Scientific Proof That Daydreaming Is Awesome For Your Health


Okay, fine. You got me. I am not, in fact, in an academic position to offer actual “scientific proof” about anything. But, as a person who has spent a lifetime working on a formula for a gentler daily grind, I defend my right to call myself an authority on this particular topic.

Daydreaming is great. And it’s great for you. It isn’t useless or silly. It isn’t only something 13-year-old girls do when they have a huge crush on someone they would never dare exchange a word with. I don’t know about you, but I am fairly certain that there is a WAR ON DAYDREAMING. As you venture further into the world of adult-people, do you feel pressured to engage with yourself in a super sensible way instead of letting your imagination run wild? I mean, it’s obviously important to grasp the reality of whatever situation you’re in. But I’ve found that allowing yourself a little time in Brain-Narnia, no matter what age you are, can be incredibly healthy.

Daydreaming gives you perspective. It allows you to view your obstacles in a different way… to apply them to places you’ve never been to before and people who aren’t you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t consider yourself a “creative person” and you don’t think you’ll “use” the lessons your inner monologue is trying to teach you. That little movie theater that lives inside your head is a powerful weapon against the crappy, unexpected blows of the real world.

Case in point: Enduring a particularly wrath-inducing breakup? Wishing you could assert yourself in front of that co-worker who seriously will not stop treating you like you haven’t even hit puberty yet no matter how many SAT words you use in daily conversation? I suggest to you the following: Get the soundtrack to Kill Bill bumping (either volume is superb, though I gravitate towards Vol. 1 for this exercise), go run, bike, or just walk with mad purpose for a few miles, and imagine the source of all your fury meeting the pointy end of your katana. You feel better, right? YES, YOU DO. You identify with this character, this person who obviously isn’t you but might have some feelings mirroring your own, and you’re able to explore how you really feel. Did the daydreaming directly solve the issue at hand? Not so much. But the important thing is that you gave yourself a safe place to work out your “ish”, as they say. It keeps you from wanting to chase after your skeezy ex with a real katana.

And if you do happen to be the type who uses their daydreams as creative fuel, there’s an added bonus. Your inner platform 9 ¾ is a stage upon which you can watch your wildest concepts come to life, and there is nobody but you (!) in the audience. You can observe characters, places, and images from a safe distance as you attempt to flesh them out and discover more about them. As a kid, I personally used to adore jumping on the trampoline in my parents’ backyard with my boombox blaring, thinking of what I was going to turn in for creative writing class that week. I’d spend hours out there. The neighbors probably asked my parents if I was “okay” (possible perceived evidence of the War on Daydreaming!). Nowadays, I’m more of a long-walks-on-the-beach kinda gal. But it’s the same idea. It’s my artsy fartsy zen time.

However, there’s one caveat to that particular practice, something I’ve had to work to wrap my head around over the years: Just because an image intrigues you when its dancing around in your own brain, it will not necessarily be intriguing, or even good, when it materializes on paper, onscreen, or on a canvas. Some things you dream up will work as you intended. But it can be hard to tell which product of your dreamscape is the golden egg and which is the dud, because both excited you. This is when real-world-brain has to take the reins and learn to let go of the things that didn’t work, things you thought would be eye-opening and thrilling but in the end just wound up looking cheesy as hell. There’s a time and a place for creative daydreaming. Lose yourself in it. Go nuts. But accept the fact that maybe only 25% of the things you conjured up while you were walking the coastline listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack will actually make it into your final product. Accepting that takes time and maturity. And that’s why you need real-world-brain in addition to Narnia-brain. They work together and they each serve a unique purpose.

So, next time somebody tells you to get your head out of the clouds, take it with a grain of salt. You need to stick your head in said clouds from time to time to get some fresh air. It doesn’t mean you’re delusional. It doesn’t mean you can’t confront yourself. It means you’ve given yourself license to not always be so self-deprecating. It’s like taking a mental health day in short little bursts. As long as it’s not hurting anyone and your life/work/relationships aren’t suffering because of it, have a ball. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a rich inner life. It’s a coping skill. It’s a creative breeding ground. So get out there, go find some clouds, and promptly stick your head in them. I’ll wait here.