This tension is very nicely demonstrated in a recent study by Hsee et al. (2010). When given the choice, participants preferred to do nothing, unless given the tiniest possible reason to do something: a piece of candy. Then they sprang into action.
Not only did people only need the smallest inducement to keep busy, they were also happier when doing something rather than nothing. It’s as if people understand that being busy will keep them happier, but they need an excuse of some kind.
And analyzing some of Daniel Gilbert’s research on mind-wandering and happiness Dean offers a few other insightful recommendations:
Overall this study found that what people were thinking was a better predictor of how happy they felt than what they were doing.
This all serves to back up the idea that being mindful is a good thing. Paying attention to whatever you are doing right now is likely to make you happier than letting your mind wander off.
Similarly, finding a reason to be active and engaged in whatever it is, is also likely to make us feel better than sitting around idle, even though our natural tendency is towards idleness. So being busy does make us happier, as long as we can stop our minds wandering.
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