In Defense of Daydreaming
I didn’t do well in grade school. I always thought I was dumb–and it’s possible I really was–but even after the teacher wrote on my third grade report card, “Ramona needs to work on her concentration. She daydreams too much in class”, I saw my lack of interest in learning the hard stuff as little more than a case of misinterpretation. Daydreaming is nothing more than thinking, and thinking, I knew even then, was good.
My mom, always one to let me believe I might be the most important person on the face of the earth (A terrible burden to place on such young shoulders, I know, but back then I enjoyed the hell out of it), sighed over the hard evidence–the C’s and D’s–and winced when she spotted the notation. She was quiet for a minute and then she said, “Well, honey, you know I would never tell you to give up your daydreams. You’re just going to have to stop dreaming in school.”
I never did give up my daydreams. They’re such a part of my life I might as well stop my daily breathing as to stop my daily dreaming. It’s a wondrous thing, the ability to slide away from the real and glide into the realm of imagination.
It can cause problems, I will be the first to admit. I used to keep my thoughts to myself when I was younger but nowadays whatever is going on in my head is somehow coming out of my mouth. I don’t notice until I get the stares, and all I can hope for is that I was mumbling and they weren’t actually hearing, say, my acceptance speech at the Oscars.
So, because my daydreams have been with me forever, I’ve never thought about them as being the kind of thing the scientific community might latch onto.
Who but someone who doesn’t daydream would think it might be interesting to investigate the cause and effect of daydreams and write it up as scientific data?
If these people really understood how delicious daydreams can be they would be doing more of it and less of the drudgework–which trying to dissect the makeup of daydreams must be. It’s like tearing the stuffing out of Winnie the Pooh to see what makes him so special.
How would you go about researching them? Do you ask daydreamers what happens when they daydream? Any self-respecting daydreamer would never tell. What goes on inside our heads is nobody else’s business. (Forget what you saw above about the Oscar speech. I didn’t say that exactly.)
What brought me to thinking about this is an article I found at Maria Popova’s wonderful ‘Brain Pickings’, called, “How Mind-Wandering and ‘Positive Constructive Daydreaming’ enhance creativity and Improve our Social Skills.” I’m a huge fan of “Brain Pickings” and of Popova, and I usually eat these things up, but this one sounded silly at the get-go.
It’s a wondrous thing, the ability to slide away from the real and glide into the realm of imagination.
I’m protective of daydreaming, even when it’s being dissected as the prime outlet for creativity, and any time it goes under the microscope–which seems to be every few years–I want to remind everyone to just take it easy. There is no mystery to it. I call it a relaxation of the brain. Even brains need some R&R.
But here you go:
In the 1950s, Yale psychologist Jerome L. Singer […] embarked upon a groundbreaking series of research into daydreaming. His findings, eventually published in the 1975 bible The Inner World of Daydreaming (public library), laid the foundations of our modern understanding of creativity’s subconscious underbelly.
Singer described three core styles of daydreaming: positive constructive daydreaming, a process fairly free of psychological conflict, in which playful, vivid, wishful imagery drives creative thought; guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, driven by a combination of ambitiousness, anguishing fantasies of heroism, failure, and aggression, and obsessive reliving of trauma, a mode particularly correlated with PTSD; and poor attentional control, typical of the anxious, the distractible, and those having difficulties concentrating.
Creativity’s subconscious underbelly? Good lord, really? Guilty-dysphoric daydreaming? Poor attentional control? (Attentional??)
We’re talking about vegging out for a few unplanned moments in which we–at least I–get to be somewhere else but here. I don’t know about yours, but my daydreams are deliciously pleasant, moving ever so inexorably toward fame and fortune. If anxiety or fear invades, they’re no longer daydreams. Then they’re called nightmares.
But, wait–was I just analyzing?
Oh, Gawd. I was.