It is normal to fantasize about life. In fact, you probably do it more often than you realize.
You fantasize about taking a vacation. You fantasize about having better hair. You fantasize about sex, about a big life reset when you’re really burnt out.
You fantasize about what your house could look like, or how different you’ll feel once you acquire some new clothes. You fantasize when you listen to music and picture a better version of yourself proving everyone who doubted you wrong. You fantasize when you walk or stare at a window and imagine an alternative reality.
Fantasizing is a natural part of the human psyche. However, when it eclipses our ability to engage in reality — or becomes a way to escape it—getting lost in our own minds can actually have some pretty serious side-effects.
New research suggests that people who have the healthiest personalities rank low in neuroticism, high in openness to new experiences, and low in their tendency to fantasize.
A new study conducted by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology identified the traits that make a healthy personality.
They found that you can break it down by the “big five” model of personality types, identifying that the healthiest people were low in neuroticism, open to “feelings, warmth, and positive emotions,” agreeable, straightforward, and did not engage in fantasizing as often as their peers.
It’s not completely unsurprising if you think about it: fantasizing is a means of giving yourself an emotional experience that you crave, albeit through illusion. When you do it often, you begin to set unrealistic expectations for what it would take for your life to give you a similar “high.”
People who fantasize often are usually highly creative and perfectionistic for that very reason. Interestingly, those are two other traits that, when not kept in check, can wreak havoc on your psyche as well.
“We might speculate that energetic, active healthy people who exhibit prosocial values are considered more likely to impact the world in positive ways,” Wiebke Bleidorn, the lead author of the report, told HuffPost. “In contrast, while being prone to fantasy is not necessarily a bad attribute in many cases, on average it may be less likely to encourage healthy behavior.”
Is there such thing as a “healthy personality?”
It’s impossible to say that one personality type is better than another, objectively speaking. But it is very possible to say that certain traits lend themselves to healthier attitudes and behaviors.
As the research suggests, people with healthy personalities…
- Worry less
- Are more open to experiencing life
- Are more comfortable with change
- Are more willing to feel love and warmth
- Can foster connection with others
- Have a mindset that promotes clear thinking
If it’s true that most of the things we worry about are just fabrications of our minds, then it’s true that people who have less tendency to fantasize probably experience less fear. The opposite of fantasy is reality, and people who are grounded in the present moment generally report feeling more fulfilled and calm.
But if you don’t think you have a healthy personality, don’t worry: as Bleidorn also suggested, you can work on gradually building one over time by adjusting your behaviors, internal narratives and responses to external events and other people.
What’s the difference between fantasy and vision?
You may be wondering how there can be such a negative association between fantasy and wellness when it is so important to envision the life you want before you can achieve it. After all, a key aspect to self-improvement is visualization. You have to imagine the outcome before you can create it.
However, there is an essential difference:
Fantasizing is imagining an alternate reality you have no plan of actually creating, where as vision is imagining your own life, and what you’re going to do to change it. Fantasizing disassociates, because it makes you into a person you are not. Visualizing connects, because it helps you see your potential.
But as with anything, the real distinction is moderation. Feel free to imagine writing the next greatest American novel, retiring on the beach, or someday living out another one of your greatest dreams. Your imagination should help you figure out what you want to create, not serve as a distraction from it.