Why Do We Dream?

Act On Your Dream! > Why Do We Dream?

First of all, what do we mean by "dream?"

One dictionary defines "dream" as:

  1. A series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.
  2. A daydream; a reverie.
  3. A state of abstraction; a trance.
  4. A wild fancy or hope.
  5. A condition or achievement that is longed for; an aspiration: a dream of owning their own business.
  6. One that is exceptionally gratifying, excellent, or beautiful: Our new car runs like a dream

While this site is mainly concerned with definition number 5, an aspiration or achievement, there are a lot of people coming here looking for information about number 1, the dreams we experience while sleeping.

Let's briefly discuss both kinds of dreaming, starting with sleeping dreams. Feel free to skip to the section on dreams and achieving your life's purpose, if that is your main interest.

Dreams that occur while sleeping

Why do we dream while we sleep?

There is no consensus on an answer to this question.

For some background, see the Wikipedia article: Dream. It contains some good information, a summary of some of the main thoughts on dreaming, and links to resources and books about dreaming, lucid dreaming, dream interpretations, and more.

Why do we dream?

In the article at CoolQuiz.com, Why do we dream?, the author discusses both physiological and psychological explanations for dreaming, and briefly touches on the prophetic nature of some dreams.

At DreamEmporium.com, in the article Why do we dream?, the author makes the point that dreams are about you, the dreamer.

On the Uncommon Knowledge website, the Why do we dream? article (part one of a three part article) agrees that dreams help resolve unexpressed emotional arousal.

At PBSkids.org, in the Why do we dream? article, Rachel, 11, and Sarah, 8, weigh in with their opinions and the article continues on with several possible explanations.

Shirley MacLaine, in answering Why do we dream?, tells us, "Like so many aspects of life, dreams and visions are gifts; we have the choice of declining or accepting these and of determining how we will or if we will utilize them."

The Quantitative Study of Dreams is a research project focused on developing a neurocognitive theory of dreams. They have an interesting series of Dream FAQs that are rather different than others I've read recently.

David Slone has a site called Why Do We Dream? where he deals with subjects like sleepwalking, nightmares, lucid dreaming, and so forth. He says, "We have different types of dreams. Often our dreams consist of imagery from our most pressing thoughts and/or personal experiences. Sometimes, however, our dreams can be special. Our dreams can communicate with us if we allow them too. All we need to do is listen and learn to interpret the symbols as they apply to our own life."

After looking at these sites, and many others to which I did not link, I don't feel any wiser than I did before reading them.

There is no consensus about the meaning of dreams and, in fact, there is a lot of mutually exclusive information. One person believes a dream is inspiration from the divine. Another believes it is random neurons firing. Still another believes it is an emotional safety valve.

Personally, I believe there is much more to dreaming than random biological processes. Nearly three decades ago, I spent several years recording my dreams in a dream journal and learning to control them to some degree. While I haven't done a lot with this over the years, I remember quite vividly some of the experiences I had back then. I relate hypnosis, visualization, self-programming (neuro-linguistic programming), and similar activities to dreaming and this works well for me.

I haven't seen a lot of commonality in the dream dictionaries I've skimmed and, in fact, it isn't unusual for them to tell you that they are right and the others are wrong. This leads to a serious lack of authority, in my opinion.

So, why do we dream?

Perhaps it's just something we mammals do. Maybe it's up to each of us to find the meanings that may be present in our dreams. You may want to spend some time examining your dreams and learning from them.

Conversely, maybe you just want to ignore them and get on with living your life.

I think it's up to you to decide how much meaning you want to give to your dreams and how much effort and time you want to devote to trying to understand them.

If the experts can't agree, how can the rest of us?

In the end, worrying too much about understanding your sleeping dreams may be counterproductive to identifying your life purpose and finding and pursuing a dream that may change your life.

Dreams that are aspirations, ambitions, and things we want to accomplish

For the rest of this article, I want to shift gears away from dreams that occur while sleeping to finding a great dream and developing the ambition and plan to pursue it and make it real.

Let's look at this from a very different direction, now.

Why do we dream?

Brent Filson, in In Leadership, Dreams Are The Stuff That Great Results Are Made Of, says, "A dream embraces our most cherished longings. It embodies our very identity. We often won't feel fulfilled as human beings until we realize our dreams."

Later, he continues, "Most people have a dream for their life and work. Even people in abject circumstances, such as prisons and concentration camps, dream of a fulfilling existence beyond their present circumstances. If they lose their dreams, they lose an essential quality of their humanity."

We can agree that searching for a purpose in our life and dreaming of accomplishing great things is a natural human longing for something better and more fulfilling in a life that is often bogged down in habit and tedium.

In an excerpt from his book, Authentic Business, Neil Crofts tells us...

"We all know our purpose, in spite of the layers of conditioning that seek to hide it. For some it takes ten years to articulate, for others it takes a week, for others it takes ten minutes. The opportunity is that if you can encapsulate it in a sentence or two it becomes useful, inspiring, motivating and engaging. This is the challenge of this chapter -- to help you to articulate your purpose in no more than two short sentences (preferably one), which you can use to find collaborators, customers and friends.

"Imagine if instead of the standard nauseating -- 'So what do you do?' we could ask 'So -- what is the purpose of your life?' Just imagine the improved quality of conversation we would have.

"Your purpose is your dream that you hardly dare to admit. It is the love which lies at the centre of your authentic ambition. You will only find it by searching within yourself and that means taking the time and making the effort to look."

For many of us, it takes real effort to identify our purpose and to dare to dream of creating an authentic life and, if it is our desire, an authentic business. But, don't we owe it to ourselves to do the very best we can do?

To achieve a great ambition, we need to visualize the end product -- we need to develop a dream that we can imagine with great clarity, as if we had already achieved it and are enjoying it in our real, physical life.

This is different from day-dreaming, because we aren't just escaping something less interesting, we are visualizing a future reality and planning how to enlist the aid of other creative people to help us make the dream come true.

Every great leader begins with a great dream:

James Champy, in "The Residue of Leadership: Why Ambition Matters", says, "Every great leader begins with a great dream. Ambitious visions not only require a capacity for meaningful change, but also provide the energy and inspiration to engage others. These tasks -- articulating a dream and rallying others around it -- are the essence of leadership. The study of leaders in every field tells us that leadership is the residue of ambition."

Continuing in his article, he states, "No ambition is likely to draw others to it, or sustain itself for long, without appealing to a great sense of purpose. A noble calling -- relieving suffering or improving the environment -- is the highest expression of moral purpose. But more commercial undertakings can also assume a greatness of purpose. Leaders can do at least seven things to help people look beyond themselves in pursuit of a dream."

How do we make our dreams come true?

Captain Bob Webb tells a great story about how he turned teenage daydreams into the reality of sailing the Pacific Ocean in a 36-foot dugout canoe -- How to Make Dreams Come True.

He identifies three elements necessary to achieving our dream:

  • We must have a dream that motivates us. No one has ever achieved anything without a dream attached to a burning desire.
  • We must learn how-to-learn. In school, we learn how to memorize or be taught. Learning how to learn frees our dependency on others for knowledge.
  • We must learn from failure and learn how to bounce back from failure. No one ever succeeds without failure. In the classroom, failure is a no-no.

I heartily recommend his Motivation Tool Chest. There is a lot to learn from someone who knows by experience what it takes to succeed in making a dream come true.

You must develop a dream before you can succeed.

Captain Bob says, in his elements of Motivation article, "Dreams are more valuable than money, because dreams find opportunity. Money FIRST does not fulfill dreams, it can kill them. Seek your dream, money will follow. Money is not a goal, it is a reward ONLY for successfully achieving a goal.

Why do we dream?

I think finding a great dream is the first step towards building a better life for ourselves and a better world for all of us. Dream now of a way to make the world a better place. Then find a way to make your dream come true.

Where do I go from here?

Return to Act On Your Dream home page, Your Dream, search this site, or browse our Site Map.

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