Whether we are sipping our morning coffee and dreaming about our ideal job or spacing out during a meeting and thinking about a new life abroad, we are all guilty of indulging in idle fantasy. A 2010 Harvard study found that people spend 46.9 per cent of their waking hours daydreaming.The finding came about after psychologists Matt Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert undertook a research project called “Track Your Happiness”, collecting the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of 2,255 participants as they carried on with their lives.

Exactly how a daydream begins is hard to pinpoint. Vividly imagining a scenario and staying in that train of thought long enough to categorise the genre of the fantasy can be the emotional equivalent of awakening from simple surgery to find your entire hand missing.

Fighting back thoughts takes a disciplined person, especially when those thoughts can creep up on you. You could very well be focusing on the matter at hand, ignoring the voices inside your head and suddenly they close in.

All it takes is a split second for you to turn around to find this full-length feature with you as the obligatory dominant lead.
It’s well-known that negative daydreaming can bring you down and could lead to or be an indicator of depression.

However, negative day dreaming is not always bad.

Author Todd Kashdan mentions in his book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredients to a Fulfilling Life that “prehistoric men and women who worried a lot were more likely to survive than their carefree, positive-thinking peers. Thinking negatively served as an early warning system.” Negativity could scare the day dreamer into working harder to avoid the worst case scenario.

Envisioning a better future was what was supposed to help us get through whatever abrasive fate life throws our way.
However, the recent study by Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer and Sam Portnow, published in the journal Psychological Science, puts positive fantasies in the spotlight.
Against most common knowledge, the research suggests that positive thinking can have an immediate positive effect, but it can cause depression in the long run when vision isn’t met by reality.

The mantra of “imagine positive outcomes and the universe will conspire to bring it to you” turned out to be a scheme. The universe doesn’t have the time to run through hoops to hand deliver a dream to your doorstep. Between the present reality and the imagined future is a long list of hard work and realistic expectations.

Most times the root of all mental pain is the amount of emotional attachment and time one wastes in one’s own fantasy bubble.

Realising the distance between reality and factoring in a hefty load of expectations and feelings of premature achievements can be devastating.

Oettingen and her co-authors noted that “inducing positive fantasies may indeed produce depressive symptoms by encouraging people to enjoy their success prematurely in their minds, thus lowering energy and effort”.

There are two sides to this coin: excessive mind wandering can lead to depression whether what is being imagined is positive or negative, unless the wandering party remains realistic when it comes to how realistically it will all unfold in the future.

You can’t live your days tilting your head against the window and enjoying farfetched dreams and abruptly going back to reality when the car stops.

Instead, harness the energy to realise your dreams by pursuing your goals. Don’t hinge your happiness and limit it to a few minutes of escapism.
Originally published in the national newspaper

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11 thoughts on “Is a wandering mind destined to be an unhappy one?

  1. This is such an interesting article! I never would have imagined that people spend about half their time awake daydreaming. Crazy! Always thought it was just me…

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  2. Wonderfully said. One needs to be realistic by being away that things can go wrong; that awareness often times may help someone avoid a bad situation. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. Interesting article, and absolutely right about the power of positive thinking. I really do enjoy the storyteller that lives in my head, but I find that I spend an extraordinary amount of mental effort delineating real life from fantasy. Thanks for the food for thought!

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  4. I am here because I have a personal rule that states if somebody has taken the time to like one of my posts or comments then I simply must repay the kindness by visiting their blog and repaying said kindness…after all it costs nothing but time and one never knows if the person is going to become a friend in the future. Ergo here I am and wow…humble blog you call it. Yet the content of this post is certainly not humble but very well thought out and presented. I recently took a mindfulness course after a period of time when my thoughts were chaotic. Catastrophising they call it when the distracted mind ponders negatives and reinforces the cycle of chaos. Your post holds resonance with what I have learned. The journey continues and is why I created a blog to put my writing. Out of the comfort zone so to speak and let people see it then have their say instead of keeping it secret and assuming everyone will say it’s rubbish.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I fear you have a new follows now 🙃

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    1. I agree with Gary your article are well thought out. But then it may be coming from a humble person. You aren’t putting yourself on a pedestal for being so knowledgeable. Instead you are sharing in a humbling view. Making a presentation that can be respected and believable to the extent that it is realistic. You have got something from it as well. Now you share to enlighten us…Thank you, M

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  5. Your article it’s very interesting. Our thoughts can easily drive us mad if we don’t understand the origin of such thoughts. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that a lot of negative thoughts are based on the environment in which we live. Most of our fears are illusory in the sense that they don’t actually exist. For example, worrying about your pension plan at the age of 18 doesn’t really reflect reality because reality is only this present moment. Anything else is a projection of our consciousness but doesn’t really exist. Living the present is something that we have to learn because by focussing on the worst case scenario, we have turned this planet into a huge rubbish bin where owning shiny items seem to give up a stronger sense of security than caring for a clean soil, water and oxygen which provide the base for our own survival – not in a dream state but in reality. When people tell that it’s time to wake up, they mean that our lack of focus towards reality has managed to create such a gap between the real and the fantastic world that a lot of people have lost their connection with their original nature. We were never meant to be here to stay. We are born here to experience this life and then we are gone. If our fantasies destroy this beautiful planet because we can’t handle reality (= humans are not in control) then we are responsible for condemning future generations to a life of real poverty because of lack of resources. Our creative mind is there for a purpose and the purpose is not to nourish our fears but to achieve the best by letting our feelings and our mind work in harmony.
    Have a good and fulfilling life 🙂

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  6. Really great article! Thank you for this! And ignoring reality never helps either, right? I find if I face the things that are really bothering me, head on. The ‘bad’ fantasies go away. Of course it is also helpful not to categorize thoughts as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the first place… To me. 🙂 -Tam

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