Turns out our forays into fantasyland aren’t as harmless as we thought.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” insist psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.
The researchers tracked the daily tasks and mental states of over 2,000 participants, asking them to gauge their own happiness and writing down when their minds wander. Though the data could be skewed by self-bias, the results found that people reported feeling less happy immediately after a daydreaming session.
Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all … Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.
The researchers suggest that—in accordance with many religions and philosophies—staying in the present holds the key to emotional stability. A consolidated list of how “present” (and, hence, how happy) people are during different activities shows that having sex tends not to be multitasking-friendly. (Shocker.)
So how do the study authors suggest you curb your daydreaming? They say to try doodling. Though it’s normally reserved for long telephone convos and really boring meetings, researchers assert that doodling can actually do a lot toward keeping you focused on what’s happening around you.
Be warned, though: Critics of the study argue that blocking your mind from wandering could also be a bad thing.
“Blocking off everything would make you in the long run very vulnerable … We should also learn to accept unhappiness, anxiety, suffering, as a way of growing, as a way of adapting,” said Dr. Jairo Gomez.
We’re inclined to agree. Plus, who else is going to keep our imaginary friends company?