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Being Present Makes Us Happier


(and better at public speaking)

by Daniel Kingsley


“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself”.

Benjamin Franklin


Whatever you want in life – great relationships, health for your family, riches, power or world peace, it’s a fair bet that one of the things you want most is to be happy. I know I do.


Whether the label you use is happiness, joy or satisfaction, it seems to me that this is perhaps the state or goal that most of us are seeking much of the time.

Scientist Matt Killingsworth also wants to be happy. And being a scientist he decided to figure out what makes people happy by experimental means. His idea was that if we know what makes us happy we can do more of it. He built an iPhone app called – and 15,000 people joined him in the first phase of his experiment.


How he did it and what he discovered

The iphone app contacted the participants at various times of the day, asked them how happy they were and then asked them what they were doing immediately before the question was asked.

What he discovered is that being present, i.e. having your mind on whatever it is you are doing, is much more conducive to happiness than anything else you could be doing with your mind. In other words, thinking about stuff that isn’t actually happening as opposed to being involved with what we are doing makes us less happy. (For the scientifically minded amongst you, he checked that it wasn’t just a correlation between the two events but that “mind wandering” seems to precede and therefore cause less happiness).

Matt also discovered that if you’re thinking about something unpleasant, you’ll (not surprisingly) be unhappier. Amazingly, even if you’re thinking about something pleasant, you’ll be slightly less happy than if you have your mind on what is actually happening. And this even applies if you’re stuck in a traffic jam!

If you’d like to see his entertaining TED video you can view it here.


How does this apply to you and to public speaking?

The lesson that I take from this is that a wandering mind is bad for our state of wellbeing and that the more activities I can find to take me out of my head and into a direct relationship with what is really going on in my world, the happier I’m going to be. For me, many of these activities tend to be physical activities that cause my mind to pay attention to what’s happening in my body (which stops it wandering). Many sports have this effect, especially if they are interactive – try thinking about your laundry list when there’s a tennis ball heading for your face! But there are lots of other activities that will do the trick, such as dancing, yoga and tai-chi.

It may not surprise you to learn that authentic communication is an important example of this sort of activity. If you are really with another person or a group of people, and you are really seeing them and allowing them to see you, you enter a very focussed state of presence. You are absolutely in the moment. Nothing else matters. You find yourself able to say things that you didn’t know that you knew, you are very finely attuned to those you are speaking to and you’re able to explain things to them in a way they can easily understand and relate to. It’s also extremely satisfying.

This is a win-win situation. By being more present with another person or a group of people you are going to feel happier (as Matt’s research tells us). And the more present you are, the better communicator you are going to be.

So authentic communication isn’t just good for your work and personal life. It makes you happier, too.

Experience public speaking with presence →

Daniel Kingsley
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