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Study: Daydreaming can lead to sadness

November 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
We live in a world full of distractions. Texting, social networking, e-mails, they all cause us to lose focus on what we're doing. Could a wandering mind be a bad thing? New research says it is.A new report in the journal Science suggests many of us spend a good part of our day being distracted. This so-called mind wandering or daydreaming seems innocent, but study authors say it's actually a downer. And if you want to be happy, you need to concentrate.

Ramona Huddleston's secret to happiness: She stays focused.

"I believe that happiness is a choice," said Ramona. "We decide every day we get up to be happy or to be sad."

A new Harvard study supports Ramona's point of view. Happiness requires concentration. And a wandering brain leads to an unhappy mind.

Through an iPhone application, researchers followed more than 2,000 American adults. They found people spend about 47 percent of their time daydreaming.

Based on how people were feeling at the time they were daydreaming, scientists conclude mind wandering caused their sadness, not the opposite. They found "living in the moment" made people happier.

Critics don't completely agree.

"Blocking off everything would make you in the long run very vulnerable," said Dr. Jairo Gomez, White Memorial Medical Center.

Gomez says putting too much value on the "power of now" is like going through life with blinders on. A person will be unprepared for unexpected challenges.

"We should also learn to accept unhappiness, anxiety, suffering, as a way of growing, as a way of adapting," said Gomez.

Some studies say mind wandering or daydreaming can actually be a good stress reliever. Being able to focus on the past or future is a capacity unique to human beings. Gomez says how you use mind wandering can make all the difference.

"It's just one of many ways of experiencing that may be advantageous, or not so, depending on how we use it," said Gomez.

So some mind wandering can be positive.

Ramona believes happiness is a state of mind, but you have to use your mind to get there.

"I'm in charge of my attitude. I'm in charge of how I will perceive the world," said Ramona.

Study participants were least happy when they were resting, working or at home using a computer.

They were happiest when they were making love, exercising or in conversation.

Researchers found what people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than what they were doing.


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