In the modern digital world, it is very easy to ‘kill time’ during free time. Most people these days spend any short break they get during the day to pour through their favorite social media sites on their smartphones or tablets. They rarely, if ever, sit down quietly and let your mind wander thinking of anything under the sun. Many people consider thinking to be boring, and moreover, thinking involves mental effort whereas clicking their way through social media platforms requires none.
However, new research shows that thinking may be more enjoyable and beneficial than what people have come to believe. Letting your mind wander has been found to enhance creativity and problem-solving, and as a bonus, taking time to ‘unplug’ from your ‘smart’ devices can also help you relax and rest as well.
“People tend to think that ‘just thinking’ or ‘just waiting’ is boring, but our studies now show that many people actually enjoy being alone with their thoughts much more than they had expected. Distraction-free downtime may be more pleasurable than people may believe,” said one of the researchers behind the new study.
To arrive at their conclusions, the research team did six experiments that included a total of 259 people. The study participants were university students from Japan and the United Kingdom. There were varying numbers of people who took part in each experiment.
In the first of these experiments, the researchers compared how much people enjoyed their time just sitting and thinking for 20 minutes, with how much they believed they would enjoy it before participating in the study. They were not allowed to have any distractions, like reading, walking around, or checking their smartphone. Afterward, they were asked to rate their enjoyment of the session.
The other experiments were similar in nature but with variations. For example, in one experiment, the study participants were asked to sit in an empty conference room, while in another, they were seated in a dark, tented area where they could not see anything around them. The amount of time they were asked to sit and think also varied.
In another experiment, one group predicted how much they would enjoy thinking while another predicted how much they would enjoy checking the news. Although the group engaged in thinking estimated they would not enjoy it as much, the two groups ended up enjoying their respective activities just about equally.
With each experiment, the overall conclusion remained the same; people enjoyed thinking more than they predicted that they would. However, a caveat to the study findings is that people did not rate thinking as being extremely enjoyable. It was simply more enjoyable than they thought it would be. It appears that all thinking is not necessarily enjoyable. For example, some people may be more prone to negative thinking when they are free from outside distractions.
The researchers also admitted that their work needed to be replicated among other populations, since their study participants were all college students in Japan and the UK. Nevertheless, they recommended that in today’s world where people face multiple challenges, stresses and responsibilities on a daily basis, they need to find time to unplug and relax so as to recharge their internal batteries and to be productive again.