1000 petals by axinia

the only truth I know is my own experience

Staying in the present leads to happiness – study proves February 12, 2011


image by axinia


I love these sweet studies that prove some old wisdom – it is so lovely to see how someone is trying to prove the obvious. But probably we still need that kind of certification?


 Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. The figure surprised the researchers, Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth: “I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

Still, even if people are less happy when their minds wander, which causes which? Could the mind-wandering be a consequence rather than a cause of unhappiness?

To investigate cause and effect, the Harvard psychologists compared each person’s moods and thoughts as the day went on. They found that if someone’s mind wandered at, say, 10 in the morning, then at 10:15 that person was likely to be less happy than at 10 , perhaps because of those stray thoughts. But if people were in a bad mood at 10, they weren’t more likely to be worrying or daydreaming at 10:15.

“We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering,” Mr. Killingsworth says.

This result may disappoint daydreamers, but it’s in keeping with the religious and philosophical admonitions to “Be Here Now,” as the yogi Ram Dass titled his 1971 book. The phrase later became the title of a George Harrison song warning that “a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind.”

What psychologists call “flow” — immersing your mind fully in activity — has long been advocated by nonpsychologists. Alternatively, you could interpret the iPhone data as support for the philosophical dictum of Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t worry, be happy.” The unhappiness produced by mind-wandering was largely a result of the episodes involving “unpleasant” topics. Such stray thoughts made people more miserable than commuting or working or any other activity.

But the people having stray thoughts on “neutral” topics ranked only a little below the overall average in happiness. And the ones daydreaming about “pleasant” topics were actually a bit above the average, although not quite as happy as the people whose minds were not wandering.

There are times, of course, when unpleasant thoughts are the most useful thoughts. “Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has shown that mind-wandering can lead people to creative solutions of problems, which could make them happier in the long term.

Source: NY Times


23 Responses to “Staying in the present leads to happiness – study proves”

  1. Terry Says:

    I’ not sure I agree with you that this study validates “staying in the present” is the source of happiness. But it leads to a good discussion of what staying in the present means. It’s good to know that sex makes people happy and keeps their minds from wandering–although sexual frustrations can be traced to just the opposite experience. But is having an intense experience a good example of staying in the present?

    Staying in present can also be described as witnessing events–experiencing pure consciousness in the midst of activity. Tantra, in my limited understanding, aims at achieving the state of pure consciousness while engaging in the most intense experiences, including but not limited to sex. It’s not so valuable that the mind focuses on the intense experience instead of wandering, but that the mind experiences the inner peace of Being even while totally focused on outer experience. So what makes a person happy is not the focus on the experience but the natural and unforced focus on Being at the same time as the outer experience.

    It is a little confusing because of course intense experiences often awaken that sense of Being. The intense beauty of nature, for example, can take us out of ourselves in a flash of understanding of the beauty of all life. Surfers get that Oneness sensation from the power and perfection of an intense wave. A mathematician can have a transcendent realization of universal truth when a formula suddenly becomes crystal clear. And when sex or any physical exertion breaks through the physical level to create that sense of floating free, we know we are beyond the limits of the body.

    So on one hand we have the separation from outer experience and on the other hand we have outer experience creating the separation. Sort of ironic.

    What science needs to research is what is the difference between mind and consciousness, between individual consciousness and universal consciousness. There needs to be an iPhone app that finds out when people are experiencing God. Although that is not the moment I would want to take a phone call.

    • axinia Says:

      Terry, good point as ever!

      I believe staying in the presence can be both: witnessing events–experiencing pure consciousness in the midst of activity as well as enjyoing some intense experience.

      As for your suggestion “What science needs to research is what is the difference between mind and consciousness, between individual consciousness and universal consciousness” – i guess this needs the awereness of scientists, they should be able themselves to exprience that in order to understand what it is.

  2. Mahesh chendake Says:

    person like OSHO talks on that exactly. engaging in intense experience of sex may have experience of presence of god but thanks terry as you attached all such other intense experiences too and not given much importance to sex only.
    axinia i also experienced many times wandering mind reduces vibrations and that might be cause of my not having vibration i realize, even my eyes are also wandering and sense organs are ready to experience new things ( unconsciously) which others ( my few friends and one of the teacher also) notice and told me as bad habit. during my those days i used to involve in day dreaming intensively so lag behind and creates lezyness and not doing the thing when exactly needed to do and engaging watching people too just unanimously having no any intention. so i was not a objective/target oriented so i loose on many fronts. most probably indirectly SY settles me in present so having better happy days.

    • person like OSHO talks on that exactly. engaging in intense experience of sex may have experience of presence of god

      So, dear Maheshsaheb, in the end, does it actually mean that “God” is just a bubble or the mere feeling one gets on experiencing something very intense 😕

      If, by merely engaging in an intense experience – sex, or indeed ANY OTHER (like meditation or even narcotic drugs – they are all intense experiences), one were to experience “God”, then I believe “God” is by no means as supernatural, almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent as the believers claim 😐 What an unfortunate 😦 thing that “God” turns out to be so mundane and ordinary!

      I had such a high and unparalleled regard for “God” because of all the supernatural powers attributed to “Him”, though I don’t necessarily believe in “Him” (or “Her” for that matter). Even stray dogs on the street get to experience the intensity of sex (if anything, their sexual experience should be even MORE intense than that of humans, because of the relatively limited ability of their minds to think). So do stray dogs (and cats, rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes etc.) get to experience “God” when they have sex 😕

      I guess they do. Scientists have already offered solid proof that animals CAN, and DO have “spiritual” experiences (the bubble state of completely “thoughtless” wonder and pure amazement at the so-called “beauty”):


      It should be no wonder then, that animals can get to experience “God” too, according to the definition of the word “God” that we are discussing here. Which is not surprising, considering that all humanoid emotions and behaviour (including ethics, compassion, love etc.) can also be found and demonstrated among members of the animal kingdom to varying degrees, depending upon the complexity of the creatures’ brains. After all, hominoids are also animals in the end 😐

      If such a definition of “God” were true, then it turns out that “He” is not so special as believers claim.

      Or maybe, we are talking of different “Gods” here. The monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism etc.) way of defining “God” is certainly different from the polytheist religions (primitive paganism, neo-paganism, folk religions, Hinduism etc.) In fact, they are diametrically opposite and totally INCOMPATIBLE with each other.

      If the monotheist religious believers’ definition of “God” were correct, then all other definitions of “God” are wrong and the worshippers of such “Gods” are actually worshipping false gods and are idolaters, heathens, infidels and kafirs. Conversely, if the polytheists definition of “God” were correct, then it would turn out that the monotheists are actually silly fanatics worshipping a single completely make-believe imaginary entity. And if merely having an intense experience amounts to being in the presence of “God” then, even dogs, water buffaloes, rats and lizards can, and do, get to experience “God” on their own.

      So which definition of “God” is correct?


      • Mahesh chendake Says:

        Raj very smart…. but dont pick up half sentence. Any way it is a fact of experience and not discussion. it is not very worth to ask dying person that how you are feeling as he may not share. certain experiences can not be shared. They can be just witnessed . Where you find His/Her existence. you must be knowing story of test of poison. What i want to tell you that seeing all that humbug of OSHO and his follower Mother decided to start Sahajayoga which we feel divine gift of God to humanity. it is very sad of human that they can be easily misguided but it take very hard or some time one may not understand during life time about Real /Truth. For me I experience presence of God all the time (when somebody is dying in front of me also,( during my Mother ‘s death also !) What is important here is one should understand his Role ,entry, and Exit.
        now I can proudly say …. Yes I have Experience of God . I dont know about others.

        • Maheshsaheb, do you then believe that Osho’s definition of “God” as experiencing an intense experience (like sex) is just humbug 😕 Just curious to know, thanks for any possible answer.


          • Mahesh chendake Says:

            Raj again very smart!!
            Fake spirituality, not interested, still any thing which is beyond human limits still easily handled by unknown and balanced, I see the beauty of happening and enjoy His Existence. You know it is air One can feel but can not catch Raj within my sense organ it is very difficult to explain just i can understand and feel the experience.
            I see your point but for me those are not much important as I believe on my experience in your views it may be different. Yes I agree God is not so cheep it requires broad vision and delicate heart to feel him.I can see him in all being even in non being as it is his creation and play still he is witnessing so i can see him newly mon grass as well as in falling leaf, boot polishing Boy or a farmer preparing his land in sun. in short In all innocents/true strugle I see God then you can make definition of mine of God It may be bubble for those who want someting and not getting as their wish but really i dont want any thing but enjoying his existence and It is very true that Sahajayoga teachings settles my Life very well now I enjoy bliss ,peace and Eternal happiness all the time as I understands all drama and its reason happening around me within my small world. I see him in You also, so you are also so precious like my any family member

          • Terry Says:

            The first mistake is connection God with religion. A fast descent into contradictions and confusion. Stick with God as an unbounded experience available to individual consciousness. Much more satisfying for the individual not to care how anyone else defines God.

            • Mahesh chendake Says:

              Raj I will Tell You One story .There were 7 scientist siting under tree ad fighting that ,A young bull have how many teethes, A farmer who was listening their fighting for long time just interrupt them and ask Why you cant see a bull’s mouth then they shout at him and told you ignorant dont come in between we are scientist what you more know than us you keep quite and again they started fighting . So moral of story is why you cant experiencing it at least once? … I know we are intelligent scientist !!!!! but some time become a farmer also.

  3. Nishant AGRAWAL Says:

    The hindi word ‘kalateet’ explains the Present in spirituality. Also, Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ clears up different notions on the issue.


  4. That’s a lovely picture, Axinia! I guess it must be li’l Elias enjoying himself in a kids’ sand pit 🙂

    I remember that I was forbidden to play in the sand when I was young 😦 Even today, I can observe parents pulling away children playing in the mud telling them it is unhygienic (The only exception allowed is building sand-castles on a beach). May be it is true. But the lack of dedicated sand pits robs them of effective, fun and cheap toys.

    There are times, of course, when unpleasant thoughts are the most useful thoughts. “Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has shown that mind-wandering can lead people to creative solutions of problems, which could make them happier in the long term.

    That’s SO obvious, isn’t it? 😉 If Isaac Newton did not let his mind wander (i.e. THINK) on seeing the apple fall from tree and was merely interested in watching the supposed “beauty” of the apple falling, then he probably would have had no inspiration to put forth his gravitational laws. If the Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral did not let his mind wander (i.e. THINK) when he observed certain seeds attaching themselves to his clothes and his dog’s fur and was instead spell-bound by their “beauty”, then he would never have invented the velcro. Most creative solutions to problems and indeed most inventions and discoveries were the result of letting one’s mind “wander”.


    • Mahesh chendake Says:

      Raj when we remain in present and thoughtless we enter in collective consciousness and probably we find answer for difficult one or create new one like any invention. It is true with all above stories. there are chances that wandering mind and even thinking may stuck on one point and one may loose real drama (creation) better open mind with all possibilities and stay tuned in collective consciousness i.e. in presence.

      obviously it is nice one and science proved playing in clay is good and creative so I allow , children learns from play and imitation rather than sticking to books and writings. nice photo as usual.

    • axinia Says:

      Raj, it’s a well known fact that many scientists who have made discoveries have experienced the state of thoutless awareness before getting their enlightned idea of discovery. Meaning: they have been observing/ watching someting with a relaxed mind (staying in the present) and then at some point the idea on the long-thought subject strocke the mind. I have read many similar stories by various scientist.

      • Vinayakah Says:

        In Greece, the philosophers when solving a problem, used to lie to the bed, take in each hand the weight or stone, and under the hands with it, put the metal vessel. Than they close their eyes and put an attention to the problem…..after a while they got tired and started to fall in sleep. And when they entered the sleep, the muscles suddenly relaxed and stones or weights hit the vessel with the huge noice…and they woke up from the non-thinking state….mayn a times with the sudden solution to their problem.

        It was enough to be there (in thoughtless state) for a moment, to solve the problem. What can be done, if we can be there for hours or even whole day? 😉

  5. swaps Says:

    The photo says it all…like a child we must always be busy and completely lost in our games 🙂

  6. seeker2008 Says:

    My shaikh told me that walking the path is how we prepare to live in the moment.

  7. Vinayakah Says:

    Axinia, very nice post. What is quite important part, is this: “I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Amazing, isnt it?

    The ability to pay attention to what we do, is very small if we look around. People doing one thing, thinking about something else….and they are nor here nor there. I would call it a halflife. Inner tendencies, frustrations, moments of happiness, desires…. that come up within their sub-consciousness, to appear on the canvas of the mind as thoughts, like bubbles, lead them into looking at the movie of their mind, forgetting the presence, building up their thoughts…till the next bubble comes up ot be followed the same way…till death. Or till they realize the uselessness of such wasting, and experience the thoughtless awareness…. Suddenly they learn, they can be aware without necessity to follow endless bubles, but see directly without disturbance, incomparably deeper, incomparably faster, and incomparably wider than ever before.

    It is but a merit of experience only, and until experienced, it will be mixed with ideas of “how can it be”, never reaching the point.

    • axinia Says:

      right, and the best thing that actually EVERYONE who claims thouthless awareness to be a nonsense has actually experiences it many a times (may be even not aware of that) and probably even enjoyed that 🙂

      Exeperinceg thoughless awarenss is very naturall to human beings – every time we look at something at admiration, be it a breathtaking revelation of nature or a piece of art – we do get into thoughless awareness, even for seconds, but we do!

  8. Vinayakah Says:

    Yes, we are experiencing the thoughtless awareness even more often – the space in between 2 thoughts, just are not aware of it 😉

    Someone say – the honey is sweet. The other – no, it cant be! So taste it here. No, I will not….but it cant be sweet!!! Difficult….

  9. To not worry and insisting to be happy…is a philosophical thought?

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