Picture yourself in an empty room, no TV on the wall nor any digital gadgets to amuse yourself with. Not even an ancient celebrity gossip magazine. Nothing … except you and your thoughts.
If that scenario sends you into an anxious tailspin, you are most certainly not alone.
Research published by the American Psychological Association shows that people consistently underestimate how much they would enjoy time spent just thinking, with no distractions.
In six experiments with 259 people, the researchers compared participants’ predictions of how much they would enjoy sitting and thinking with their actual experience of … sitting and thinking. In the first experiment, they asked people to predict how much they would enjoy sitting alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes, with no distractions. Afterward, participants reported how much they enjoyed it.
The result was that people enjoyed the quiet time significantly more than they had guessed they would. This held true across variations of the experiment that changed participants’ locations, the amount of time spent thinking and the point at which participants were asked to weigh in. In every instance, people enjoyed thinking more than they expected to.
One big caveat, however: That doesn’t mean everyone loved it.
On average, participants rated the activity between 3 and 4 on a 7-point scale, with 7 being the best.
But whether we doomscroll or gleefresh, binge on TV or watch endless TikTok videos, it’s not necessarily time well spent.
Previous studies have shown that letting your mind wander has benefits. It can help us solve problems, enhance our creativity and even find meaning in life.
You sure won’t get any of those things playing games on your smartphone.