In Defense of Daydreaming

May,_Edward_Harrison_-_Daydreaming“Get your head out of the clouds.”

“Where are you? La La Land?”

“Why are you such a space cadet?”

“Focus.”

Those are phases one says to someone engaged in the act of daydreaming. Daydreaming may not be a marketable skill, and may not be an action that everyone would agree is a productive practice, but I would have to argue that daydreaming is an integral part of the creative process and success. Everything comes from an idea, and ideas are often born when one is daydreaming about how to make the world a better and more efficient place.

Makes perfect sense right? Well, not everyone sees it that way. Several years ago, a study reported that daydreaming decreased happiness and that the “act of mind-wandering was linked to a lower level of happiness.” There is also daydreaming to the extreme  – known as Maladaptive Daydreaming -  which is “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.”

But daydreaming, in normal everyday doses, can be beneficial, according to a new theory.  The Huffington Post reports about a “radical new theory of human intelligence, one cognitive psychologist (Scott Barry Kaufman, NYU psychology professor and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined ) argues that having your head in the clouds might actually help people to better engage with the pursuits that are most personally meaningful to them.”

I, for one, totally back this claim. If you daydream, you are thinking about what could be (maybe), your goals (hopefully), and it may inspire you to take action to make those dreams come true and perhaps lead to a more meaningful life. Kaufman notes that daydreaming can be a “reward” saying:

“These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion… From this personal perspective, it is much easier to understand why people are drawn to mind wandering and willing to invest nearly 50 percent of their waking hours engaged in it.”

50% of our waking hours? With that much time invested in the act of daydreaming, one would hope — or dream — that it is meaningful.

“It’s smart to question whether we should always be living in the moment,” says Kaufman. “The latest research on imagination and creativity shows that if we’re always in the moment, we’re going to miss out on important connections between our own inner mind-wandering thoughts and the outside world. Creativity lies in that intersection between our outer world and our inner world.”

ABC News mentioned a study from the University of British Columbia saying:

“…that while mind wandering is usually associated with “laziness or inattentiveness,” the human brain is actually much more active while daydreaming than when focused on routine tasks. Psychologists used brain scans to study participants as they performed boring assignments and found that their brains did indeed wander — but it was during that period that the brain’s “executive network” was the most active.”

They added that, “The “executive network,” incidentally, is what we turn to when confronted with a high-level, complex problem. So daydreaming, according to this study, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and could even help us solve some of our most pressing problems.”

Personally, I love to daydream.  I find inspiration, ideas, fodder for my work and projects from my daily mental journeys. I hope that this trait, the creative act of daydreaming, is passed on to my daughter. But I don’t think I have to worry. As I write this she is on the floor drawing, looking up at the ceiling lost in thought. I just hope her daydreams lead her somewhere wonderful.

Photo Source: “Daydreaming” by Edward Harrison May via Wikicommons

 

 

 

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