Daydreams are not a waste of time
"Despite people being told as kids to quit, daydreams are really fruitful for children and adults," says Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and the author of The Power of Different. "They are a way of being creative, problem-solving, and comforting oneself. If there’s a problem with daydreams, it would be that kids are so structured and so overloaded that there is no time provided for daydreams." And the same goes for adults, Dr. Saltz says: It’s important to give yourself to let your mind wander.
The dream: You’re lounging on a sunny beach, with your family or closest pals by your side
The meaning: You’re happy with your life. Research into daydreaming shows that when you daydream about real people who are close to you, you’re more likely to feel satisfied with your life. Bring on piña coladas—as long as you have some great people to share them with. (Try these 12 beautiful island destinations right here in the U.S.)
The dream: You come from nowhere to win that mirror-ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars
The meaning: You’re creative. Daydreaming taps into and strengthens your creative skills. People who can come up with fun, exciting, fanciful scenarios are displaying their knack for creativity. Read more about why daydreaming is essential to creativity.
The dream: You tell off your boss and triumphantly ditch your job
Pressmaster/ShutterstockThe meaning: You’re working on solving a problem. The creativity associated with daydreams is directly tied to problem-solving. As you conjure up clever comebacks or big personal wins, you’re making connections and coming up with insights that could turn into real-life solutions. In these kinds of daydreams, "you are safely trying on a solution to see what it may feel or be like," says David Ezell, a therapist and the clinical director at Darien Wellness. "I encourage exploration as opposed to writing it off. What would be the benefits? Any consequences? Is there a way to get part of it without doing the complete act?" Hate your job? Check out these epic ways to quit.
The dream: You’re visiting with a loved one who has passed away
The meaning: You’re processing your grief. "It can be comforting to imagine your loved one in a good place," says Dr. Saltz. "Or, you may have daydreams that repeat past happy memories with that loved one. Those make you feel close in a positive way."
The dream: You dump your ex with a witty remark
g stockstudio/ShutterstockThe meaning: You’re giving yourself a pep talk. This kind of daydream—revisiting an awkward or painful conversation, and experiencing it in the way you wish it would have happened—can be motivating. Our minds can’t fully distinguish between what’s real and what we’re imagining, so daydreaming boosts your ego, and lets you visualize how you’d like things to go in the future.
The dream: You’re a world-famous chef or author
Marian Weyo/ShutterstockThe meaning: You want to be in—or take—control. When you dream about being powerful or successful, it’s an attempt to forget or rise above all those petty daily issues we all face. If you were a big shot (in whatever field you choose), you wouldn’t have to drive carpool or mow the lawn. You could tell someone else to do it for you, which feels pretty fantastic.
The dream: You run away from your life to travel the world
qoppi/ShutterstockThe meaning: You need a change. An escapist daydream is usually a sign that you need to do something different. It’s not necessarily a cue for you to actually hit the road, says Dr. Saltz. Instead, think about what aspects of the daydream really appeal to you. Is it the new sights you’d see (maybe you need to start planning your next vacation)? Is it avoiding housework or a boring job (maybe you need another outlet for your passions, one where you’ll get more recognition)? The change you make doesn’t have to be as huge as running away. It could be something smaller, like rearranging your furniture or taking up a new hobby.
The dream: You have a hot new love who sweeps you off your feet
The meaning: You’re human … and you’re not cheating on your partner. "Fantasies are thoughts and thoughts are not actions," says Dr. Saltz. "It is fine and sometimes even important to indulge in fantasy; many people have fantasies about things they would never, ever want to do. Having a romantic or erotic fantasy does not mean you don’t love your spouse or want to have an affair. What’s important is to use those fantasies in the service of the relationship you do want to be invested in."
The dream: You’re attacking someone who’s wronged you (over and over again)
Stock Asso/ShutterstockThe meaning: You’ve had a trauma in your life and you need help dealing with it. When daydreams are intrusive—they interfere with your life, and you can’t turn them off when you’ve had enough—that can be a red flag. "If you are really consumed with a particular scenario, that should tell you there is something going on," says Dr. Saltz. It’s a signal of a traumatic response, and therapy could help.