An article published in Science Magazine stated that people prefer to give themselves electric shocks than to be left alone with their thoughts. Introspection, as it turns out, is a form of torture. Asked to spend 6-15 minutes to do nothing and "just think," some resorted to jolts in order to have an activity. Something was better than nothing.
The authors do state that, “there is no doubt that people are absorbed by interesting ideas, exciting fantasies and pleasant daydreams.” They acknowledge that in certain situations, people enjoy free and fruitful encounters with their own minds. Flow, a peak internal state, arises out of engagement in an absorbing task. Without an activity, a context, an enjoyable intellectual conundrum, just thinking was a challenge.
When I was in college, a friend told me that his favorite thing to do was lay on his bed and stare at the wall. He became a successful journalist. Something happened in the idleness. There are those who can meditate for many minutes or even hours.
From Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy to Descartes' “I think, therefore I am," age old wisdom suggests that thought is the way to wellbeing. Even Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” So when does thought lead to happiness and when does it deter?
I was so heartened when I came across this talk by New York Times columnist, David Brooks in which he celebrates the internal life.
According to Atlantic journalist Uri Friedman, Mr. Brooks advocates a counter culture of introspection, depth, and meaning.
It would appear that our current culture favors extroversion, ambition, and easy self-promotion. Contemplation, humility, and reserve are valued less, though many people concur that innovations, creations, and pleasures arise from the “quiet mind.” Though some people are introverts and others extroverts, many are a mix. Different parts of the self can be expressed at different times. If the culture carries us too far or too often into a side that does suit, we can feel unwell, unbalanced, and even depressed.
Endless minutia and being all over the place can leave one feeling disconnected from things that matter. There may be little time for the quiet mind, which anchors the self, enlivens the soul, and allows the imagination to flourish. The internal life can be an endless source of solace, pleasure, and stimulation.
Just something to think about.