During my 25-plus years in private practice, I've worked with many individuals who have abandoned the hope of ever achieving their goals and aspirations in life. In other words, they've stopped dreaming, and they've stopped doing what it takes to realize any dreams they may have had. Sadly, some never even had dreams to begin with! This is truly tragic, because dreaming is a basic component of all great achievement, and it is fundamental to living a happy, fulfilling life.

Dreaming and imagining what you want to accomplish and where you want to go -- allowing your heart and mind to entertain all possibilities, culminating in your vision -- are profoundly important forces in achieving happiness and living a resilient life. Unleashing your imagination and its concomitant feelings helps you define the dream and believe the future belongs to you.

And if you don't have a dream, where does that leave you? Think for a minute about the simplicity and wisdom in the following verse from the song "Happy Talk" in the movie South Pacific. The Polynesian character, Bloody Mary, sings to Lieutenant Cable:

Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk,
Talk about things you'd like to do.
You got to have a dream,
If you don't have a dream
How you gonna' have a dream come true?

When you want to pursue a goal or achieve a dream, do you start with an unfettered vision, or do you think of all the problems, sacrifices and effort that it is going to take to get where you want to go? The latter reminds me of a terrific response that Ann Landers wrote to a man who was considering becoming a lawyer. In his letter, he lamented the fact that he was 36 years old and that he would be 40 by the time he completed law school. Ann Landers asked him how old he would be in four years if he didn't go to law school!

By an unfettered vision, I mean taking time to relax, close your eyes and imagine all the wonderful gifts you will be choosing to pursue. Don't allow any upsetting thoughts that make you fearful and unsure of yourself to invade your world; just tell yourself that you will work out the details at another time. Consider all the possibilities. Let loose that part of your brain that loves to dream.

I recommend to clients that they focus on the vision as often as possible, carving out time for this rewarding activity. The vision can sustain you when the going gets tough, boring, scary or frustrating. Your passion can help you keep your eye on the end game, as well as ensure that your journey is very gratifying.

To dream properly you have to put aside all those pesky worries. Say, for example, you want to embark on a new career that has great potential to bring you tremendous joy and satisfaction. You start thinking about being a sports writer, how wonderful it would be to cover football, baseball, golf, etc. The idea that someone would pay you to be in such an exciting environment sounds, well, too good to be true.

Just as you're dreaming away, you get this overwhelming feeling of dread. You say to yourself, "I have to be crazy to think like this. I'll have to go back to school, be on a reduced income until I can land a position; people will think I've lost my marbles to give up my engineering job with its healthy income and stock options. I've taken myself so far in this field. People respect the work I do. What in the world am I thinking?" By ruminating about all the reasons why not, and all the obstacles and sacrifices, by caring too much what other people think, you have single-handedly changed a dream into a nightmare. Great job!

Try this instead. Set aside some time to relax. Turn off the phone. Find a spot where no one will disturb you. Get really comfortable. Close your eyes and picture yourself as that sports journalist, or whatever passionate pursuit gets you into an enjoyable, exciting dream zone. If rotten, worrisome thoughts enter your head, passively let them go by telling yourself that you'll think about these later. For now you are going to focus on the dream.

Sample all the terrific possibilities that this dream has to offer. Spend 10 or 15 minutes in your reverie. Repeat this exercise often. You'll be surprised by what you learn when you allow the dream to unfold!

You can find more information in my book on Positive Psychology, It's Your Little Red Wagon... Six Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams), available on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2009. Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D., has spent close to three decades helping individuals thrive and improve their lives through her work as a licensed psychologist, author and life coach. An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals.

Her most recent book, It's Your Little Red Wagon... 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams!), is Dr. Esonis's contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and happiness. It is available on Amazon.com.

Dr. Esonis earned her doctoral degree at Boston College and currently maintains a life coaching practice in the San Diego area. She also teaches Positive Psychology in the Extended Learning Program at California State University San Marcos. To learn more about the power of Positive Psychology and to order her latest book, visit her website at www.PositivePathLifeCoaching.com