Blog · Oct 7, 2015

A Wandering Mind – Does it Make you Happier?

We’re big fans of brain training programme, Luminosity. It’s a catchy app that challenges your brain with games designed by neuroscientists to exercise memory and attention. Our interest was piqued recently by an article they sent us on the value of the “wandering mind”. We’re pleased to summarise it below for you, and to delve a little into how the concept of the wandering mind might fit into the Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? approach.

How often does your mind wander?

How many times in a day do you realise that your mind is wandering? Whether you’re thinking about an important meeting, the results of the latest Rugby World Cup group match, or your next holiday, there is a school of thought that mind wandering may be a distinctly human trait with evolutionary advantages. How many times have you heard or read that blue sky thinking should be part of any strategy forming session? It’s important for creative thinking, it helps our brains develop new ideas and solutions in a constantly changing world, and it allows us the freedom to see beyond what’s in front of us.

But, according to the folks at Luminosity, there could be a catch: mind wandering could make us less happy.

Harvard’s happy app

In a 2010 study, researchers from Harvard University explored how a wandering mind affects happiness. They created an iPhone app that asked 2250 participants how happy they were feeling each day, what were they doing, and whether their thoughts were focused on the current activity.

The researchers found that people spend 46.9% of the time thinking about something unrelated to their current task, and they were less happy during these moments. Even positive thoughts had little effect on their mood, whereas neutral and negative thoughts made them significantly less happy. The researchers determined that a wandering mind affected happiness more than any activity.

In fact, their data suggests that mind wandering often may have been the cause, not the consequence, of the participants’ unhappiness.

Meditation – does it make you happier?

In a 2001 study, Buddhist monks showed stronger activity in the prefrontal cortex — an area linked to attention – while meditating. Later research has explored this link in non-Buddhists, and has shown that meditators generally score higher on attention and self-control assessments than non-meditators (Moore et al., 2009).

The way meditation works isn’t well understood, but one study suggests that it can help people realise when their minds wander, and this greater awareness helps them monitor and direct their attention – helps them to focus on what matters.

Be happy – focus!

This is our first Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? Principle –  “Focus on what’s important”.

The essence of implementing this first principle is to find your ‘Crazy’ and ‘Concrete’ goals, and ‘what floats your boat’. With clarity on these elements in place you can be sure the goals you are setting in either your business life or personal life (or both) align with what really motivates you. From this point, you are one step closer to achieving those goals.


With thanks to Luminosity for their inspiration – you can find out more here



Carmody, James, and Ruth A. Baer. “Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 31.1 (2008): 23-33.

Hankey, Alex. “Studies of advanced stages of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist and Vedic traditions. I: a comparison of general changes.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 3.4 (2006): 513-521.

Hasenkamp, Wendy, et al. “Mind wandering and attention during focused meditation: a fine-grained temporal analysis of fluctuating cognitive states.” Neuroimage 59.1 (2012): 750-760.

Killingsworth, Matthew A., and Daniel T. Gilbert. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Science 330.6006 (2010): 932-932.

Moore, Adam, and Peter Malinowski. “Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility.” Consciousness and cognition 18.1 (2009): 176-186.

Ruth A. Baer , Emily L.B. Lykins and Jessica R. Peters. “Mindfulness and self-compassion as predictors of psychological wellbeing in long-term meditators and matched nonmeditators.” The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice 7:3 (2012): 230-238.

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