among those thoughts, and sometimes think that I bring new thoughts into being -- but most of my thinking (where this means more than the mere having of thoughts) rests in selection, not in creation. If I were to write down all the thoughts that float momentarily across the inward eye the result would be nightmare (although it would also, I suspect, be very boring). So the question of what I am to believe (what anyone in my position is to believe?) amounts to the question, what route shall I follow or what thoughts allow to grow?"

lost one said...

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with
your old nonsense.

This day is all that is
good and fair.
It is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on yesterdays.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lem said...

I was wondering when I get my copy of Decision Points.. wonder no more.. its here.

There was no mail yesterday.

traditionalguy said...

Many studies were made of "combat fatigue", which had been called "shell shock" during the barrages of WWI trench warfare. The final answer was that a human mind on high alert cannot process the chaos happening around it until a point is reached when it shuts down both its mental and many physical operations. There was no cure known. Interesting stuff.

sunsong said...

There is a correlation between what you think about and how you feel. It isn't about whether your mind wanders. It's about the content of your thoughts.

"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."

HDHouse said...

sounds like Dan Quayle to me

Ricardo said...

K*athy: It's the difference between you walking the dog, or the dog walking you. When you just observe your thoughts, and let them wander, you are not your thoughts. They're not walking you.

The Crack Emcee said...

Happiness is an activity - not a feeling.

MamaM said...

Ok, Crack, my wandering mind is stuck in "Val-deri, Val-dera", so I'll bite...What activity is happiness?

Gabriel Hanna said...

I won't say that the cause of science was greatly advanced by this study, but some things to note:

The scientists did not write the headline, and they did not write the article.

A journalist (possibly) read a paper in Science and decided to write about it.

When journalists cover the things I happen to know about, they generally get important things wrong, draw unwarranted conclusions, and omit necessary qualifiers. I don't see any reason to think they don't do the same on ALL subjects they write about.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Pork tamale casserole? Dinner at DBQ's!

Gabriel Hanna said...

When journalists cover the things I happen to know about, they generally get important things wrong, draw unwarranted conclusions, and omit necessary qualifiers. I don't see any reason to think they don't do the same on ALL subjects they write about.

I forget what it is, but somebody coined a name for the sort of mental blindness or amnesia that lets people believe everything in the news except for the parts where they happen to know it's wrong. "Yeah, of course the press knows nothing about computer programming, so naturally they got that wrong. But they must know about international debt, right?"

No offense to hard working journalists; but unless you spend a lot of time on a dedicated beat, you're no more informed about your story than most people in your audience, and less informed than the experts.

wv: plind. In fact, you're completely plind to what you don't know!

Quaestor said...

"time-lag analyses" is hot new term for post hoc ergo propter hoc

Quaestor said...

Willie Nelson's wandering mind keeps returning to Where's my stash?

BJM said...


Mmmmm...pork tamale casserole.

When my mind wanders I think about things like all the porky goodness Muslims miss...usually while eating a pulled pork sandwich.

Youngblood said...

Crack wrote:

"Happiness is an activity - not a feeling."

Preach it, Crack!

Pogo said...

Happiness is the horizon, best viewed from a distance, not pursued.

Pogo said...

Unless you're drinking, then it's within reach.

Bender said...

Do I actually have to read this thing (and I certainly am not going to if it puts me at risk of dying, as DBQ says), or can I simply hazard to guess that this is another dreary exercise in existential angst?

dick said...

I think the wandering mind was a saving grace in my working life. Many times I would get stuck on something that would not compute so I just let it go for a while and let my mind wander wherever it wanted and then when I focused again the right answer was right there.

Personally many of my best thoughts come when my mind is wandering and I can see things from different angles for later cogitation. I think these guys are under the impression that you need to focus, focus, focus on what you are doing or papa will spank.

Mark said...

Lobotomies for all!

Fred4Pres said...

How does one describe the blogging mind?

Largo said...

Wordsworth: I wonder as I wander...
Descartes: I cogitate as I ambulate...
Hagar (the Horrible): I ponder as I plunder...

Largo said...

Mark: Lobotomies for all!

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

Hagar said...

How to stop your mind from wandering.....

H. Gillham said...

Yahoo News?

Enough said.