Happiness: Think Fast!

You want to be happy? Well then pick up some crosswords or sudoku and get it done as fast as you can. No, don’t question it! Go!

According to some new study thinking fast will make you happy.

Results suggested that thinking fast made participants feel more elated, creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful. Activities that promote fast thinking, then, such as whip­ping through an easy crossword puzzle or brain-storming quickly about an idea, can boost energy and mood, says psychologist Emily Pronin, the study’s lead author.

Pronin notes that rapid-fire thinking can sometimes have negative consequences. For people with bipolar disorder, thoughts can race so quickly that the manic feeling becomes aversive. And based on their own and others’ research, Pronin and a colleague propose in another recent article that although fast and varied thinking causes elation, fast but repetitive thoughts can instead trigger anxiety. (They further suggest that slow, varied thinking leads to the kind of calm, peaceful happiness associated with mindfulness meditation, whereas slow, repetitive thinking tends to sap energy and spur depressive thoughts.)

It is unclear why thought speed affects mood, but Pronin and her colleagues theorize that our own expectations may be part of the equation. In earlier research, they found that people generally believe fast thinking is a sign of a good mood. This lay belief may lead us to instinctively infer that if we are thinking quickly we must be happy. In addition, they suggest, thinking quickly may unleash the brain’s novelty-loving dopamine system, which is involved in sensations of pleasure and reward.

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