Billy Wharton, editor of the Socialist Party USA's Socialist WebZine, has an article (reprinted at Links) about daydreaming. “A recent study featured in the Los Angeles Times suggests that daydreaming or other such unstructured mental activities might play a key role in mental well being. Unknowingly, this study promotes a prime potential of a democratic socialist society – the right to free time.”
The idea that unstructured daydreaming might be good for your health has interesting implications for the modern consumer leisure ideal: every waking non-working hour one is encouraged to consume leisure products - principally through the media: music, radio, TV, internet.
Radio is also present at many workplaces, not just outside work. It can provide some relief from boredom and a sense of company listening to the chatter and music. It also crowds out the kind of thinking (not really reducible to "daydreaming" I think) that Billy Wharton is talking about. I am no scientist but I wouldn't be surprised if there were links to many common disorders like depression and ADHD in this lack of mental quiet.
TV is a modern substitute for the ancient passtime of sitting around the fire in the evening - talking, partying or just staring into the flames. But it's mostly an inferior substitute! Passive recreation that crowds your brain with other people’s thoughts and ideas is not conducive to "unstructured mental activities" at all.
One of my hobbies is gardening. The media plug gardening in conventional marketing terms: garden makeover blitzes, oxymoronic DIY kits from home hardware superstores, gardening catalogues that promise the biggest, tastiest, no-dig, pest-free experience.
Sadly, many organic gardening specialists tend to use the same marketing method. They say their product is superior in the same terms as the other variety – bigger crops, tastier, easier to grow, etc. Many people have bought the wrong idea about organics. My father sells his organically grown apples at the local markets and says occasionally someone comes back to complain of a grub they found in their apple, or refuses to buy because of the blemishes on the outside of the apples.
Some organic produce marketing could be a little more honest, but marketing it still would be. You can't market the actual experience of gardening, which is contemplative and observational. It can't be bought: it can only be practiced and learned. And the more work required (up to a point) the more enjoyment you get. To rush out and buy a pile of stuff then frantically spend the weekend digging and planting and pruning and trying to finish your plan is not how to get into gardening.
The best way to garden is to wander around the garden watching. Soon enough you will see something that sparks off a memory or idea and you can spontaneously go from there, in the process developing a deeper sense of what is happening in your garden and your relation to it. You may not win garden design awards (or you may!) but you will have a much richer experience. Your frantic weekend plans, if you ever hatch them, will then be informed by a deeper understanding of what may work.
Connection to the environment, even the partly artificial environment of a suburban garden, is not just good for mental health. It also fosters ecological consciousness and it can bring together community when you do it in a group (as in a community garden, or a friends-of-the-local-creek/wetland/bush-type-society). Re-connecting people to nature and each other is going to be the key to surviving the climate change crisis and peak oil and to create a sustainable, participative and democratic society. That’s why gardening is a part of the social change we need, not just my private hobby.