Mind Wandering and Why You're Not Happy

Photo by  Ali Inay  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ali Inay on Unsplash


The Experiment

Wait stop. How are you feeling? If you had to rate your mood from 0 (really bad) to 100 (really good) - what number would you give your feeling right now?

Ok - great. Now what are you doing right now? Reading, duh. What about one minute ago? Are you at home? At work? With your kids? Are you listening to music? Did you just finish meditating?

Now while you are doing this thing you are doing, are you thinking about something else? Maybe the grocery list? The great sex you had last night? A really annoying coworker?

If you are thinking about something else, is it pleasant, not pleasant, or neutral?

Perfect. Thank you. Take a deep breath.


The Results

You just completed the same set of questions that over 2,000 adults answered at random moments throughout their day (via an app called Track Your Happiness). What did Killingsworth and Guilbert learn?

  • People’s minds wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing.

  • Mind wandering occurred almost half the time.

  • People were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not (no matter what activity they were engaged in….even washing dishes).

  • What people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing.

Science: Killingsworth & Gilbert 2010 Science

What it means for you

Strengthening your ability to be in this moment can improve your mood. Even the simple act of noticing your mind is wandering is weight training for being present. And being present if the first step to acting with intention in service of creating the life you long for.


It’s hard. I get it. There’s a ton swirling around. Alerts, buzzes, new emails, people who want something from you. It can feel like you’re just in a circus spinning plates and juggling knives. And change begins with just one small step. Anne Lammott writes about a friend who committed to just one moment of awareness each day of her new baby’s life. She knew there wouldn’t be time for meditation. She wouldn’t have energy or space. But she defined her own success as one small second - a moment sitting on the edge or the bed or the bath or while rocking the baby. Just a breath in and out. You can do it. We can do it. Slowly slowly.

Love, Kerry