I'min the process of knitting together my reading on flow, mindfulness, contemplation, etc., with an eye to 1) constructing a kind of grand unified theory to support contemplative computing, and 2) identify the gaps in that theory.
One thing I'm trying to get a handle on is the relationship between distraction and happiness. Why is it that some writers find distraction so unsatisfying? I think it goes beyond the sense that distraction makes us stupider and less well-educated (e.g., because we're distracted we're not able to complete tasks, or we can't focus on Shakespeare), or the belief among those who lament distraction that they once were able to concentrate effortlessly. My suspicion is that the experience of distraction is itself unsatisfying, regardless of the impacts, in somewhat the same way that not being able to control your body is unsatisfying.
So far, though, I haven't found any empirical studies of distraction and happiness. What I do have are indirect things. Distraction and an inability to concentrate are among the basic symptoms of clinical depression. The ability to concentrate is one of the fundamentals of flow. And Csikszentmihalyi notes in Flow that "investment of attention actually seemed to decrease mental effort," which suggests why it feels dissatisfying. He continues:
The most likely explanation for this unusual finding seems to be that the group reporting more flow was able to reduce mental activity in every information channel but the one involved in concentrating on the flashing stimuli. This in turn suggests that people who can enjoy themselves in a variety of situations have the ability to screen out stimulation and to focus only on what they decide is relevant for the moment. While paying attention ordinarily involves an additional burden of information process above the usual baseline effort, for people who have learned to control consciousness focusing attention is relatively effortless, because they can shut off all mental processes but the relevant ones.
But I expected to see some studies that test a correlation between distraction (and maybe past levels of concentration or ability to focus) and happiness, and I haven't found any yet.