At around the age of seven I was a happy, daily, daydreamer. More often in the world of stories from beloved novels, or playing out some grand adventure of exploring, mystery solving or creativity, my daydreams were a colourful, happy place. Over time, they slowly abated, and when the minutiae of life took over, it seems they were gradually put to bed.
It was only this morning, when some time alone led to my mind wandering that I pulled up and noticed the happy place in which I’d been: smack bang in the middle of a restful, energising, fabulously creative daydream. And the fact that I noticed this, and remembered all those dreams of the past, made me wonder: what happened to all that daydreaming? Where did it go?
It seems that this is a common occurrence. Daydreaming carries with it, in some cultures or families, criticism for being childish or mentally unfocussed. (So, perhaps that’s where it went. Slowly stifled by well-intentioned adults). Even the terminology used to describe daydreaming – like being absent-minded or having your head in the clouds – leans toward the negatives rather than celebrating the great benefits and happy sense of calm that can arise from enjoying a mental journey.
The good news is this – researchers have been looking at the area over the past 5 years, and a number of studies and books have shown many benefits to daydreaming. These include:
1. Having additional working memory resources. A 2012 study outlined in The Smithsonian, suggested that a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of ‘working memory’ – the brain’s ability to retain and recall information in the face of distractions. Interestingly, what this study seems to suggest is that, ‘when circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing’.
With other research suggesting that daydreaming can also help with feelings of empathy, there’s much to appreciate about the process of letting your thoughts wander. I know I plan to.