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July 27, 2021

You’ve always known cultivating your creativity is good for problem solving, motivation and career growth, but research also suggests when you express your creativity, you’ll experience greater wellbeing and happiness. And who doesn’t want more of that?

For some, creativity may seem out of reach—reserved only for those who paint or sculpt or play the violin. But, in reality, creativity is something all of us can access. In fact, any job (or life!) benefits from creative thinking, and any person can express it in their own way.

Creativity also seems to be a sure path toward experiencing more happiness. Ironically, if you pursue happiness for its own sake, you’ll be less likely to achieve it. But you can harness happiness by creating the conditions through which you can access it—and creative pursuits are a surefire way to bring about more joy.

 

Creativity and Art Enhance Wellbeing and Happiness

Multiple studies have demonstrated correlations between creativity, art, wellbeing and happiness.

  • Mental health and wellbeing are enhanced with more creative pursuits. The British Journal of Clinical Psychology published a study which demonstrates when people are involved in arts-oriented activities, they see a boost in positive emotions and a reduction in negative emotions—bringing about greater overall happiness.
  • In a related study by The University of Otago, those involved in creative pursuits had more positive feelings in general. And interestingly, their positive feelings drove additional creative activities. Creativity fed positivity, which in turn, fed creativity, thus setting up a reinforcing relationship.
  • A study at Drexel University found when people did more art work—even doodling or coloring—they experienced a boost to their brain’s pleasure pathways. This additional blood flow to their brain’s reward centers made them feel happier, and more confident about their art and increased their desire to engage in additional creative pursuits. The effects of creating art were significant for non-artists as well as artists.
  • A factor linking both creativity and happiness is empathy and a focus on others. When we focus on applying our talents to help others, we feel happier. This is well-documented in various studies. But it is also true that when empathy is enhanced, this can result in greater creativity and problem solving, according to a University of Cambridge study.

 

Fostering Creativity and Happiness

So, creativity and happiness are closely related, and this has implications for both work and life. Here’s how you can make it matter:

Find judgment free zones. We tend to tap into our best creative thinking when we can turn down the volume on critics—both our inner critic and those around us. You need the space to explore new ideas, make new connections and synthesize information without judgement. After all, new ideas can be fragile. Another factor which can get in the way of free thinking is a lack of time. Often, when we’re trying to solve a problem at work or find the best solution to a life challenge, there is urgency involved. The need to get things right in combination with feeling rushed can squash budding ideas. Find ways to get away—either physically or mentally—in order to give yourself more time and space. When you can distance yourself from critics (inner or outer) and time pressures, it can do wonders for your sense of freedom to think and reflect. Find a temporary cocoon, take a deep breath and get away just a bit in order to engage your creative spirit.

 

Find your people. Creative pursuits can be both individual and collective. For some, their happy place is in solitary moments where they are solving a tough problem by applying new thinking or focusing individually on creating something new. But for others, creative efforts are enhanced when they are working with their team or gathered with their group. No matter where you enjoy creating, most creative efforts ultimately have a social component. Customers will benefit from your novel solution to a problem or friends will provide you with praise for your newest cooking creation. Join with your people at the points that are best for you—to create, obtain feedback or revel in their positive responses and celebrate your brilliance.

 

Free your mind. Other elements of creativity and happiness are a sense of expansion and feeling of freedom. Great new innovations are typically born by putting unlike ideas together or combining concepts in untested ways. When you explore more freely and have the opportunity for your thinking to diverge and your curiosity to be sated, you will create the conditions for both happiness and creativity. You’ll generate more ideas, and a greater quantity of ideas leads to better quality. You’ll see new possibilities in novel combinations of concepts. Explore widely. Go to the theatre, take in a play, or read a book outside your usual genre. Strike up friendships with people who think differently from you. This expansion of your inputs will contribute to your creative output and your experience of joy.

Seek experiences of aweMoments of wonder will inspire you. They tend to motivate curiosity and exploration, and they are likely to foster feelings of connection with others. Studies by the University of California found awe-inspiring experiences caused the release of proteins called cytokines which had positive effects on happiness, wellbeing and creativity. Spend time in nature, take in a sunset, appreciate the beauty of a flower or lose yourself in music or artwork, and these will in turn inspire your creativity and happiness.  

Get physicalExercise can also enhance creativity. A study at the University of Leiden found when people exercised, the tended to express greater creative thinking. Another study by Stanford University found people were more creative during and after they had taken a walk. Researchers hypothesize creativity is enhanced through physical activity because of increased blood flow to the brain and because of ‘ego-depletion’ in which people can let their minds wander while they are putting effort toward physical tasks. For your happiness and creativity, get active through walking or any other pursuit that taps your physical capability.

You do you. Another key element of creativity is self-expression. This is a key part of happiness as well. When you can be yourself more fully—at work and in life—you’ll tend to enjoy greater mental health and career success. You’ll be able to inspire your best and your unique contributions to the community. When you’re in the midst of a creative pursuit, tap into your creative confidence and take risks. As the saying goes, “A boat that isn’t going anywhere doesn’t make waves.” Put yourself out there. Make some waves. Dare to try something that might be outside your typical area of expertise—and hence more creative or unexpected.

Creative pursuits can be anything which make use of your talents or interests, and you can follow your passions within your work or beyond your work. No matter how you choose to maintain your creative muscle, the process will set the conditions for greater happiness, which will set the stage for even more creative activity. Creativity is lifeblood. Humans crave finding fresh pathways, solving problems and building something new—and you can fulfill this need and your happiness at the same time.



Image Source: Getty Images