You don’t realize how important daydreams were until they’re gone.
My daydreams have always been about knights, fairies, monsters, space-time travelers, nomadic hunters and the such. In them I was always the warrior princess, kicking ass, saving the day, and falling in love with a warrior who loved me back. So silly, right? What purpose could they have?
Then one day they stopped. What replaced them were “revisionist memories.” I would lay there and go over events that bothered me and I would revise them in my head so that I was satisfied. I would stand up for myself in instances that I hadn’t, I always had witty comebacks, and I would come up with useful strategies to handle the next time I was in a similar situation. But, I couldn’t lose myself any more in story lines that didn’t seem to have a direct purpose.
This went on for years. My daydreams had slipped away from me and I was so wrapped up in the demands of my life I hadn’t even noticed. After almost eight years, it was the return of my daydreams that made their disappearance achingly obvious to me.
My first daydream after almost a decade didn’t quite have the fantastical flair as my past daydreams. It was more realistic, based in a world not too different from mine. But the pattern hadn’t changed. Kicking ass, saving the world (in this instance, making a difference), and falling in love with a warrior who loved me back. Immediately, I knew what had been missed all these years.
See, daydreams are like “free play” for our minds. Since 1966, scientists have known that the lack of “unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults.” A recent study has even linked free play in children with later executive functioning, i.e. the ability to self-regulate, organize, and plan. And it has been argued that daydreaming in children also plays a role in free play, increasing creativity and reducing anxiety.
At the age of 34 years old, I know that I am not a child. I’m aware that as adults, we’re expected to stop doing such useless activities and spend more time being productive citizens of the world. Which is why daydreaming in adulthood is frowned upon and deemed childish. I would agree with this conclusion if it weren’t for “neuroplasticity,” brain plasticity or neurogenesis. Recent studies have revealed that the brain is constantly growing, changing, and generating new neurons. If that’s the case, then our brains will always be like the brains of children. Therefore, anything that is needed by a child’s brain is also needed by our adult brains.
Should we be so surprised? Just take a moment and think of all the adults you know that could be categorized as poorly adjusted, anxious, or lacking executive functioning and creativity. I bet that’s a lot of adults that immediately came to mind. I don’t want to oversimplify the complexity of adult life, but I can’t help but feel if more of us productive citizens spent more time being unproductive, the world might actually be a better place.
Dream on, daydreamer!
About the Author
Ta-Shana Taylor is a a blogger, pet mommy, and scientist living in South Florida. She has BS in Geology from Northeastern University and a MS in Geosciences from University of Arizona and another MS in Teaching from Pace University. You can follow her musings on the world on Twitter.