As a kid, whenever I'd hastily compose a picture of a cycloptic blob or attack an unoffending piece of paper with angry orange scrawl, I'd proudly shove the picture in my mother's face, already knowing what she'd say.
"Ooh!" she'd gasp. "How… creative!"
There's no concrete definition of creativity, but most experts agree it's got something to do with the ability to come up with new ideas, new links between ideas and novel solutions to problems (with or without destroying a pack of Crayolas). But here's the kicker: Forget the image of the brooding artist alone in a basement studio. Research suggests creative people are actually happier than everyone else.
Creating Smiles -- Why It Matters
Not a singer, writer, or dancer? No problem. Experts say absolutely anyone can be creative, though different people may have different talents. "It really has to do with open-mindedness," says Dr. Carrie Barron, co-author of "The Creativity Cure," who says creativity applies to everything from making a meal to generating a business plan.
But whether creativity means whipping up a spinach soufflé or tap-dancing for a Broadway audience, experts say there's a strong connection between creative expression and overall well-being. Key components of the creative personality, like novelty-seeking and perseverance, are also good predictors of life satisfaction. And it works both ways: People also tend to be most creative when they're in a good mood, possibly because they don't fixate on individual pieces of information and are able to think more broadly. And according to creativity researcher Dr. Shelley Carson, "Increases in positive mood broaden attention and allow us to see more possible solutions to creative problems."
Some psychologists talk about "flow," or getting so immersed in creative work that we don't pay attention to anything else, like what time it is or how our body feels. These experts argue that getting into a state of flow can produce substantial happiness, the kind that lasts longer than the pleasure we get from eating a good cookie. But don't expect picking up a paintbrush to instantly solve life's problems.
Creation Nation? -- The Answer/Debate
Because people in a flow state are so immersed in their work, they might not necessarily feel happy while they're being creative. It's only afterward, when looking back on the creative process, that they get that warm, fuzzy feeling.
There's also a substantial amount of research on the link between creativity and mental health issues such as depression. Studies suggest creative people tend to be more vulnerable to psychiatric issues, particularly bipolar disorder. Yet many psychologists say depression has nothing to do with the ability to be creative. Instead, creativity is associated with self-reflection, and that tendency to ruminate may be what's causing the feelings of depression.
In fact, far from promoting creativity, depression may actually make it harder for people to be creative, and they may only start to be creative again once their mood improves. But creativity might be a remedy for the blues: Barron suggests doing something creative (like writing about a bad experience) can help people get over feelings of depression.
As always, if depression is a serious issue, consider seeing a therapist. But when life has just got us in a funk, it looks like staying holed up in the bedroom blasting Alanis Morissette won't lead to any creative revelations. Instead, consider singing a new song, penning a poem or trying to solve that damn Rubiks cube. Who knows what you might discover?
How do you express your creativity? Do you find your mood improves when you're creative? Share in the comments below.
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Write Down What You're Grateful For
Write down three new things you are <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/gratitude" target="_hplink">grateful</a> for each day into a blank word document or into the free app<a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ijournal-notebook-journal/id426811138?mt=8" target="_hplink"> iJournal</a>. Research shows this will significantly improve your <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/optimism" target="_hplink">optimism</a> even six months later, and raises your success rates significantly.
Focus On The Positive
Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos. This dramatically increases work happiness.
Exercise for 10 minutes a day. This trains your brain to believe your behavior matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.
<a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/meditation" target="_hplink">Meditate</a> for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/stress" target="_hplink">stress</a> and raises happiness.
Send A Positive Email
Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/teamwork" target="_hplink">team</a>. This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in my study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.