Researchers Use iPhone to Study Happiness
A pair of Harvard researchers have used an iPhone app to track the moods of thousands of participants in a study about happiness. Querying over two thousand iPhone users at random points in the day, the psychologists found people are happiest when they are focused on what they're doing than when they are spacing out, even if they are having pleasant thoughts.
The researchers knew that studying people's states of mind during their normal lives would be difficult and problematic. Calling people several times a day would be extremely time consuming as well as counter-productive: most people would probably report less happiness after being bothered by phone calls asking if they were happy. So Harvard doctoral student Matthew Killingsworth and psychology professor Daniel Gilbert set up TrackYourHappiness.org to contact 2,250 iPhone users, ages 18 to 88, at random times of day and ask three simple questions: "How are you feeling right now?" "What are you doing right now?" and "Are you currently thinking about something other than what you're currently doing?"
The study, which was published today in the journal Science
, showed that 46.9 percent of the time people's minds were wandering when they were contacted, and at least 30% of the time when they were doing anything other than engaging in sexual activity. What's more, people reported that they were less happy when spacing out than when they're engaged in whatever they were doing, even if the thoughts were nice and the work was unpleasant or dull. This is consistent with what the incredibly difficult-to-spell psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi refers to as flow
: a "mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity" which is said to bring on "spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task."
The study is part of a much larger ongoing project at Harvard to "investigate what makes life worth living." To participate and get your own personalized "happiness report," you can go to www.trackyourhappiness.org
Source: Boston Globe