"Have You Had Your Daydream Today?"

We spend one half of our mental activity on daydreams. It is not a waste of time. Our fantasy life serves many needed purposes. So claims Dr. Eric Klinger, who has conducted research on daydreams for nearly thirty years, in his new book, Daydreaming (Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.).

Daydreams perform important functions in the way we handle our life. If our minds are not occupied on a specific task, we review past experiences for lessons learned, and look into the future and brainstorm pathways to what we desire.

Research studies have shown that if we have boring jobs daydreams can keep us awake--maybe not alert, but awake. Lifeguards and truck drivers often daydream to keep stimulated, or at least awake.

Daydreams act as mental calendars. As our minds wander back and forth, they remind us of an appointment, certain details we may have forgotten about an upcoming activity, or jog our memories of certain goals we want to pursue.

There are many benefits from daydreaming. Daydreams reveal information about ourselves, reflecting both our hopes and desires as well as our fears. Suppose, for example, you are experiencing a distressing pain and decide to have a doctor examine you. On the way to the doctor's office you start imagining a diagnosis of cancer. You notice that underneath the fear there is a sense of relief: now you can get out of your many commitments. This discovery from your daydream tells you something important about your life situation and suggests you need to examine your life style closely.

Among some of the other benefits of daydreams is that they help us practice in fantasy what we may do in reality. Research studies have shown, for example, that daydreams can be a way to improve physical performance. If a basketball player practices shooting baskets mentally, the player's performance in an actual game improves. This same effect has been demonstrated in many different sports. If musicians mentally practice before a performance, they play better. This "practice effect" seems to also hold true for general life situations. If you daydream about a certain "what if" in your life and it comes true, you will handle it more efficiently.

Daydreaming may also increase our empathy for others. One psychologist found that people who daydreamed while listening to others had more spontaneous images about what the person was saying. Their imagination became involved in the listening process. This finding suggests that daydreams for others puts us into their shoes.

Daydreams also relax us. It's a firm finding from countless research studies that happy, restful images calm us and help soothe our emotions. Guided imagery also helps with physical problems from headaches to cancer. Such images can actually affect the body's ability to deal with its disorder.

People in both the arts and sciences have testified that daydreaming brings forth creative breakthroughs. Albert Einstein said, "The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." With authorities such as Einstein, Dr. Klinger dispels the age old theory that daydreaming is a useless habit and demonstrates with bountiful evidence that it is a resource that improves our lives.

(Digest by Marion Hartheimer, Atlantic University.)