Innovation/Global Risk

If You’re Daydreaming, You’re In Trouble

By Shlomo  Maital


   Often, we associate creativity with ‘dreamers’.  Dare to dream, we say.  Dreaming is important. But new research shows that it both reflects, and causes, unhappiness.

   Writing in Science magazine, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert gathered 250,000 data points, using an iPhone app.  The data points study subjects’ thoughts, feelings and actions as they go about their daily life.  They are accurate because they are recorded as the events and emotions happen. 

   “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” notes Killingsworth.  Apparently, people spend half their time thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering makes them unhappy.

     “How often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness,” Killingsworth claims, “than the activities in which we are engaged.”  They found that less than 5 per cent of a person’s happiness, at a given moment in time, was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing. (People, apparently, are happiest when making love, exercising, or conversing. They are least happy when resting, working, or using their computer). 

   “Our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present,” Killingsworth notes.

    I think these results confirm another important aspect of creativity.  We daydream when we are bored, irritated or displeased with what we are doing, with the reality as we experience it.  A great deal of creativity arises out of such unhappiness. Many wonderful works of art and literature were created by unhappy individuals.  Happiness by definition means living in a comfort zone, which rarely spawns creativity.  So, dream on, innovators!  But hey —  don’t just dream, pick a few of those fantastic dreams and make them come true.  That is the key. 

    If you want to join the study with the iPhone app, go to