Daydreaming and Mood: Don’t reach for the Anti-Depressant just yet!

By: Nicholas Sprehe

You may be called a daydreamer, slacker, space cadet or might be told to get your head out of the clouds. Every day brings the possibility of slipping into a daydream or letting our mind wander from a task needing to be completed. Daydreams typically last just a few seconds to a few minutes; Psychologists’ estimate that daydreaming occurs one-third to one-half of our waking hours (Nazario). To most it would not be considered harmful or believe it to cause any major issues to us psychologically, however a study from Time Magazine’s website suggests otherwise. Daydreaming is not bad for you; in fact, daydreaming is helpful in many ways. First, what is daydreaming and why do our minds wander? Second, reasons daydreaming is actually good for our minds. Finally, some ways to keep yourself from daydreaming and bring you back to reality when your focus slips. We all are guilty of slipping into a daydream; most the time it happens when we do not even realize it. There is no definitive definition to what a daydream is, but in its very simple explanation it is a waking dream or visionary fantasy. A daydream can be different for everyone; it could be happy pleasant thoughts about your hopes or ambitions. It may be less desirable thoughts concerning bills you need to pay, family issues or other un-happy feelings. Daydreaming accesses the right side of your brain which controls the more creative and feminine side of your brain. (ThinkQuest) In January 2007, a team of neuroscientists composed of researchers from Dartmouth College, Harvard, The University of California and the University of Aberdeen discovered the part of the brain which implements daydreaming is located in regions of the brains cortex. When

we stop daydreaming to work on an intense task like a puzzle or work related issue. This region (cortex) of the brain “turns off” essentially, shutting the daydream network of our brains down. Research team member Cindy Lustig of Washington University in St. Louis states that her team has identified “one task that the brain both focuses on, and uses the daydreaming network. People trying to remember what they had for breakfast, for example, might use part of the daydreaming network.” The reasons for daydreaming are many, but usually are tied to emotion; you may be bored, hungry, sleepy, stressed or even thoughts of happiness can bring on a waking dream. However, there are two main reasons for people to fall into a daydreaming spell; First, people have a hard time accepting their unpleasant reality so they daydream to escape the real world. This is a way to escape the real problems and stress plaguing everyday life. Second, People are obsessed with their own thoughts. Would you rather dream about being rich instead of dreaming about being poor and the multiple bills you need to pay? Daydreaming gives people a chance to isolate their minds/feelings from others and dwell on fantasies or ideas; or perhaps the mind wonders simply because it can. Like every muscle that gets worked constantly it sometimes needs a break and letting your mind slip would in the long run be beneficial to a stronger mind. Second, we have all been told that daydreaming is not something to be practiced and it is a waste of time to let your mind wander from your given task. Daydreaming can be good for you; it can be a source for many inspirational things and ideas, how exactly can daydreaming be good for you when we have always been told differently? In an article written by Maia Szalavitz in Science magazine titled Is a Wandering Mind an Unhappy One? States that mind wandering can be a source for un-happiness. The article tells of an IPhone app that the authors of the study (Harvard doctoral student Matthew Killingsworth and psychology professor Daniel Gilbert)

created in order to study the relationship between when the mind wanders and happiness. Five thousand people responded to take part in the survey, ranging in age from 18 to 88 and living in 83 countries. Before participating you must fill out a survey that asks general questions about your mood and happiness (ex. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole?
Overall, how satisfied are you with your home? Job? Car? Etc.) The participants were

then contacted randomly throughout the day and asked about their mental state and mood. The three questions asked of the participants related to happiness, activity and mind-wandering (How are you feeling right now? What are you doing right now? And are you currently thinking about something other than what you are currently doing?) Of the five thousand participant responses only 2,250 were analyzed for the study and the results were surprising. They discovered that no matter the subject of the daydream the participants were generally not in a good mood afterword. On Average 46.9% of the participants reported letting their minds wander while at least 30% of the time during every activity except during intimate activities. "Our main result is that mind wandering on average is associated with less happiness," says doctoral student Matthew Killingsworth. "Unpleasant mind wandering in particular makes the single biggest difference in happiness [levels]. However even you if took out [negative trains of thought], mind wandering was still associated with less happiness." (Szalavitz). While this study is interesting and raises questions about daydreams effect on mood, it’s not without its scientific problems. What the article and the study fail to mention is the mental health of the participants who took the study; as any participant who may have some form of depression or mental disability may contradict the results presented. Also, you have to take into account if the participants were 100% truthful with the answers provided in the questionnaire at the beginning of the study.

There is other research that shows daydreaming to actually make you more productive, be a good source for motivation and even give you inspiration to attain your goals. October 19th, a day that Robert Goddard, the man known as the father of modern space rocketry celebrated every year. It was on this day when he was a child, Goddard had a life changing daydream. In his dream Robert imagined a vehicle capable of flying to Mars. While some scientist in America appreciated the ideas that Goddard provided; he was ridiculed and scorned by others for what they felt were ridiculous fantasies. It was not until after Goddard’s death that he was given credit for his innovations; his daydream helped to pave the way to space and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland was named in his honor. Many visionaries and daydreamers have been ridiculed for their crazy dreams, but most were just ahead of their time. Daydreams don’t only help authors write books, help scientists solve problems, artists create a new masterpiece, and engineers bring new products to realization. They are also great blueprints to our own lives. Our daydreams help inspire goals and aspirations for our futures, provide a mental image of events; they are the most powerful form of motivation we can have within ourselves. A study done by Kalina Christoff together with her colleagues at The University of British Columbia in Canada found that allowing your mind to wander can help to solve problems because parts of the brain associated with problem solving become active during a daydream. The study involved placing patients in an MRI scanner and having them perform a simple task of pushing a button. When numbers would appear on a screen, they would track the patients’ attentiveness moment by moment with the help of brain scans. Until this study scientist had always believed that easy, routine mental activity was only active in the “default network” of the mind during a daydream, what they discovered was that the patients “executive network” which is associated with highlevel, complex problem solving was also active during a period of mind-wandering. "This study

shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks," Kalina Christoff said (Live Science). Being able to unconsciously turn your attention from mundane task to sort through important or goal oriented dreams is a vastly important cognitive state for the mind. Third, Snap out of it! This could be one way to bring you out of that daydream. There are many sites that give some tips to training your mind on snapping out of a wandering session or bring you back from that mansion in Paris you keep thinking about. If your mind wonders excessively and you are finding it hard to get anything done; you are in luck, because there is some techniques for teaching your mind to stop drifting or ‘snap back’ when the mind has already drifted. Concentrating is easy, trust me, you have done it before many times. Remember that book you couldn’t put down, the song you were so intently trying to play on the piano or another instrument, that card game that seemed to last forever or that suspenseful movie you could not peel your eyes from; these are all examples of times when you were able to focus your mind and attention. We live in a world where multi-tasking is a valuable asset to have, which allows your mind to race from one thing to another and your thoughts get scattered. It is those times that require the need to have concentration strategies that involve two main ideas. Learning mental self-regulation and arranging factors that you can immediately control. The first technique is the most simple, basic strategy to begin practicing and mastering. It is called the “Be Here Now” Technique; when you begin to notice that your mind is wondering from a given assignment just simply say to yourself “Be Here Now” and it ought to bring you back to reality. For example you are at work diligently working on a project; you begin to stare out the window thinking about the vacation you are going to take in a few weeks. Say to yourself

“Be Here Now” to nicely bring the awareness back to your project. You daydream a lot; remember it has been found to take up almost one-third of the waking hours, so this is a simple and effective method to gently bring you back to reality. “Hold a vibrating tuning fork next to a spider web. The spider will react and come looking for what is vibrating the web. Do it several times and the spider "wises up" and knows there's no bug and doesn't come looking” (Schuette) Another interesting technique is called the “Spider Technique” and the name comes from the wise spider. The basis of this approach is maintaining your concentration and not giving into distractions. It sounds simple, but the idea is to not giving into your mental distractions (daydreams). We have all experienced having someone walk into the room while working on something and it is hard not to acknowledge their presence; you need to learn ignoring the distraction. A daydream is a distraction and when you realize the daydream is coming…ignore it. There are many other techniques to use for learning better concentration, but one more stands out as a valuable tool for keeping your mind on track. It is called “Worry or Think Time”. The idea is setting up a specific time every day to daydream, think or worry; set a time for you to be alone and think about the things that keep distracting you throughout the day. When your mind starts to get side tracked into daydreaming or worrying, remind yourself that your “Worry or Think time” is not until later or write down the thought to save for the next day’s special time. The steps are simple. First, set the time each day. Second, when you notice a distracting thought write it down and remember that thinking time is later. Third, use the “be here now” technique to let the thought go and get back to work. Last, certainly the most important, Keep the appointment! Do not skip this appointment with yourself, it is important to have time to reflect on your distracting thoughts. There is research to prove that setting up time

every day to focus on your worries, thoughts, fears and daydreams can help reduce your worrying 35% less within four weeks of practicing this technique. (Schuette) In conclusion, take the good with the bad. There are plenty of benefits to daydreaming and others will claim it will cause you to be depressed. But in my opinion I think it is needed to have a happy and healthy life as long as you are not living your entire life in a daydream. Use your dreams to build a future, having something to strive for makes you a stronger person. Without daydreams would the inventions that we have seen created ever have come to realization. Where would the world be now without people to dream something crazy and then push hard to see it through? It is a source for innovation, motivation and success. So keep your head in the clouds; but not for too long.

Works Cited 1) Schuette, Glifford. “Improving Your Concentration”. Kansas State University. Web. 1997. 06 April 2011. <> 2) Live Science. “Surprise! Daydreaming Really Works The Brain.” 13 May 2009.Web.06 April 2011. <> 3) Szalavitz, Maia. Time Magazine. “Is a Wandering Mind An Unhappy One?” 11 Nov. 2010.Web. 06 April 2011. <> 4) Fries, Amy. “The Power of Daydreaming.” Psychology Today. 16 Sept. 2009. Web. 06 April 2011. <> 5) ThinkQuest. “Daydreaming.” 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 06 April 2011. <> 6) Ambrose, Jennifer. “Daydreaming The Negative and Positive Sides Of It.” Bharat Bhasha. 23 January 2006. Web. 06 April 2011. <> 7) Nazario, Brunilda. “Why Does Daydreaming Get Such A Bad Rap?” 08 Nov. 2004. Web. 06 April 2011 <> 8) Holladay, April. “Daydreaming – Goofing Off, or What?” 24 May 2010. Web. 06 April 2011 <>

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