Reducing Anxiety and Increasing Happiness: Not A Daydream

It’s pleasant to think that daydreaming, the time we spend musing or fantasizing while we are awake, makes us happier people. Then researchers come along and poke a hole in that theory.

It was discovered at Harvard University that those who daydream about enjoyable situations or ideas do not increase their personal happiness quotient by doing so. Although their daydreams stirred positive thoughts and feelings, the dreamers were no happier after a daydream than before having one.

What about negative daydreamers, sometimes known as worriers? The participants in the study who daydreamed about negative things experienced a reduction of happiness within 15 minutes of ending each daydream.

Worry Daydreams

Worrying is a type of daydream. Worry may have elements of fact, but the facts are played out in the mind as a fantasy. These fantasies usually end in frustration, anger, or loss that fills the daydreamer with anxiety or dread.

Daydream’s effect is not just immediate. Afterward, even if our mind has returned to the day’s business, worry daydreams can deplete our overall sense of well-being and happiness.

Amazingly, the human mind spends up to 70 percent of daytime hours wandering in some form of daydream. We are typically busy with something else while our mind is day-tripping. We might be baking brownies, walking the dog, listening to music, mowing the lawn, or sitting in a department meeting.

If you are prone to worry daydreams, you may be spending half of your day or more stirring up your body’s stress hormones and depleting your reserves of happiness. It would be worth it if worry provided control over circumstances, but we know that is a fantasy as well.

The Mindful Alternative

The research that was done on daydreaming uncovered something else: People who experience happiness the most are those who stay focused in the present moment, on whatever it is they are doing. They live their lives more mindfully.

Apparently, people who practice mindfulness or another type of meditation rewire their gray matter. They acquire the ability to switch off the parts of the brain that are necessary for daydreaming and become mental masters of their thoughts, whether mowing the lawn or formally meditating.

Without meditative practice, our brain naturally drifts to thoughts related to the self including our wants, well-being, and safety. We may turn these thoughts into pleasurable fantasies or into worry.

The Perks of Being Present

As mentioned, living more in the moment can increase your level of happiness. It also gives us objectivity over our thoughts and emotions, helping us realize that they come and go and are not a reliable foundation for belief. Being attentive to what we are doing quiets the mind and allows us to notice our inklings, instincts, and intuitions.

If you have an anxiety disorder and entertain worrying thoughts, living more mindfully may be your best option for maintaining peace of mind and heart. It is not an ideology or a religion, just a self-respectful way of life.

Source: Yale News

Photo: Pixabay

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