Do Daydreams Bum You Out?

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"Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and 'to be here now.' These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," the authors write in the study.

Insofar as daydreaming pulls us out of the present, this may explain the connection. "Clearly there is lots of evidence that when we're immersed in the world, doing something we love, we are our happiest," Lehrer says, "and daydreaming takes us away from that."

Psychological Research: There's an App for That

This study is the first of what may be many using "TrackYourHappiness.org," a smartphone application developed as part of Killingsworth's research to gather experience data from smartphone users, both for research purposes and to help individuals track which activities affect their happiness.

"Part of the study beyond data collection involves giving results back to people to help them identify the source of some of their own happiness or unhappiness," Killingsworth says.

Text Message or Survey Prompt?

The application represents the next generation of tools for what psychologists call "experience sampling," in which people are probed in the moment about their state of mind. In the past, experience sampling has used specially designed beepers and other cumbersome and expensive technology, but with Killingsworth's "track your happiness" app, researchers can use the smartphones people already own in collecting data.

Reporting one's own mood to researchers is often difficult and unreliable because subjects are asked to remember how they felt last week, or in general, but collecting this data in real time, as the application does, is the "gold standard" of happiness data, Killingsworth says.

Lehrer says that the iPhone application can expand the traditional data set for research into happiness. "Right now, 99 percent of all studies you read are about undergraduates attending elite universities in the western world. To the extent that we can use these new gadgets to get beyond that sample, this technology is incredibly important," he says.

"It also allows us to track behavior, thoughts, and feelings in people's real lives as opposed to in a contrived laboratory situation," says Simine Vazire, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Vazire says that combining such methods with more objective data collection, such as using gadgets that record a subject's environment throughout the day, may be the next direction for experience sampling.

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