As a daydreamer myself, I know all about the positives. Unfortunately, the stereotypical daydreamer is often portrayed as that guy or girl sitting in a classroom, blankly staring out a window with no regard for anything his or her teacher is saying.
The reality is completely different. Daydreamers might miss a detail here or there, but those who do it often gain one thing that is frequently missing in society: imagination. I created so many stories in my head, as a kid and now as an adult, that I absolutely have to write them down sometimes. At times, the impulse becomes so unbearable that I’ll write something, anything. Not only does daydreaming compel you to create interesting fictional tales, but it’ll develop your mind, since you’re always imaging new worlds, situations, figures, and stories. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Below you’ll find a list of a handful of the benefits that daydreaming has.
1. It makes you a better thinker.
Daydreaming is closely tied to reading. Those who are illiterate, or rarely read books, are less likely to have the same thirst for knowledge and imaginative capacity that fuels daydreaming when compared to their bookworm counterparts. According to author Neil Gaiman, when reading “we exercise our imaginations.” In turn, when daydreaming, your brain wrestles with these thoughts and improves itself.
In that same article linked above, Gaiman talks about how companies like Apple are filled with imaginative thinkers, and that one of the unifying factors tying them all together was that they read science fiction as children. Not surprising, in my opinion, as these books really make you think about our future and how we can improve society in the present. In other words, they make you unsatisfied with what we have right now and more likely to find ways to improve.
Perhaps this explains why daydreaming turns on the brain’s problem-solving functions. You aren’t thinking about random things; you’re trying to rectify an issue that you’re having. Without big dreamers, what kind of world would we live in today? The answer is: a bleak one.
2. It makes you more empathetic.
According to the experts, your brain either focuses on analysis or empathy, depending on the situation. Both have their uses, as the former will help you get work done and the latter will assist you in dealing with people.
If you have trouble connecting with other humans, take note: studies have shown that daydreamers have more empathy than others. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially given what I talked about in regard to how reading and daydreaming are closely tied. When you are constantly thinking about different scenarios and trying to solve complex human issues in your head, you’ll necessarily feel more of a connection to those around you.
3. It alleviates boredom.
This makes complete sense when you realize that daydreaming stems in large part from the fictional stories we read, and the imagination that those stories foster. The journal Psychology Today noted way back in 1987 that most people performing relatively repetitive or otherwise uninteresting tasks reverted to daydreaming to spice things up a bit. I used to do this all of the time when practicing my shooting form for basketball. Usually, that’s an insanely boring task, even if you like the sport. I made it more fun by imagining I was shooting a game-winning shot every time. I do this in the present as well, especially when I’m doing something like washing the dishes. My made-up daydream stories are way more interesting than a soapy sponge and greasy plates, let me tell ya…
4. It makes you want more.
One study published in the journal Science back in 2010 revealed that daydreamers were more likely to be unhappy while mind-wandering. Before you connect daydreaming to unhappiness, allow me to explain. As I discussed earlier, daydreaming is in large part connected to your imagination. If you have a powerful imagination, and dream big, then it makes complete sense why daydreaming would make you a little bit unhappy, since you’re probably only doing it because you are dissatisfied, either with society or your life in some way. This, however, has its benefits. If you can recognize a problem while daydreaming, then you can tackle it when your mind is focused. Those of us dreaming about utopian societies all of the time will probably fight harder for that imagined future than those of us completely content with what we have now.
5. It will improve your memory.
Flash cards are one way to help you remember things, but daydreaming might be even better, at least when it comes to broad concepts or ideas. The relationship between mind-wandering and memory retention has been established before, and it makes sense. Actively trying to remember something rarely works. Thinking about a book abstractly, or imagining the historical figures you’ve read about, works much better in helping you recall information. As the study notes, your brain solidifies memories in its resting state, which is why you might find that you remember things much better the morning after a session with flash cards than you did the night before.
Tying this back into the whole spiel I gave about reading, it would seem that taking information and re-purposing it for use in your own personalized daydreams is a great way to absorb lots of information. As a history major I did this all of the time, often using my imagination to think about how the figures I studied lived and dealt with the problems of their era. When the time came for us to take a midterm or final, I knew the information like the back of my hand since I had romanticized it all and daydreamed about it so much.
Want to tap into the powers of daydreaming yourself? Read something you enjoy, boost your imagination, and let your mind do the rest. Your head will be in the clouds along with the rest of us dreamers faster than you can say “Steve Jobs.”
Featured photo credit: Thinking of You/Fabiana Zonca via flickr.com