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👀 This Habit Is Crushing Your Happiness (And You Do It At Least 47% Of The Time)
+ One sure way to stop it
Hello friend! 👋
It’s a special one today (from vacation, traveling to Lebanon and Greece to celebrate the love and union of very special people - you know who you are ♥️)
And as we are on this topic, I’m reminded of a powerful concept that drove the title of this article.
What is the habit that’s making you unhappy?
Harvard research tells us it is: Mind wandering.
Have you found yourself anticipating work while on vacation or ruminating about your vacation when you get back to work (vacation blues) 🙋♂️
In a study done in 2010 (which means the statistics have skewed to an even worse degree), researchers from Harvard University conducted a study to see how often people are distracted from their present activity and what effect that has on their overall happiness.
They asked participants to install a phone app that sent a prompt at random points during the day; the questions were simple:
What activity are you engaged in?
Is your mind fully-present with the activity or away from it?
What is your current mood?
And the results were astonishing - the aggregate amount of time spent mind wandering (not present with the activity) was a staggering 47% 🤯. This means that we spend almost HALF of our life not being present with our immediate experience - and whatever we are not present for, we don’t really experience (or even able to recall).
Not only this, the study showed that whenever the mind is wandering, the person reported they weren’t happy - so much so that they titled their paper “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
This provides a powerful insight for us to consider at least. More than a decade later, and with the attention economy being the most valuable industry of our time, we know FOR SURE that we are even more distracted nowadays than back in 2010.
How does this cause unhappiness?
Here’s my hypothesis:
Day-dreaming: Wishing things were different than they actually are (and losing time in doing just that without taking action to make it different) is only going to widen the gap with reality, and the wider the gap, the more difficult it is to bridge it.
Ruminating: We cannot deny our negative bias (it is our survival instinct that helps protect us, but can also damage us). When we get so used to spending time in our heads rather than our present reality, more often than not, we will engage in negative thought patterns.
Anticipating: If not ruminating about the past, the mind loves to shift to the future - a significant source of anxiety is being stuck in a loop of both. When anticipating a future stressor, we naturally experience stress in the present moment.
So… What do we do with all of this?
The obvious approach is to spend more time being present with our activities and experiences.
As we start the summer travel and vacation season, take an active role in being fully present with your activities. Make the best out of your vacation while you’re on it, and make the best out of your work when you’re back. This trains your mind to be more present.
This is exactly what mindfulness practice is - training for the mind.
As it turns out, this simple act of being fully present with our moment-to-moment experience, without getting drawn into thoughts about the past, future, or present judgments, is the hardest act of all. When meditating, like lifting weights, we strengthen the muscle that is responsible for keeping our focus steady and consistent.
But hold up, Hashim, what about anticipating the vacation while at work? This puts me in a good mood, so how can that be bad for me?
Technically, it’s excellent - and there is nothing wrong in savoring moments of the past or future (more on savoring in another time, it is a massive field of positive psychology). HOWEVER, we are what we practice. As I covered earlier, we have an instinct to be negatively biased, and if we continuously teach the mind to “escape reality”, then we may run the risk of doing it when it doesn’t serve us.
Awareness and moderation are critical.
Have a Super Sunday! ⚡️
With much joy,
PS. In July, I will be running an 8-week empirically validated mindfulness program called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn more than four decades ago. This program is the most researched mindfulness program in the world, deeply rooted in science, and has consistently been shown to deliver positive outcomes associated with increased self-awareness, as well as emotional and attentional regulation.
I studied this program at Brown University and then continued to the University of California San Diego, where I am currently teaching under mentorship.
If you’re interested in joining the program starting in July, click the link below to sign up for the orientation session and then decide if it is the right fit for you.