Keenan: Daydreaming promotes creativity, understanding


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Young woman is dreaming about vacation

Joellen Keenan

In high school, students are often scolded for not paying attention to their teachers. We all have probably been there. But, while that teacher was reprimanding his or her student for not engaging in learning, spacing out like that may have actually been benefiting the student. Daydreaming has gotten a bit of a bad reputation, especially when we think about it in relation to getting in trouble in school.

Contrary to the column of a former Daily columnist claiming that daydreaming is responsible for causing unhappiness, daydreaming is incredibly beneficial. As long as it’s a situation that doesn’t put you or others at risk, daydreaming won’t hurt you one bit.

This may be an unpopular point of view because, according to all those teachers who chastised us for letting our minds wander, daydreaming consumes our attention and makes us worse at completing any given task at hand. William James, one of the founding fathers of American psychology, said, “When absorbed in intellectual attention, we may become so inattentive to outer things as to be ‘absent-minded’…” 

There are also studies and people who suggest daydreaming will make us unhappy.

However, one cognitive psychologist 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.” Scott Barry Kaufman, director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that we need a new measurement of intelligence that factors our deepest dreams and desires.

Michael Kane, psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, argues that whether for personal problem solving, planning for the future, imagining life possibilities or simply escaping the realities of the here-and-now, daydreaming is good. This is the kind of positive light I believe daydreaming should be seen in. 

Daydreaming has been proven to make you more creative. A new study conducted by the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center shows that when our minds wander, we may be doing our planning and perhaps having some of our most creative moments. An article in the Wall Street Journal also found that people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas

The article explains the creative benefits of daydreaming as such: “When we’re faced with a difficult problem, the most obvious solution — that first idea we focus on — is probably wrong. At such moments, it often helps to consider far-fetched possibilities, to approach the task from an unconventional perspective. And this is why distraction is helpful: People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere.”

Also, a 2012 Smithsonian study suggests that even though daydreaming might come off as a passive activity, it could actually be a the result “of a highly engaged brain state.” The same study goes on to say, “Daydreaming often leads to sudden connections and profound insights because it correlates with our ability to recall information in the face of distractions.”

There is also belief that daydreaming is beneficial due to its personal rewards. These rewards include self-awareness, future planning, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, moral reasoning and reflective compassion. That’s just to name a few. This is an incredibly long list, which is perfect for exemplifying just how much good it does for your mind to wander for a while.

Of course, daydreaming needs to be done in a safe environment. If you are operating heavy machinery or flying a plane, it’s important to resist the urge to let your thoughts go where they please. But, aside from those types of activities, there are times when it should be encouraged to let your mind wander off a bit. When you do, maybe you will end up in a place of more creativity and understanding than you were at beforehand.