Happy Thoughts: Mind Wandering Affects Mood in Daily Life

Abstract

Mind wandering is often thought to have adverse consequences such as to deteriorate mood. However, more recent findings suggest that the effect of mind wandering on mood may depend on the specific thought contents that occur during mind-wandering episodes and may be influenced by trait-like interindividual differences. The current study examined prospective effects of mind wandering (MW) on mood in daily life as well as possible moderating effects of dispositional mindfulness and rumination. Forty-three university students aged 19 to 32 (61% women) filled out questionnaires on trait mindfulness and rumination. Subsequently, they underwent 5 days of electronic ambulatory assessment of MW and positive and negative affect in daily life ten times a day. Prospective models revealed positive effects of MW on mood, and negative affect was lowest when thoughts during MW were most pleasant. Although dispositional rumination and mindfulness significantly affected mood in daily life, no moderating effects of these traits were identified on the association between MW and mood. These results suggest that mind wandering is not a negative phenomenon per se but instead has adaptive consequences that can lead to mood improvements. Our findings highlight the importance of accounting for the thought content of mind-wandering episodes when investigating the functional outcomes of a wandering mind. Given that mind wandering frequently takes place in everyday life, interventions that encourage individuals to shift the content of their mind-wandering experiences towards pleasant topics may have an important impact particularly for clinical populations.

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Authors

Contributions

AW designed and executed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the first draft of the paper. IR collaborated with data analysis and with writing of the study. GWA collaborated with the design and with writing of the study. CK collaborated with the design of the study and with data analysis and edited the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christine Kuehner.

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Funding

This research was supported by a research grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, KU1464/4-1,2) to Christine Kuehner. 

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The experimental protocol was approved by the University of Mannheim Ethics Committee. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Welz, A., Reinhard, I., Alpers, G.W. et al. Happy Thoughts: Mind Wandering Affects Mood in Daily Life. Mindfulness 9, 332–343 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0778-y

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Keywords

  • Mind wandering
  • Mood
  • Mindfulness
  • Rumination
  • Ambulatory assessment