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白日夢 - Bái rì mèng - Daydream

Daydreaming could be the cause of your bad moods, according to research


On the bus, at work, in the bathroom… We're all guilty of daydreaming from time-to-time no matter what the situation, but if you find your mind constantly wandering then it might be time to rein things in a little.

Research has shown that people are less happy when daydreaming than they are when their attention is fully focused on reality. But are there any long-term consequences? And is there such a thing as too much daydreaming?

The research

Happiness researcher Dr Matt Killingsworth, of Harvard University, designed an iPhone app that asked people questions throughout the day. Examples included:

  • How do you feel, on a scale ranging from very bad to very good?

  • What are you doing (multi-choice from a list of 22 different activities including things like eating, working and watching tv)?

  • Are you thinking about something other than what you're currently doing?

After the app had been tested on a few thousand subjects, it was concluded that people's minds tend to wander up to 47% of the time. From the list of common daily activities, it was found that people daydreamed least during sex, and most during grooming activities, such as applying makeup or having a shower.

However, it was the effect that mind wandering had on people's moods that proved most intriguing. Overall, findings showed neutral and negative thoughts whilst daydreaming made people less happy than they were when 'in the moment', whilst even pleasant daydreams did not appear to make them any happier. 

Summing this up, Killingsworth told Smithsonian:

"I've failed to find any objective circumstances so bad that when people are in their heads they're actually feeling better. In every case they're actually surprisingly happier being in that moment, on average."

Interestingly, even when people were engaged in an activity they said they didn't like – such as commuting – they were happier then when their minds strayed.

So what?

The research suggests that people's negative moods might be the result, rather than the cause, of the mind wandering. Killingsworth adds:

"When our mind wanders, I think it really blunts the enjoyment of what it is that we're doing."

This implies that, no matter how brilliant our minds are at conjuring up exciting scenarios or alternative realities, our imagination will never be able to measure up to the real thing.

Alternatively, it may be that our minds wander to possible catastrophes or potential mishaps – from fictional accidents to a looming meeting. This isn't uncommon, and accounts for more than a quarter of our mental meanderings, but it can just as easily send our moods out of whack.

So, should we worry? While the odd daydream is harmless (and a good thing, too, because figures from Psychology Today suggest that up to 96% of all adults do it on a regular basis), too much has been shown to have consequences.

For example, the phenomenon of maladaptive daydreaming – whereby an individual daydreams for more than half of their waking hours – can have a negative impact on everyday life, and has even been classified as a mental health condition due to its addictive and detrimental qualities.

All in all, though, scientists still aren't exactly sure what goes in in the brain when we daydreaming. So, while they work it our, indulge yourself in the odd foray into fantasy (note: daydreaming is widely accepted in modern psychology as a sign of a healthy, creative mind) but balance this with an attempt to be more present and enjoy the little things in life, no matter how dull they might be.

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