Searching for Happiness? Change Your Focus

The Scavenger Hunt Guide to Life

Let’s play a game. In the video below, how many times do players wearing white pass a basketball?

How’d you do? When scientists ran this experiment, as many as 40 percent of the viewers missed the you-know-what. One conclusion: You often see only what you focus on.

Which leads to the question: How often are you focusing on the wrong thing? What do you miss that you might want to see—that might bring you joy—but are blind to because your attention is misplaced?

We see this all the time on our scavenger hunts. We write tricky questions about objects in museums and fascinating neighborhoods, sometimes with the intention of trying to trip you up, to play with your expectations. Or we might just be tempting you to look at something from a different point of view. Either way, we hope the discovery of the answer leads to a little “Ah ha!” moment.

Some teams arrive at the finish line absolutely convinced that they found the answer to a particular question, only to realize that they were looking at the completely wrong thing. They came up with one particular way of seeing the question, and as a result they became blind to the more obvious answer.

Mirror, Mirror

For instance, on our Met Madness Scavenger Hunt, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the American wing courtyard we ask, “Find someone using a rear-view mirror. What is her appropriate name?”

You might become attached to the idea of a mirror as a shiny, reflective object, or more particularly as something resembling the rear-view mirrors on your car. But then you’d totally miss the sculpture  pictured at left, holding a mirror—rendered in marble—in such a way that she can see behind her. Turns out her name is “Memory,” and she’s using her mirror to gaze into the past.

Whether it’s Memory or a gorilla, the lesson that your focus determines what you are able to see has some interesting implications. What if you’re searching for happiness? Or the good qualities in a friend or colleague? Your own strong suits and accomplishments? If you’re focused on the wrong things, you might never see them. But all it takes, sometimes, is a change of focus.