Written by Meg Walters
Put down your phone, forget about your to-do list and let your mind go wherever it wants to – because according to a new study, it’s not a waste of time.
Have you ever caught yourself drifting off in the middle of the day? Perhaps you zone out of a boring meeting or lose your train of thought while writing an email and drift off into a daydream. In today’s world, we’re conditioned to assume that losing yourself in your thoughts is nothing more than a waste of time – after all, there’s always stuff to be done!
However, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, we could all do with getting lost in our thoughts more often. When we let our minds wander without any distraction, the study found, we not only enjoy ourselves, we also receive a myriad of benefits.
About the study
Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan and the University of Tübingen in Germany set about exploring the benefits of daydreaming with a series of six experiments.
They began by asked participants to predict how much they would enjoy simply letting their minds wander for 20 minutes with no distractions. They found that on the whole, participants found much more enjoyment in the activity than they had anticipated.
The researchers conducted another experiment in which the participants were asked to predict their enjoyment levels for 20 minutes of checking the news compared to 20 minutes of sitting with their thoughts. While the participants assumed that checking the news would be more enjoyable, after completing the tasks, they reported similar enjoyment levels for both activities.
Why it’s worth spending time getting lost in thought
As the researchers pointed out, daydreaming isn’t merely more enjoyable than most think it will be – previous studies have found that getting lost in thought has tangible benefits for the mind.
Getting lost in your thoughts has been shown to contribute to your:
- problem-solving skills
- sense of meaning
- mental health
Making time for daydreaming is more important than ever
Our world is moving at a faster and faster pace. We are feeling the pressures of hustle culture. The internet is filled with more content than ever. Doomscrolling is an all-too-real phenomenon. In other words, our devices have never claimed more of our time and it’s become very hard to tear ourselves away from them.
“It’s now extremely easy to ‘kill time.’ On the bus on your way to work, you can check your phone rather than immerse yourself in your internal free-floating thinking, because you predict thinking will be boring,” Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Tübingen in Germany told theAmerican Psychological Association. “However, if that prediction is inaccurate, you are missing an opportunity to positively engage yourself without relying on such stimulation.”
Added study lead author Aya Hatano, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan, “Humans have a striking ability to immerse themselves in their own thinking. Our research suggests that individuals have difficulty appreciating just how engaging thinking can be. That could explain why people prefer keeping themselves busy with devices and other distractions, rather than taking a moment for reflection and imagination in daily life.”
As the researchers of this study explain, if we can put down our phones and simply get lost in thought, we might just be a little happier and healthier.
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