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The lost art of daydreaming - and why it’s so good for you

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Think letting your thoughts drift is a waste of time? Think again. Learn why daydreaming is a healthy pastime, and how to do it right.

The benefits of daydreaming

Finding or taking time to daydream might not seem like a particularly productive pursuit or one that can deliver benefits, but research shows the exact opposite is true. And, considering it’s a state of mind that experts say can take up at least one-third of our waking lives, it’s probably just as well!

Daydreaming, which can also be thought of as introspection or inward focus, has been linked to memory formation and the mind’s ability to create meaning out of experience – a type of learning that’s then applied to new situations. But these flights of fancy have other important perks, too.

3 reasons daydreaming is more productive than you thought

1. It helps you problem-solve

Research shows that our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously imagined, and that specific areas of the brain’s grey matter, including those responsible for complex problem-solving, become highly active when thoughts are allowed to wander. 

The scientists behind the research say it means that even though you might not be achieving your immediate goals when you daydream, you’re giving your mind an opportunity to tackle the larger questions or challenges you may be facing.

2. It can make you more focused

That might seem like a contradiction, given most people associate daydreaming with losing focus and not being able to concentrate, but according to the results of a study published in 2019, people actually feel more refreshed and able to focus once they’ve been daydreaming.

They get more done afterwards, too. The researchers say it’s because daydreams give the brain a ‘mental break’.

3. It can improve your mood

UK research shows that daydreaming can make you happier, as long as you enjoy ‘social daydreams’ – ones about your friends and family, rather than people you don’t know very well. Those same sort of daydreams also increase feelings of love and connection to others.

How to daydream ‘right’

While it’s certainly true that daydreaming is better suited to particular situations and environments, data suggests that in addition to being quite a difficult thing to do on command, the process is most enjoyable and beneficial when it happens spontaneously.

So how can you make that happen? A few different studies prove that daydreaming often occurs naturally and organically when we’re doing simple, easy tasks that don’t require much concentration. 

It means that when you want to send your brain into daydream mode, it pays to take some time out from tasks that are challenging and stressful, and switch to those you can do on autopilot instead, such as doing the dishes, gardening or even housework. 

And don’t forget to daydream about something social, involving people close to you, if you can, if you want to enjoy that mood boost  that letting your thoughts drift can deliver. 

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