More on what makes you happy

One problem that has previously limited happiness research is that asking people to imagine how happy they are doing something might not yield the same results as asking them how happy they are when they are actually doing this activity. However, a paper in today’s Science shows just this kind of data. The authors developed an iPhone application that would randomly “ping” participants and ask them what they were doing, how happy they were doing it, and whether they were currently thinking about what they were doing or something else. After getting over a quarter of a million responses from over 2000 participants, they noticed the following trends:

-         Except for when you are having sex, your mind is often on 
      something other than what you are doing. Nearly half of the samples reported mind wandering.
-         You are generally more unhappy when your mind is wandering, 
      albeit less so when you are thinking pleasant thoughts.
-         Happiness was better predicted from what you are thinking about than what you are doing.

I also really like their data representation: the location of the bubble 
indicates how happy you are (unhappy on the left to happy on the right), 
and the size of the bubble shows how many samples were from each activity. From this, I conclude that we consistently under-rate how happy exercise makes us, and that we need to have more sex!

Killingsworth, M., & Gilbert, D. (2010). A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind Science, 330 (6006), 932-932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439