On being allowed in my head by myself

I love when different areas of my interests overlap. Mental health? Physical health? Science? Check!

An article that came out in last weeks issue of Science, A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind, really caught my attention. We know quite well that people who exercise are supposedly happier. Something or other about endorphins. I’ve also heard it mentioned often that praying and/or meditating can increase serenity. And if you believe others, you just need more sex to be happier.

The authors of this paper though reach the conclusion that with very few exceptions, it is what we think about that effects how we feel, not what we’re actually doing. At least they say that’s what their data reflects. Using an iphone app (how’s that for a data collection instrument?!?), they asked people at some interval what they were doing, how they felt while doing it and how much their mind was wandering. If you look at their little bubble figure, it is negative mind wandering that correlates with not being happy. But making love and/or exercising are on the flip side, with happier associated scores. So while the authors conclude that happy(ier) (or more neutral) thoughts result in a better score of happiness, I have to disagree a bit. When you look at tasks where you mind can’t wander as well, these tend to be tasks you are fully engaged in, and you tend to be less focus on anything else, happy or not. Like exercising or making love. I would gander that if you spent more time fully engaging your mind (reading, cooking, taking a walk, making love), you wouldn’t have the mental space to mentally wander nearly as much.

But I guess perhaps my bigger issue is that I’m not sure happiness is the end all and be all of life. When I find myself aiming to be happy, it just doesn’t work. If anything, I end up with a wandering (unhappy) mind. So overall, I don’t aim to be happy. I aim to be useful and productive on some level, and achieving that is what puts me in a better state of mind. But maybe that’s just me. I have been known to need a chaperon inside my own head.

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