In a recent study, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert sampled the daily activities over 2,000 adults. They found that 47 percent of the time participants were not focused on what they were doing, and they reported being less happy. Wendy Hasenkamp, in How to Focus a Wandering Mind, points out that recent research shows practicing meditation can help us to pay attention, improve our memory, and improve test scores.
Recent behavioral research shows that practicing meditation trains various aspects of attention. Studies show that meditation training not only improves working memory and fluid intelligence, but even standardized test scores.
We can train our mind to focus to pay attention through meditation. We meditate with the goal of keeping our attention on the breath. When we meditate our attention often wanders until we realize our mind is no longer focused on the breath. When we become aware we are not focused on the breath, our attention brings us back to the breath. A few moments later, the cycle repeats. With repeated practice it becomes easier to drop our current train of thought and return our focus to the breath. This repeated mental exercise, through meditation, builds our brain. It’s like going to the gym, only you build your brain instead of your muscles. Make mediation a habit in your life and train your brain to pay attention.
While doing his PhD research with Dan Gilbert at Harvard, Matt Killingsworth invented a nifty tool for investigating happiness: an iPhone app called Track Your Happiness that captured feelings in real time. (Basically, it pings you at random times and asks: How are you feeling right now, and what are you doing?) Data captured from the study became the landmark paper “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” (PDF).