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?”
15,000 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. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” he observes.
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. To be fully awake to everything about you. The more you learn, the more you can appreciate and get a full measure of joy and happiness out of life.”
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