Why Daydreaming Isn’t a Waste of Time

Growing up, I was mostly an average kid. I had one or two close friends from kindergarten through high school. I had decent grades, I enjoyed recess like everyone else, and I attended quite a few friends’ birthday parties at the local laser tag arena. Yet there was one label that always stuck with me, as handed down by my mom and teachers:

“You’re so quiet.”

It’s true that I didn’t always speak up. That’s because I was usually too busy thinking. Rather than making small talk, I would doodle on scraps of notebook paper, curl up with a book, or let my imagination run wild. In other words, I’d daydream. And I’ve never stopped.

We live in a fast-paced world. We’re told that we don’t have time to daydream. While our mind is off wandering, opportunities are slipping through our fingers.

But what if daydreaming is the opportunity? What if those quiet moments to yourself are what make you a better and more productive person?

What Daydreaming Looks Like on the Outside

Daydreaming can happen anywhere, at any time. It strikes in the middle of class or a meeting at the office. It hits when you’re sitting with your laptop at a coffee shop, trying to finish an assignment. It might even happen when you’re watching a movie or something on TV. Suddenly you find yourself doodling in the margins of your notebook instead of taking notes. Or staring idly out the window.

Many people, especially extroverts, may look at this behavior and call it “boredom.” It’s true that feeling bored can be a stimulus for daydreaming. But think about it: all your brain is doing is switching from paying attention to something that’s happening on the outside to something that’s happening on the inside. You’re still thinking and processing—but it’s not obvious to anyone else.

Why Introverts Daydream

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was the first to make a distinction between introverts and extroverts around the turn of the century. It’s no surprise that he also came up with a handy way to describe what the introvert’s inner world can be like. In Conversations with Carl Jung and Reactions from Ernest Jones, he explained, “When you observe the world, you see people; you see houses; you see the sky; you see tangible objects. But when you observe yourself within, you see moving images, a world of images generally known as fantasies.”

The parallel nature of Jung’s comment isn’t an accident. Daydreaming isn’t just an escape from reality—it’s how introverts process the world. It explains why we tend to daydream so much.

Three Benefits of Daydreaming

As a lifelong daydreamer, I’ve noticed three benefits of having an “idle” imagination:

1. Fantasies can be a source of creativity and problem-solvingWe live in a culture that thrives on socializing and group brainstorming. But some of the best ideas aren’t born in a noisy boardroom–they come quietly into the world when you’re alone at your desk, letting your mind wander. Indeed, visionary Steve Wozniak, a self-identified introvert, worked by himself for months and created what would eventually become the Apple computer. In his book, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing ItWozniak makes a strong case for working alone:

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone—best outside of corporate environments, best where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

2. Daydreams build empathy. When you dip into your mind, you can do more than solve abstract problems. When allowed a little solitude, the act of daydreaming can help you appreciate what life is like for other people. You might find yourself thinking about your friends, family, or coworkers, and imagining what’s going on with them. In our musings, we let our guard down, and it’s easier to think of others instead of worrying so much about ourselves. J.K. Rowling believes that exploring her imagination has given her great empathy. In her 2008 Harvard commencement address, she said:

“In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it magination] is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

3. Letting your thoughts wander can help you destress. There’s a handy feature on your PC that lets you defragment or declutter your hard drive. This process frees up storage space and gets rid of unwanted files so your system operates more efficiently. In some ways, the human brain is no different. Research shows that when you zone out, you may be able to think most deeply about the big picture. In doing so, you can gain perspective on issues that are dogging you and ultimately destress.

Far from being “idle,” giving yourself over to your imagination could be one of the most productive things you do. Don’t let anyone tell you that daydreaming wastes your time. retina_favicon1

Image credit: Sjale/Shutterstock

Read this: Being Quiet Is Not a Character Flaw


  • Laura Rowlett says:

    I was raised in a very small town on one of the Gulf Islands in BC, Canada. Very secluded, peaceful and quiet, and my brother and I were the only children for miles. I was always told I was too shy when I was very young, by the elderly folk in the area, and then “too quiet”, as a young teen. But as I grew older, I got braver and when the criticism got too much, I would find my voice and, after laboriously putting my own thoughts into one small sentence, I would say “DEFINE “Too Quiet”. And then, abashed with my outburst, run off to a safe place…my room, outside, the barn, the beach, etc. I knew then that yes, I was quiet, but it wasnt wrong, thanks to my parents who never scolded me for voicing my opinion (as long as it was respectfully and politely done). And they went on to teach me that one person, one group, or one organization cant possibly know everything, and, to be your authentic self, you must learn to love who you are. Took me another 20 years to embrace it, but, I finally did. And some of my best ideas and artistic adventures take place thanks to a daydreaming session!

  • I agree, Laura. Thanks for sharing your story. Here’s to us small town kids!

  • Joel Saito says:

    Some of my best ideas and inspirations have come when day dreaming while driving. Although it may seem unsafe, I am very much alert to whats going on around me while driving but I have my best thinking time on drives especially with good music. I day dreamed a lot as a kid and couldn’t focus very well in grade school and even in college but now that I’ve been working different jobs the last few years I’ve found it to be super beneficial to come up with new ideas and creations while day dreaming.

    I suppose day dreaming gets a bad name but its really just thinking time…

    Cool article, thanks!

  • 2 tio says:

    wow. what a well thought and writ first person share about the quiet that goes on in your life lead. it struck a strong chord with we, three, respondents. i day dreamed, fantasized as a very young kid. it shaped the creative side of my life. i think i can make a case that it shaped my love of the written word, the song sung, and for a belief in that that dreams are made up.

  • Lerato says:

    I often have to rewind a scene 5 times before i catch it because while i wait for the scene to play again i will have drifted off, then suddenly realise that, oh snap! I missed it again because i stayed in my head for too long.

  • Same here, Lerato. It’s quite the issue when your head’s in the clouds.