Seeking the Key to Happiness? Research Suggests Taming the Wandering Mind

By  Carolanne Wright

Contributing Writer for  Wake Up World

Eastern philosophies have advocated it for more than a millennia. Ram Dass wrote a book about it. And now, an iPhone app has collected data on it.

The subject is presence and its relation to happiness. Over the last few years, happiness has been a hot topic of research. Scientists have investigated how to spot it, maintain it and acquire more of it. But one aspect is clear: it isn’t external circumstances that determine happiness, it’s how present we are in the moment.

“Be Here Now”

The Buddha was known to say, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” And Richard Alpert, a  Harvard University  professor who would later be known as Ram Dass, wrote “Be Here Now” in an attempt to convey a similar message: pay attention. What both realized (and science validates) is that when we are present in our lives, happiness grows. Interestingly, happiness is not the flashy car or good job, but simply to be fully engaged with what is right in front of us.

iPhone app measures moments of happiness (or unhappiness)

Matt Killingsworth is fascinated with what makes happiness tick. While completing his degree at  Harvard University, Killingsworth says,

“I began to question my assumptions about what defined success for an individual, an organization, or a society.”

Killingsworth’s inquiry led to the development of an iPhone app that collects data about the day-to-day experience of happiness. The application pings the participant at random times and asks the following:

“How are you feeling right now?”

“What are you doing right now?”

“Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”

Fifteen thousand people around the world participated in the project with over 650,000 real-time reports collected from 80 countries and 86 occupational categories. What Killingsworth and his  research  team found is that for the average individual, the mind wanders 47 percent of the time which in turn produces (shortly thereafter) unhappiness. Basically, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” he observes.

Cultivating joyful states

Killingsworth’s findings may explain why some of the greatest spiritual and philosophical traditions have always advocated a foundation of meditation. Even just a few moments of stillness each day can tame the  mind. And the effects are cumulative — the more one consistently quiets the mind, the more likely one is able to stay in the moment. Watching the breath and sensing the body are two methods traditionally used to root awareness in the present.

Yet the wisdom of  happiness  is not limited only to sages and scientists. As a young man, Jackson Pollock, a pivotal American artist, had the good fortune to receive the following advice from his father:

The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

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About the author:

Carolanne Wright

I’m Carolanne — a writer, chef, traveler and enthusiastic advocate for sustainability, organics and joyful living. It’s good to have you here. If you would like to learn more, connect with me at or visit

Please note this article was first published on Natural News.


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