Daydreaming is often equated with goofing off, and seen negatively as a waste of time that could be constructively used for paying attention in school or at work. However, a recent study (that I read about on The Intelligent Optimist) found that daydreaming actually has a useful outcome: improving mental well being.
Researchers at UC Santa Barbara tracked student moods over time to determine how the distraction of daydreaming impacted their feelings. A digital assistant asked them questions randomly throughout a week about how they felt, if they let their minds wander during the day, and if so, what they thought about. They found that when people daydreamed, people instinctively felt a little bad about it. However, when they had interesting or creative thoughts while dreaming, the subjects had strong positive feelings. Previous studies have demonstrated that people become unhappy when they are unfocused on the current task, or having “off-task” thoughts. This is likely due to the negative reinforcement many receive for day dreaming. This study indicates that the feelings are dependent on the type of thoughts had, while day dreaming, and that creative, problem-solving musings can actually increase well being.