Escapism is a way of refocusing one’s attention on pleasant or enjoyable things, as opposed to the hard realities of the everyday world. It can be a healthy means for not getting completely depressed by reality, or in extreme forms, can result in obsessive behaviors that make people completely ignore reality to their detriment.
Healthy escapism is probably one of the first practices of the developing human species. Who can evaluate such things as cave paintings or the first works of artisans without suggesting that people sometimes needed to focus on things that were not mundane or entirely useful? Little usefulness might be derived from painting a cave painting, or from looking at one. There may have been some practical impetus behind artistic intent, such as teaching people how to slay a mammoth. In reality, however, the focus on something other than the mundane was likely a relief.
Modern escapism in a healthy sense could include reading a favorite book, watching a sports program, watching “mindless” television, or playing a few hours of Tetris. There is very little harm in the occasional escape from reality in such forms.
Some argue however, this mindset may ultimately become addictive. For example, current studies are now focusing on the emerging condition of Internet addiction. In Internet addiction, people may spend most hours of the day and night surfing the Internet. They may do so in preference to working in the world, or in preference to having “real life” relationships with other people. What begins as a mere search on a topic, may end in a life lived in front of a computer monitor when the issue becomes extreme.
Some people argue that those who get excessively involved as fans of certain television shows or series of books are pursuing an unhealthy level of escapism. For example, people look to Trekkies, or comic books fans that dress up or attempt to live as their favorite characters, as having lost themselves in their respective "universes." In their defense, many devoted fans live very normal lives, and have children, relationships and regular jobs. However, they may spend their weekends attending conferences to escape into an idealized world that seems a better substitute than exploring the hard truths of this world.
Activities perceived normal, like eating, sleeping or sexual activity may also be deemed as escapist when they are practiced in excess. For example, sleeping over half the day to the point where one cannot pursue a normal life is termed escapism. Such sleeping may be caused by illnesses that creates exhaustion, or may actually be symptomatic of mental illnesses like depression. Often the person uses sleep as an escape from a life filled with emotional or physical pain.
It is not too difficult to guess why we all need to occasionally practice escapism. A glance at a morning newspaper tends to reveal literally hundreds of deaths, as well as articles about kidnappings, child abuse, and major disasters. Additionally, work inside or out of the home can be stressful, and this activity is a way to avoid feeling constantly under stress.
However, when the activity runs rampant, it prevents us from living in the world as truly engaged. It can lead to addiction, breakdown of relationships and inability to actually survive in the real world. Moderate escapism, on the other hand, may actually make us more effective participants in the world, since we allow ourselves to take mental breaks that reduce our stress.