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Does your mind wander? As you sit in a tedious meeting, do you instead picture yourself lounging on a beach somewhere - your own private beach in the Bahamas, perhaps - ten years from now? When you're typing numbers into long dreary columns, do you imagine the glorious day when you can march into Head Office and describe, in graphic detail, where your boss can stick their measly job because you have made a life-changing discovery?
Human minds wander 47% of the time we're awake (the one time our minds never wander is during sex; apparently, that takes our full concentration). Most of us were told to stop daydreaming in school. Daydreaming was a vice. It was unhealthy. It did nothing but fill our heads with a lot of silly dreams. Or did it? In fact, it has been discovered that there are many benefits to daydreaming.
Let's examine them now.
Daydreaming is the natural state of the un-distracted, conscious mind. You sit, idling time away, and you suddenly wonder what you might do if you won the lottery. You'd set your grandmother up in a nice house. Establish a charitable foundation, of course. Should education be your cause or healthcare? You could open your own school perhaps...It's pure fantasy, since you're yet to buy a lottery ticket. But it has it's uses. This fantastical , exploring state of mind supports your vital creative skills of inspiration and discovery. Fantastical daydreaming has lead to some of our greatest thinkers' greatest discoveries.
Albert Einstein dreamed of riding a beam of light, and imagined trains moving at the speed of light. This helped him discover his theory of space and time. Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling came to understand chemical bonding as he sat at home, bored to tears with a bad cold, unpicking asbestos (don't try that at home: asbestos causes lung disease).
Research into imagination, memory and empathy suggests that using daydreaming to imagine events may help us to understand the feelings of another person, to help us understand what they are experiencing.
Author J.K Rowling has explained that exploring her imagination has given her greater empathy. In her 2008 Harvard commencement address, she said, "In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared."
Better Performance on Tasks
There was a study to test the correlation of the participants' working memory and tendency to daydream. First, the researchers asked the participants to do an easy task that might lead to daydreaming (such as pushing a button). Then they measured the participants' working memory by asking each participant to remember a series of letters and asking them easy math questions.
It was found that participants who daydreamed more frequently were better at remembering the series of letters and answering the math questions, when compared to the participants whose minds didn't wander.
The study suggested that our working memory (the system responsible for holding and processing new information) is linked to our ability to think beyond our surroundings. In other words, our ability to think is linked to our ability to daydream.