Daydream. It’s good for you

Calgary Herald, May 2, 2016: Do you ever buy a lottery ticket and spend the next few days fantasizing about how you’d spend the money?  If you haven’t had the pleasure, you may want to give it a try.

Not because you’ll actually win the lottery — of course you won’t — but because that little scrap of paper gives you licence to imagine what you would do if you were handed one of those big cardboard cheques with all the zeros.

First up for most of us would be the dull stuff: paying off the credit cards, the line of credit and clearing the mortgage. It’s boring, but boy would it feel great.

Next, we’d hand out some dough to loved ones and carve off a sizeable chunk for the food bank, homeless shelters or other worthwhile charities. You can spend a fair bit of time pondering how much goes where to help whom before finally diving into the really fun stuff: spoiling yourself rotten.

I like to imagine how I’d turn my little bungalow with the cheap lino in the front porch into a dream home from the pages of a glossy magazine. You could spend hours deciding where to put the fancy inside/outside gas fireplace—in the middle of the wall or over in the corner? You’d go on a shopping spree in your head for brand new furniture. Right after that trip to the Barbados.

But why stop there? Why not buy yourself a brand new life. It only costs a few bucks for the lottery tickets — maybe a twenty if you hit green lights all the way to the store.

While some people say, rather unkindly I think, that lotteries are “stupid taxes, I prefer to think of them as a fee into your imagination.

You have the ticket in your hand and, until they call the numbers, you can’t help but think about what you’d do if you won the money.

It’s a licence to daydream.

And it’s good for you. Your Grade 4 teacher may raise an eyebrow, but more studies are showing that daydreaming can provide a lot of benefits.

As far back as the 1960s, psychologist Jerome L. Singer started showing that that as well as relieving boredom and providing pleasure, letting your mind carry you away can enhance your social skills, give you the opportunity to rehearse ideas and plan activities. Take that Mrs. Geislinger.

More recently, researchers have found plenty of benefits to “positive constructive daydreaming.” You may know that as “thinking happy thoughts.” And it’s quite a different beast from fretting about work, worrying incessantly that you left the stove on, diving deep into how much you hate the lino in the porch or say, plotting a murder. We all know that sort of thinking isn’t going to be very helpful (unless you are, in fact, planning a murder).

Letting your mind wander into sunshine and moon beam territory can help you with planning, creativity, problem solving and advancing your goals. Furthermore, taking short mental breaks from a topic can help you learn more about it—something the psychologists call “dishabituation.”

Sure, other studies over the years have concluded that daydreaming is bad for you and whatever task is at hand. And I don’t think you need a research grant to know that letting your mind wander is a bad idea when you’re writing the LSAT, driving the Deerfoot or launching a rocket into space.

But come on, daydreaming during more mundane activities—doing the dishes or stuck in a meeting that won’t end—has got to be one of life’s greatest joys.

And what about letting your mind go for a walk in the shower? Who among us has not solved a vexing problem or remembered something important while rinsing their hair? Epiphanies in the shower are as common as shampoo bottles and singalongs.

Letting your mind wander or reminiscing—“off task mental activities”—can help you do better on challenging mental tasks too.

Don’t take it from me.  Nathan Spreng, a neuroscientist at Cornell University, found that the part of the brain that lets you daydream and the part that’s listening to Agnes in accounting can actually work together to keep you sharp.

So the next time you’re called to a meeting with no meaning—where they just drone on about “core competencies,” “moving the needle” or the granddaddy of useless business jargon: “going forward”—go ahead and sneak off to the Barbados in your mind. Go for a swim. Look for blue sea glass on the beach and when you come back in for a landing next to Agnes, you may just have a gem for the table.

Whether you’re running your toes in the sand on the corporate dime or daydreaming about winning the lottery on your own time, chances are, it’s going to be a worthwhile investment.

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