The Focus/Happiness Correlation

Focus=High, Happiness=???

These guys look super happy.

I left the library tonight after a long, but productive, day of outlining and studying for my finals.  Normally I struggle somewhat to maintain my focus the whole night, which is reasonable, I suppose, but tonight was one of those nights where you blink and 3 hours have gone by.

That concentration and effort left me feeling happy.  Giddy, even.  Was I just overjoyed and geeking out on how fun the rules of court are?  I seriously doubt it.  Was I basking in the glow of a job well done?  Possibly, but the enormity of everything still on my “to do” list precludes that idea as well.  

Lo and behold, I get home, flip open the nytimes, and read all about what caused my upswing in mood.  It turns out that our happiness levels are directly related to our ability (or lack thereof) to focus.

According to the study, daydreams (even good ones like eating your way through Italy or winning the Hogwarts house cup) leave you feeling worse than if you’d just plowed through whatever activity you were doing undistracted.  Neutral digressions (forming a grocery list, for example), and negative thoughts (stress from finals!) all tended to produce the same results as their happy counterparts; lack of focus makes people unhappy.

Using data from people all over the world, they determined also that at any given moment, almost half the people around us, whether in the library (maybe a higher number, I bet!), the freeway (truly frightening), or just walking down the sidewalk, are absent-mindedly somewhere else.  Think about that the next time you are being wheeled into surgery!

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t provide any tricks or tips for maintaining focus, it just quotes successful people scolding we, the unwashed masses, for going to our happy places when folding the laundry.

I’m sure that Bill Buckley and Henry Ford found happiness in their abilities to focus.  Either that or their giant piles of money.  Now that’sa daydream that could cheer even the bluest person up.


About Josh Hartsell

34, 3L law student, Boren Fellow in Korea, internationalist, former ex-pat.

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