TED – Matt Killington on happiness and mind-wandering

I think this is a highly important topic, particularly in the modern environment. Our displacement from the ancestral environment has had many consequences on human behavior and it is my view that mind-wandering is one of the most important to human happiness.

Clayton –


6 thoughts on “TED – Matt Killington on happiness and mind-wandering

  1. AristippusofCyrene 12/13/2012 at 07:37 Reply

    I remember we were once discussing the Cyrenaic philosophers, who emphasised the danger of physical pains over the danger of mental ones, and I was saying that this might have been the case due to the fact that if one considers the present only, physical pain is all that he has to worry about in order to achieve aponia (mental pain being a result of the mind wandering into the past or the future). You disagreed about that, saying that mental pain is an obstacle to happiness even to a person who considers the present only. Do you still hold to that?

  2. claytonkb 12/13/2012 at 08:06 Reply

    It seems to me that acting (present-tense) is, in a sense, a mental burden, a mental pain. Mises says this doesn’t matter to praxeology but that’s precisely because he’s taking action as a given, since human beings always must act. As Bastiat says, we have little else but the choice between two evils – pain or the taking of pains to avoid it.

    On a wider scale, I think that focusing only on the present moment is anti-real… you can’t actually do this and the attempt to do it can only lead to high time-preference, no? It’s as inconceivable as being human and not acting.

    Also, after listening a second time to the video, I think the speaker could definitely have benefited from a praxeological framework. He suggests that the data show that mind-wandering causes unhappiness because either MW causes unhappiness or unhappiness causes MW. There is a third causal relationship that could account for the correlation which he didn’t mention – that both unhappiness and mind-wandering have a -common cause-. And I would submit that that common cause could be bondage or the deprivation of liberty in its most general sense. He even mentions jail as an example of someplace you might want to mentally escape.

  3. AristippusofCyrene 12/13/2012 at 09:03 Reply

    Perhaps it is akin to the Epicurean banishment of the fear of death. Just as nothing can be done about death, nothing can be done about events in the past, and often nothing can be done in the present about future events. Thus concern with them brings needless pain. This, however, does not discount acting (which necessarily implies the view of a different, future state), since in action there is the possibility of actual effect.

    Also, I agree about the common cause of both unhappiness and mind-wandering and that’s what I was thinking while I was watching the video. It’s the recollection or anticipation of pain that comes from the existence of something painful and results in the unhappiness recorded by Killington.

  4. claytonkb 12/13/2012 at 09:40 Reply

    Agreed. I think realistically circumscribing the limits of one’s own ability to affect the world (power, control) is a necessary precondition to happiness. For example, as long as you’re worried about who’s going to be President (something over which you don’t have the slightest control), you have one more worry you don’t need to have.

  5. Shay 12/14/2012 at 07:13 Reply

    Two things came to mind as to why mind-wandering might be detrimental (assuming it even is). It could be easy to go over the same thing in your mind, since it lacks the endless depth of reality. The only source of newness is critical thinking about it, whereas in the present even just observation can yield more novelty. And, if done to escape the current situation, it makes it seem even worse and frames it as something that is unbearable without mental distraction. I observe this latter effect very often, and see a sharp contrast when I stop trying to escape something and deal directly with it. Apologies if this isn’t a very intellectual/principled response. 🙂

    • claytonkb 12/14/2012 at 10:14 Reply

      @Shay: I agree with you. I think, though, that we can’t “blame the victim” in those situations where a person is boxed in by the aggression of another, and seeks reprieve through mental escape. So, I see two sides to this, 1) social criticism… how does it happen that so many people are so often mentally escaping, perhaps there is something wrong with the fabric of society itself (widespread, legitimized coercion?) and 2) individual self-development… learning to be “Zen” in the sense that no matter what your circumstances, you keep your own center, focus and drive and remain always “in the present”, so to speak.

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