Young People Ask . . .
Is It Wrong to Daydream?
The last thing you remember was the sound of your teacher droning on about algebraic equations, but you are no longer in the classroom; your mind has drifted to the beach your family visited last summer. You can feel the hot sand and the warm sun. You can hear the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the sound of children playing, the sound . . . of giggling classmates? Yes, your pleasant reverie has dissolved and in its place stands an irritated teacher, hand on hip, demanding the answer to a question that you did not hear.
DAYDREAMING—it is so commonplace among all sorts of people, young and old, that one prominent researcher called it “one of the central features of human life.” Some believe that up to a third of our waking hours are taken up by daydreaming in one form or another. Scientists are not exactly sure how and why these fleeting thoughts are formed, nor do they universally agree on just what a daydream is. One dictionary defines a daydream as “a pleasant visionary . . . creation of the imagination.” However, many researchers broadly define it to include virtually any kind of waking fantasy or involuntary thought—whether it be pleasant or unpleasant. In this article, we will use the term in its very broadest sense, including not only involuntary flights of the imagination but also more deliberate ones.
Not all daydreams, then, are extraordinary, colorful flights of fantasy. Many are simply pleasant excursions into one’s past. In an article in Parents magazine, Dr. James Comer cites his own experience with daydreams—such as when driving home after a difficult day at the office, he might drift back to the recollection of his winning shot in a playground basketball game as a teenager. “Unimportant stuff, maybe, but it still helps me feel good,” he remarks. Yet others use daydreams to help plot their future. “I daydreamed a lot about becoming an internationally recognized musician,” recalls one man who, indeed, became a popular jazz musician and composer.
Most daydreams, though, seem to focus on ordinary everyday events—school, social gatherings, homework. At times people may deliberately conjure up such thoughts to break the boredom of a dull school lecture or the tedium of a household chore. Other daydreams come spontaneously. A word, a sound, or a visual image suddenly reminds them of some current concern, some past delight, or some future exploit, and their mind starts wandering. The Bible says: “For a dream certainly comes in because of abundance of occupation.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3) Indeed, one who is preoccupied with personal concerns and ambitions may be virtually consumed by materialistic daydreams.
Nevertheless, as pleasant as daytime reveries can be, they can also interfere with your concentration at Christian meetings, at school, or on the job. Some fantasies may even be inappropriate—or harmful. Is daydreaming therefore a habit you need to break?
Hazardous to Your Mental Health?
In times past, daydreaming was viewed with disdain by mental-health workers, doctors, and educators. One young man was therefore told by a psychotherapist: “We have to help you stop daydreaming.” According to researcher Dr. Eric Klinger, such advice was generally based on the theories of the so-called father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who viewed daydreaming as infantile and neurotic. One psychology textbook thus claimed: “Daydreaming is often an outcome of failure or lack of interest in one’s present environment, and is certainly a retreat from reality.” A generation of educators and mental-health workers were taught that all daydreaming should be curbed. Claims were made that excessive daydreaming could even result in schizophrenia.
Freudian theories have yielded to the facts of hard research, however. In his book Daydreaming, Dr. Eric Klinger notes that among other things, investigators claim that:
Daydreaming is a common and normal activity.
On the average, people who daydream frequently are as well adjusted mentally as those who do not.
Daydreaming does not lead to hallucinating.
Daydreaming does not lead to schizophrenia. Schizophrenics are no more prone to daydreaming than anyone else.
Using Your Imagination Productively
Not surprisingly, then, the Bible nowhere condemns the healthy use of one’s imagination. Indeed, the ability of our minds to envision and imagine is evidence that we are, in the words of the psalmist, “wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) Used productively, this ability can be a valuable asset. Christians are told to “keep [their] eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) This could involve trying to visualize God’s righteous new world. The Bible’s descriptions of this future global Paradise spur on our imagination in this regard!—Isaiah 35:5-7; 65:21-25; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Your imagination may also prove to be useful if you have a difficult task to perform. For example, youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses are often assigned to give oral presentations on the Theocratic Ministry School. Besides practicing out loud, try rehearsing your presentation mentally. Picture the audience reacting to your information and delivery. This can help you make needed adjustments in your presentation and give you more confidence.
You can also mentally rehearse the handling of difficult situations. Perhaps you realize that a fellow Christian has something against you, and you want to talk matters out. (Matthew 5:23, 24) Rather than approaching the person cold, you can go over the scenario mentally, trying out different approaches to the problem. This would harmonize with the Bible principle: “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.”—Proverbs 15:28.
Has someone offended you or made you angry? Note the advice given at Psalm 4:4: “Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.” This does not mean endlessly replaying hurtful scenes in your mind, nor does it mean dwelling on vivid mental images of thrashing someone with clever comeback lines. After all, Jesus warned that “everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable,” as will “whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt.” (Matthew 5:22) But mentally rehearsing your options—which may include simply forgiving the offender—may help you resolve matters with him in a calm, reasonable manner.
Daydreaming may also play a legitimate role in solving problems. Says Dr. Klinger: “Daydreams are themselves a way of discovering creative solutions to problems. People who daydream imaginatively can sometimes find solutions that would not occur to them were they to work on the problems deliberately.”
There is even evidence that daydreaming can help you improve the way you perform physical tasks. One ski instructor, for example, tells learners to form a mental picture of an upcoming ski run, imagining themselves navigating every curve and dip of the course. Researchers believe that doing so actually activates the part of the brain that controls the muscles, priming it for action. Of course, there’s no substitute for real practice, but mental rehearsal may help you improve your ability to play a musical instrument or to type. “In short,” says Dr. James Comer, “daydreaming is not a waste of time but rather a needed escape to help us function better.”
Nevertheless, “for everything there is an appointed time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) While daydreaming may be fine when you are relaxing in your room, there are occasions when doing so would be inappropriate or even dangerous. Are you driving a car? Then you need to be extra alert and vigilant to danger. What if you are taking a test or listening to a Bible lecture? Then you need to have “clear thinking faculties.”—2 Peter 3:1.
The Bible also cautions us against needlessly dwelling on negative thoughts. It’s only natural to have a little anxiety when facing an important test or a job interview, but you accomplish little by creating frightening mental images of defeat and rejection. (Compare Ecclesiastes 11:4.) “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down,” warns Proverbs 12:25. Jesus Christ advised his listeners: “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”—Matthew 6:34.
Interestingly, excessive or inappropriate daydreaming can pose yet other dangers. Some youths, for example, nurture sexual fantasies. Others find that daydreaming is interfering with their concentration. Our next article in this series will give some suggestions to help you deal with such problems.
[Pictures on page 24]
Mental rehearsals can improve one’s actual performance