Pick a dream or take your chances

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Daydreaming is part of our lives. Thank goodness.

A daydream often kicks in when you’re bored. Think of: TV, teacher, talkative person, dull person, politician, your boss, parent, sibling…. You get the idea.

You needn’t feel guilty about the subject of the daydream or the act of daydreaming itself. It is one of the brain’s default activities. There’s a place in the brain (According to Live Science, National Geographic and various Harvard researchers, it’s a combination of places.) just waiting to help you when you’re trapped by circumstances and thinking you might expire if you have to listen to one more word. That’s what I like, full partition of my brain parts – little did I dream (ha ha) this ever happening up there while I was dawdling, doodling and gazing out the window.

Back in the 1980s, the last time I wrote about daydreaming, the top daydreams were to travel abroad and to be rich. Now, they’re more likely to be about saving yourself from disaster, the news cycle being what it is. There’s always been bad news, but now it’s the 24-7ness of it that necessitates more daydreaming.

We spend anywhere from a third of our lives to 46 percent of our time daydreaming, according to Harvard studies on the subject. It’s not wasted time or time-wasting. In fact, the good news is that it may be more important than paying attention in class.

Daydreaming is actually what we call it when our brains are busy working on solving problems, figuring out dilemmas.

Our default daydream center helps us by surprising us into serenity and/or solution. We may think that the daydream is not remotely connected to any problem; but the brain works in mysterious ways and is just going through its weird alchemy. We suddenly come up with a solution to a problem, rarely connecting it to the daydream we experienced yesterday. You know that “Ah ha” moment of lightbulb going off just above brain – “Why of course, that’s the answer! Why didn’t I think of that before?”

Well, before what? Your default daydream workplace in the brain needs a little time to put it all together.

Partly because I’ve always been a little daydream-stuck, I have long figured I’m just daydreaming my way through life instead of being productive. To discover I might be operating on all cylinders is refreshing, actually soothing at this age, making me think my life has not been wasted.

Years ago, a friend told me she was a “documentary daydreamer.” Which took some explanation, but it’s roughly that she daydreamed specific, factual scenes, like walking down Houston Street in New York City, turning left at the deli, walking up the steps of the library between the lions…. Real detailed scenario. She didn’t tell me what happened then, but as we know, satisfaction is in the mind/body of the satisfied, not the onlooker.

I now read that if we want to have really good daydreams, we can program them, like my friend appeared to be doing years ago. We can tell our brains, “I have a problem; solve it.”

Look up something like “How to daydream better” online and it will direct you to “Triage your life to make room for daydreaming.” Harvard psychiatry professor Dr Srini Pillay also believes that constructive daydreaming is possible. See his blog, “Dumb Little Man.”

I recall another story: A woman I knew told me that on her birthday, friends from Italy called to wish her well. They popped a bottle of champagne near the phone, poured the bubbly and clinked the glasses. The woman said it was just delightful, the sound effects kicking off the daydream she spent the rest of the afternoon fabricating: herself in Italy with her friends and a bottle of Dom Perignon beside a lake she’d never seen in a garden she’d only been told about.

Moral: Plan a daydream. Enjoy the trip even while you’re in history class. Don’t feel guilty when you fail the quiz.

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