How to Fantasize Productively

Sigmund Freud, Fernando Pessoa, and the psychology of fantasies.

“Poets are masters of us ordinary men, in knowledge of the mind, because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science.” — Sigmund Freud

In a 1908 essay, Freud observed how poets are “able to carry us… in such a way and to arouse emotions in us of which we thought ourselves perhaps not even capable.” By merely using the right combination of words poets can evoke vivid imagery and trigger memories buried in that inaccessible portion of our psyche: a mental place he called the Unconscious Mind.

Poets, with extensive vocabularies, know the right words; by playfully rearranging them, they provide the keys for us to unlock the doors to our inner selves.

There are two types of fantasies: the kind that is exposed and the kind that is hidden. The child’s great desire is to be like a grown-up, so they don’t hide their fantasies from actual grown-ups. This is also the way a child learns about the world around them. Freud noted that when a child plays, “he creates a world of his own or, more truly, he rearranges the things of his world and orders it in a new way that pleases him better.” Exposed fantasies are therefore creative and productive: it allows the child to build the persona they want to become. In contrast, adult fantasies are often secret and prohibited. Freud observed that they “either are ambitious wishes, serving to exalt the person creating them, or they are erotic.” Adults who are prone to fantasizing are people who tend to be miserable. He says that “happy people never make phantasies, only unsatisfied ones.” These miserable individuals creates separate fantasies for each unfulfilled wish, and when these fantasies “become over-luxuriant and over-powerful, the necessary conditions for an outbreak of neurosis or psychosis are constituted.” Pessoa echoed this in a brief essay he called “The Art of Effective Dreaming”, where he said that if you were to fantasize vividly, you must “always think of yourself as sadder and more miserable than you are… It even serves as a kind of trick ladder to the world of dreams.”


  1. Freud, S. (1963). “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming (1908)”. In Character and Culture: Psychoanalysis applied to anthropology, mythology, folklore, literature, and culture in general (pp. 34–43). New York: Collier Books.
  2. Pessoa, F. (2003). The Book of Disquiet (Richard Zenith, Trans.). New York: Penguin Books.
  3. Thomas, E.; Nolan, C. (Producers) & Nolan, C. (Director). (2010). Inception [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Likes psychoanalysis, Negronis, and the occult.