Head in the clouds
Here’s a surprising statistic. Most of us spend 30 percent of our waking life off with the pixies. Not literally cavorting with mischievous pointy-eared creatures but lost in mental worlds we concoct that are just as compelling – if not more so – than the real world we inhabit.
Daydreams are unrelated to what we’re actually doing and include every possible imagining from the mundane to over-the-top – your acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, the leftover chocolate mousse waiting for you in the fridge at home, winning Powerball, telling your annoying boss that you bought the company and she is no longer needed. Although most daydreams may be humdrum, sometimes they do amount to more than aimless mental doodling.
For instance, scientists confirm that daydreaming has some concrete benefits such as reminding us when we’re absorbed in a task not to forget other important goals and helping us solve problems creatively. That’s because we can more readily access – and even use – the ideas in our unconscious mind when we let our thoughts wander. This is assuming, of course, we make an effort to remember them. Indeed, such epiphanies can be world changing. Albert Einstein’s reverie of himself running along a light wave led to his theory of special relativity.
The recent discovery of a neuronal network in the brain dedicated to daydreams is helping scientists understand the phenomenon. They call this web the “default network” because when we’re not focused on what we’re doing, the network fires up. Scientist believe this network is necessary to creating our sense of self. This suggests daydreaming is tied up with our identity and how we integrate the external world into our inner being.
But daydreams have a bad side too. Fortunately it’s not common but some folk are so hooked on their fantasies starring a much-enhanced version of themselves that real-life concerns and commitments fall by the wayside. Also, like anyone with an addiction, compulsive daydreamers may be filled with self-loathing coming down after experiencing a high.
More recently, US psychologists at Harvard University announced that a wandering mind may even make you depressed. Researchers asked more than 2000 participants to report their current activity and state of mind. The results show that the more people claimed to be in la la land, they less happy they felt.
This makes sense when you consider that we space out more when we’re stressed, bored, tired or find ourselves in a tumultuous environment. It is depressing if you imagine how wonderful life could be and then compare that with how tedious and difficult it sometimes is.
You can access the full story in the New York Times.