We've been talking about thought patterns that we can engage in to feel better. One of the things we can do to feel happier is to focus on becoming a little bit more mindful or at least stopping the opposite of mindfulness, which is what's often referred to as mind-wandering. What is mind-wandering? Well, it's when you're trying to focus on something and your thoughts move away from whatever it is you're supposed to be focusing on, whatever that ongoing task is, and you're focused on something else. Rather than focusing on a task or something in the external environment you have these self-generated thoughts and feelings that are going all off in a bunch of different directions. Perhaps rather than listening to this lecture you're thinking about, what are you going to have for dinner tonight? Or that weird conversation you had with your friend or what you're going to look at on TikTok later when you get off. You're just everywhere but there. Researchers tried to estimate how often we do this. They give students a little cell phone app that pings people at different times and asks three questions; what are you doing now, are you paying attention to what you're doing, and how are you feeling? That'll just beep at random times and you have to answer these questions. What they find when they do this is that students self-report mind-wandering just under 50 percent of the time, which is pretty sad. It means half of our life-ish, we're missing what's going on but this also has a bad connotation for our happiness because remember these researchers also asked, and how are you feeling? They find, whenever you self-report mind-wandering, even if your mind-wandering to a good thing, like you're thinking about some upcoming vacation or something fun that's going to happen, anytime you're mind-wandering, even if it's to a good thing, you're not feeling as good as if you're simply not mind-wandering at all. Let that sink in. If you're daydreaming about your vacation that it winds up feeling less good in the moment than just focusing on doing your homework and being in flow. This raises the question of how do we stop mind-wandering? The answer is that we need to become a little bit more mindful. I'm going to use the definition of mindfulness that's used by the meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He knows that mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way. It's the act of the opposite of mind-wandering. You're paying attention to whatever task but you're doing it with a certain attitude, you're doing it with the intention of doing it on purpose, you're really focused on it and doing it on purpose. You're doing it right now and being in the present moment, and you're doing it with this attitude of being non-judgmental. Whatever is going on in the present moment, you're not going to judge it. You're just going to take it the way it is. This is mindfulness, which is awesome because it helps us break mind-wandering but there's a problem with mindfulness, which is it's actually really hard to be mindful. It's very easy to mind-wander, hard to be mindful. How do we deal with the hardness? How do we figure out ways that we can become a little bit more mindful? The good news is that this is a thing you can do much better if you practice. The main way you practice being mindful is to engage in the practice of meditation. Meditation is just a practice in which you're going to commit on purpose to pay attention to something that can be your breath in certain forms of meditation, it can be a feeling of compassion, it can be whatever you want but you're paying attention on purpose with this attitude of non-judgment. When your mind wanders away you commit, nope, I'm going to just yank it back. First of all, have you ever tried meditation? You know that meditation is pretty hard. If you try it your mind is going to wander away but the key is that on purpose you say, nope, I'm going to yank my mind back and focus on my breath again. Every time you do this action of yanking your mind back, that's like doing a bicep curl for your focus. It's like doing a bicep curl for your mindfulness. If you've meditated and you get mad at yourself of, my mind wandered, that's good. It gives you an opportunity to yank your mind back onto the task and that's what matters. There's lots of evidence that this practice of meditation can make you happier. It can reduce mind-wandering really specifically and that's one of the factors that make you happier because when you're on task you're feeling better but it can do that not just in the moment when you're meditating, it can do that after the fact. It's not like you're more on task in that five minutes a day when you're meditating but it also means you're more on task when you're trying to do your homework or when you're talking to your siblings later at dinner and so on. There's also evidence that meditation has lots of other benefits for the stuff that you all care about too. For example, there's evidence that it literally helps brain growth, just the simple act of meditation. We know this from lots of studies but one by Holzel et al, I'll talk to you about here, they studied gray matter size before and after an eight-week meditation course. It's typical, what's called the mindfulness-based stress reduction course. It's one of the most common mindfulness courses out there. On average, for these eight weeks people were doing about half-hour meditation but what they found was significant increases in people's gray matter. Literally you're getting more cells in your brain in a bunch of different regions after this mindfulness. These are also regions of your brain that tend to focus on task-related things. You're literally growing your brain. Maybe, as you might guess, from literally growing your brain you're also growing things like your academic performance and particularly your performance on standardized tests. In fact, one study looked at this directly. If we teach people meditation, we force people to do a class where they're meditating more, does that improve your standardized test scores? In this case, students were doing four 45-minute classes across two weeks plus mindfulness exercises on top of that on their own. What happened, what you find is that the meditators in these conditions showed a significant boost in their standardized test scores. Worried about your SATs? Maybe consider adding in some meditation which will have all these other benefits for your happiness too. What can we do to be more mindful? We have our psychprotips again but the answer here is try out meditation. This is a spot where I think it's really about a self experiment. Some people resonate with this more than others but just pick five minutes, 10 minutes every day, where you're just going to sit down and commit to meditating. There's also a bunch of free apps that you can use to do this thing but really you don't need any fancy technology, you just sit and commit to following your breath. It will feel hard, you will feel like you're messed up at first but that's the point of it. When you mess up and have to drag your attention back, that's like you're doing it right. That's thing number 1. It's just try out meditation and see how it feels if you haven't already but another psychprotip brings us back to something we talked about in the context of hedonic adaptation, is that you can practice meditation to become more mindful but you can just turn on mindfulness whenever you want. We talked about this in the context of what we called savoring; this act of noticing a good experience. What does this taste like? What does this feel like? You can turn that on too. It's another act of being mindful just in the moment even without practice. Lots of strategies we can do to bring our thoughts into the moment. The evidence suggests that the more we do that, the more we'll experience positive emotion and feel present.