Finding meaning in dreams can inspire awe and help people gain resilience at work, according to an Academy of Management Journal.
Dreams that evoke awe “stick with you throughout the day, not necessarily like you’re perpetually viewing things through the lens of the dream, but whenever emotion-related events come up, your dream appraisal can shape how you’re viewing things,” explained Casher D. Belinda of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“Say you have that dream experience in the morning. And then later in the afternoon, your supervisor tells you to conduct 10 more interviews than you were expecting to have to do this week. You might now think that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal, because you just had this awe-inspiring dream that’s putting everything in perspective. Feeling like there’s a bigger world out there, and you’re just part of it. Or feeling like you’re connected to everything.”
Belinda said awe in response to a dream can be felt as a sense of “vastness, like something is beyond your frame of reference, or outside of your typical way of seeing or thinking about things, creating a need for you to update your way of thinking about the world in order to make sense of it.”
“The meaning that we ascribe to dreams can bridge between the subconscious and conscious and affect our waking resilience at work,” said Belinda’s UNC colleague Michael S. Christian . Belinda and Christian cowrote A Spillover Model of Dreams and Work Behaviour: How Dream Meaning Ascription Promotes Awe and Employee Resilience.
Awe-inspiring dreams create “a cognitive lens that colours the interpretation of events, even after the … experience of awe has dissipated,”. “Employees will view subsequent work stressors as less threatening and more manageable than they otherwise would, increasing their resilience. Further, because resilience promotes effective coping behaviours… awe will also increase employee work goal progress.”
These effects were more likely among more curious people.
“Some people like to have reality jolted for them. They will be much more welcoming of these experiences, to have their minds blown in the morning. They might revel in these dreams,” Belinda said. “But other people don’t have as much of that kind of curiosity, or as much of a love of acquiring new knowledge. It can be disconcerting for them.”
The authors based their on the results of three studies with hundreds of full-time employees, one of which was conducted with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School alumni. Each study asked participants about their dreams upon waking, and the studies collectively captured more than 1,500 dream experiences.
In one of the studies, participants reported on their sleep from the previous night and whether they recalled their dreams. Then they rated the extent to which they believed their dreams had positive or negative meanings. They also responded to three open-ended writing prompts:
- “Describe your dreams to the best of your ability.”
- “Describe what your dreams mean to you.”
- “Describe what you believe to be the cause of your dreams.”
Participants then rated the extent to which their dreams made them feel awe. They also responded to items gauging their resilience and goal progress over the course of the workday.
Examples of participants’ dreams:
Manager: “I was at the funeral of a friend of mine that passed away about three months ago. It was an amazing experience to see the huge crowd of people. What stood out to me the most was how appreciated this man was and how respected he was.”
Project manager: “It was dark, and I was driving somewhere along a road, which was unfamiliar to me. I think I ended up becoming lost. Then I left my car and walked into this amazing garden. It was beautiful and lifted my spirits. I wandered around this garden, immensely enjoying the beauty and the scents. It felt joyful, awesome, energetic, and soothing. The weather was comfortably warm, the bright sun was just climbing the blue sky. As I rounded the corner, I saw a recently deceased loved one tending the garden. She invited me to help water the flowers, plant some bulbs, and pull the weeds. I helped her to garden, and I felt peace, relaxation, exhilaration, enjoyment, gratefulness, and a sense of accomplishment.”
Sales manager: “I had a dream about my best friend. I was sitting in a great library … It felt ancient and surreal. There was a fireplace somewhere in the building as I could smell the wood burning and hear the crackling. It was lit in an ambient manner. There were a lot of scrolls nearby us. My best friend was peering at some seemingly illegible handwritten text on one of the scrolls. It was snowing outside heavily as when someone entered, they spent some time unearthing themselves from layers of outdoor clothing.
We were debating quietly about societal matters, like astronomy and the free-market trade system in between the swishing of pages of books and unveiling of scrolls. It felt like an era of time long beyond us, yet here we were sitting right in the midst of it all. There were the quiet sounds of a typical library with people sitting at various places reading from books. It was peaceful. At one point, he said something to me about taking notes from the sixth dimension which is an inside joke between us. I remember laughing which woke me up because it felt like old times.
“Awe is one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth, [but] it remains a mystery as to how managers and employees can harness its benefits. Our research unravels this mystery by revealing how awe can be elicited at a time that has a critical impact on daily work outcomes,”. “Dreams are a common, overlooked source of awe, and a single awe experience can bolster employee resilience and goal progress throughout the workday. Harnessing this power of awe may prove invaluable to organisations.”
With an estimated 40% of working adults being able to recall the previous night’s dreams on any given day, “sharing of dreams may benefit employees and organisations in several ways. For instance, forming the belief that a dream carries positive meaning, and experiencing resultant awe, may compel employees to share their dreams with their coworkers, leading to contagion effects. While these effects may be modest, even mild levels of awe can reduce feelings of personal concern and may facilitate resilience in the listener. Further, as a form of self-disclosure, the social sharing of meaningful dreams may help to foster positive relationships and a sense of inclusion.
“A low-effort way to capitalise on our findings is by keeping a dream journal. Not only do dream journals enable meaningful dreams to ‘live on’ after they fade from memory, but they also give dreams repeated opportunities to elicit attributions of meaning. For instance, an employee who recalls and records their dreams on a given morning, but does not find meaning in their dreams at that time, may later see a connection between those and other dreams, resulting in attributions of meaning and heightened levels of awe.
“Similarly, imagery rehearsal and dream mastery techniques … are simple practices employees can engage in to ‘steer’ their dream experiences. Thus, by keeping a dream journal—and, even more simply, envisioning the dream experiences one wishes to have before sleep—employees can increase their odds of having meaningful, awe-inspiring dreams.”
“Dreams have a striking capacity to alter our waking emotions and behaviour. Respect the power of dreams and be open-minded to how they might impact you throughout the workday,” Belinda said.