Harri Besceli

Wiki Contributions


My own observation is that while my dreams are not infrequently quite unpleasant and nightmarish in content, a corresponding emotional reaction is not there


My best guess is that I experience as intense emotions in dreams as in waking life. Mostly this is informed by personal experience/ introspection. I kept a dream journal for a while a long time ago, and at one point also rated how good or bad the most recent dream bit was after waking. I can't remember exactly what my scores were, but seem to remember it being consistent with dream experiences feeling pretty good or bad. (I might be something of an anomaly with my dream experiences though, I have narcolepsy and annoyingly for my housemates once every month or two I'll start screaming in my sleep).

This Sleep, Dreams and Dreaming Oxford Handbook article talks about a study of 'dream content dimensions'

The main observation is that dreams tend to be negative on many dimensions. The most common emotion is apprehension; aggressions are more frequent than friendly interactions, and misfortunes outnumber good fortunes.

I haven't looked at the original  study, and AFAICT there isn't any comparison of emotions in waking life to dreams, but was interesting to me that the ratio of negative to positive emotions reported was 4:1. 

Happy to hear - this link should enable you to duplicate the base, if you click the dropdown menu next to 'Form Examples' at the top (it might ask you to sign up to airtable first). If that doesn't work I can dm you a different link.

One of the main reasons I prefer airtable to eg. google sheets is that I find it much easier to categorise and analyse the data. A lot of the functionality is fairly intuitive, and requires a lot less formula knowledge than eg. google sheets.

For example with my time tracking data it's fairly easy to create different views that organise the records by date, by project, by duration etc.

The airtable template gallery gives lots of examples of how the bases can be structured for stuff like that.

Thinking and Communicating as Separate Processes

I recently finished a major work project and wrote a review of the project to be shared with my colleagues. The main questions I wanted to answer were a) Was this worth doing? b) How could it be done better next time.

Towards the end of writing the review I noticed that despite having written a bunch of words on these questions, I felt like I hadn't actually answered them. It felt like I was writing a review of the project, as distinct from actually reviewing the project. I started a fresh page, aiming to answer the questions, and ended up having quite different takes on these questions than when writing with the intention to communicate.

In general, I think that writing with the intention to communicate my thoughts makes the quality of my thinking worse than if I'm writing with the intention to think. The best strategy I have for dealing with this at the moment is separate out the two processes, first work out my thoughts on a given question, then edit these thoughts to communicate them to others (I find using separate documents a useful way of separating out the processes).

Sometimes the opposite feels true. For example, if I'm trying to answer a question or solve a problem and I'm struggling, writing a message to someone asking them for help solving the problem can lead to me finding a solution myself.

The best and worst experiences you had last week probably happened when you were dreaming.

tl;dr - Compared to waking life, dreams are pretty wild and emotionally intense. Example - in a dream last week all my teeth fell out which was pretty distressing, and nothing as interesting happened to me in waking life. How emotional/ extreme an experience is seems like a good proxy for how good or bad it is. So probably the best and worse experiences you've had last week were whilst you were dreaming.

Why might this be true?

  • Dreams are extreme. In my recent dreams I've been in a fistfight, been flying and lost all my teeth. The most extreme things that I've done in the last week IRL include eating three chocolate pastries and having a large coffee.
  • Dreams are emotional. The last times I've felt grief, screamed in fear, or experienced infatuation have all been whilst I was dreaming. The most extreme emotion that I've felt in the past week was probably disappointment from losing a game of age of empires.
  • The 'extremeness' and 'emotionalness' of an experience seem like reasonable proxies for how good or bad the experience is.

Why might this not be true?

  • Dreams are less 'vivid'. Sensations or emotions in dreams can be less vivid than IRL. If I break my leg in a dream, it will hurt, but maybe not as much as if I were to actually break my leg.
  • Dreams are 'dissociative'. Dreams can kind of feel like watching a movie of playing a game. If a hippo is charging at me in a dream, I might be a lot less scared than if a hippo is actually charging at me.
  • Dreams are short. If we take REM sleep as a rough proxy for dreaming, the ratio of dream to awake time is roughly 1:10, so there's less time to have these experiences (though plausibly a minute of dream experience feels longer than a minute of waking experience, eg. sometimes I go to sleep for 15 minutes and it feels like it's been hours)

My best guess

  • The average minute of dream experience will be either more good or bad than the average minute of waking life experience, maybe by 3-5x
  • Probably the best and worst experiences that a random person had over the past week happened in their dreams
  • I really have no idea

Given it's hard to tell, I expect there's a lot of individual differences here. I might have particularly wild dreams or a particularly mundane waking life.

Does this matter?

  • If my speculations are in the right ballpark, it's not implausible that our dream experiences are more than our waking experiences in determining what our lives are like overall. If you buy a hedonistic theory of well-being, you might think that how good or bad people's lives are is largely determined by the quality of their dreams.
  • Regardless of the above, my guess is people will tend to underweight the importance of their dreams as a constituent of wellbeing because we don't remember them.
  • Lucid dreaming, sleeping more or less, and taking some kinds of medication are potential ways of changing your dream experiences. I'm not recommending any of these.
  • I'd be pretty interested to see an experience sampling study comparing people's assessments of their experiences whilst dreaming and awake, and think I'd probably change my mind significantly depending on the results.

Gratitude Emailing

I've recently started 'gratitude emailing' - emailing a friend with things that I'm grateful for, who emails back with things they are grateful for, and then I email back etc.

I've found it hard to create a habit of gratitude journalling in the past, but this has been pretty easy and fun. I think this is because:

  • There's a social expectation to keep doing it
  • Things that are in my email inbox feel more urgent
  • I feel like I'm helping my friend by doing it
  • It's nice to hear about what someone else is grateful for
  • It's a good way to keep in contact with someone (the friend I email is my mum, and it's a nice way of staying in touch)