Photo of the setting sun on a cloudy day

Why Do We Dream?

By Hannah Alvarado
Web Content Contributor

One interesting thing about the human experience has been on my mind lately. No, not our neurological ability to produce “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep,” but rather, our inkling as a species to create aspirations and ambitions for ourselves. From childhood, it is not only suggested to us to “dream big,” but encouraged as well. Why is it that we as people continue this practice from generation to generation? And while we may not be discussing the actual act of dreaming, it is important to note that some of the later have only formed form because of the former.

Philosophically, dreams and aspirations as a whole is a long standing fascination for us as humans. The concept has been commented on repeatedly, from philosophy to celebrities, engineers and everyone in between, it seems as though we as a collective are fascinated with the idea of what it means to dream or to “aspire.” Why is it that we as people feel the need to have idealized long term goals for our lives, and why do we strive to achieve them? Why is it, that some of us fail, and others succeed when it comes to aspirations? Why do we aspire at all?

There are spotted lights all around a darkened living room.
Inspiration for our future can come by looking at things with a different perspective. Photo by Hollie Horvath.

According to a paper by Caroline Hart, she states that “aspirations are future-oriented, driven by conscious and unconscious motivations and they are indicative of an individual or group’s commitments towards a particular trajectory or end point.” As well as stating that “…aspirations are akin to hopes, wishes, dreams, ambitions and goals…” Hart poses the question about aspirations that I find most intriguing. Whether or not aspirations “signal optimism for the future or pessimism about the present.” She goes on to further pose, if they “portray longings and yearnings for that which we are not, or cannot do, or do not have.” Hart later goes on to say that “aspiring is a sentient and emotive process…Most individuals will be able to demonstrate the functioning of aspiring through the expression of one or more aspirations…Aspirations are often born out of unequal power relations that constrain humans to mold themselves in ways that suit perceived expectations of normalcy and acceptability. Thinking about future-oriented goals requires at least a basic level of capability in relation to being able to anticipate and imagine the future and exercise practical reason.” Which shows a lot about ourselves as a human race. We aspire because we are capable of aspiring, which demonstrates our intellect, our emotional complexity and ultimately makes us human.

Which has me thinking even further about the subject. Why do we as individuals, each at one point in or life or another, decide for ourselves a particular trajectory or end point? What is the point of that? Have you ever noticed that if you ask a group of small children, almost all of them will have an answer for you? Some of these ideas are completely silly like “superhero” or something along those lines. But what does that mean for them as they grow into an adult who chooses the medical profession; or any other profession that chooses to save lives? Or that others outwardly decide on “dancer” or “fireman” and see it through ot the end? Why is it that some people aspire for years but never realize their dreams?

At this point, we have far more questions than answers, which is probably why there are countless accounts of this phenomena. The conclusion I draw, is that dreams and aspirations tell us about where we are, and where we want to go simultaneously. They are not just insights to what title we want, or a lifestyle, but rather a purpose we feel is not being fulfilled that can be both within ourselves and within the world around us. It seems that often times these paths can be chosen out of greed, the need to aid the greater good or even simply preference. They can be failed by circumstance, such as lack of opportunity, wealth or rather, lack thereof all the way to laziness. Which has me beg the question: do we become ‘realistic’ as we grow older, do we grow lazy when we realize just how much needs to go into achieving our goals or is it that within our lifetimes? Sometimes there simply isn’t enough time to accomplish these dreams of ours. After all, it’s one thing to want something for yourself, and a complete other to actually take steps towards accomplishing that aspiration.

Think of your own aspirations for life, both past and present. What is it that you hoped to gain from your journey here and possibly more informative than that, why? Regardless of what you may have chosen, or why you may have given it up, dreaming, or aspiring, is a unique and beautiful gift to our human kind. We build societies out of it, we defy odds and we make history. The aspirations that fail, are not failures at all but rather are handed toward the individual they were meant for. Think of yourself, and the people you love, and see more than a whole of the present and a desire for the future, but see the why. See the person behind the dream, and encourage all you can, to see it through to the end. Win or lose, answers or questions, dreaming makes us, us.

So what are you waiting for? Go on, and dream big.

Featured photo by Hannah Alvarado.

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