Sunday, December 5, 2010

Don’t daydream – ever!

A recent study has concluded that a “wandering mind may lead to unhappiness.” That is, if your mind strays too often from the task you need to perform, you are likelier to experience some depressive thoughts and feelings. Staying focused on that task, on the other hand, would make you happier. As we all know, it can even give you that elusive high referred to as “flow.” Since moments of mind-wandering tended to precede spurts of moodiness, the researchers concluded that the former were causing the latter, not the other way around. My money, though, would be on a different explanation. Could this be another spurious correlation, both variables being determined by a third, less obvious one? Maybe more impulsive (or compulsive) people would be more likely to succumb to uncontrollable ruminations. This, of course, is a classic recipe for depression. But the weaker self-control which produces impulsiveness is generally associated with negative emotionality (except for cases of hypomania, when individuals experience a chronic, invigorating high). So, people with robust self-control (those who would always wait for the second marshmallow) have no reason to fear they might experience a temporary mood disorder if they spend a bit longer ironing or self-grooming (the kind of tasks which seem to predispose us most to mind-wandering). Cutting down on such chores, though, might make everyone happier. I hope some clever research theme will think up a series of ingenious experiments to test this hypothesis.