Just as food fuels the brain, daydreams feed the mind.
According to the psychiatry and psychology professionals at Psychology Dictionary (www.psychologydictionary.org), daydreaming is “a waking fallacy wherein aware or unaware desires, and at times fears and worries, are played out in the mind. A portion of the flow of thoughts and pictures that take up most of an individual’s time awake.”
Allowing one’s mind to wander, especially if entirely for pleasure, has been viewed with disdain and aversion throughout history. Busy hands may make for a productive mind. However, research confirms that an idle mind is often immersed in wave after wave of electromagnetic impulses fired off by the brain. These explosive jolts of nerve activity shape the structure of our daydreams. Without this idle activity, our inner lives suffer.
Jerome Singer, the groundbreaking former Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University, and John Antrobus developed an elaborate questionnaire for studying individual differences in daydreaming. They named it The Imaginal Processes Inventory (IPI). The IPI consists of twenty-nine scales of twelve items each, covering topics such as daydreaming frequency, failure in daydreams, sexual daydreams, heroic daydreams, guilty daydreams, visualization in daydreams, problem solving in daydreams, and just plain mind wandering. From all of this, the researchers distilled three different daydreaming styles: a positive-vivid daydreaming style, a guilty-dysphoric style, and an anxious-distractible style.
People with an anxious-distractible style simply lack the ability to sustain the deep thinking necessary for productive daydreaming. Those with a guilty-dysphoric style are generally obsessed with irrational fears and aggressive fantasies. In contrast, the majority of those studied had a positive-vivid daydreaming style which is indicative of emotional stability, confidence in the future, and being open to new ideas and experiences. In fact, positive-vivid daydreamers expressed high levels of happiness and demonstrated high levels of creativity. They used daydreaming to find fresh ways to solve problems and envision their aspirations.
So how does daydreaming feed the mind? Positive daydreaming replenishes our mental stamina. It strengthens our ability to cope with a reality in conflict with our core values. It allows us to construct a future that fulfills hidden desires. It can deepen the bond we have with loved ones. Research confirms that daydreaming allows our so-called left/right brain functions to merge, balancing our thought processes with empathetic analysis. It allows us to penetrate the superficial tasks that make up our daily lives, providing us with insight into our motivations.
Anyone who has taken up the challenge of meditation knows how difficult it is to quell the inner babble that often finds its way into idle dinner conversation. Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to arrest the daydream and silence the mind. Maybe we should just enjoy the chit-chat that comes with each meal.