Fostering your creativity for greater health and happiness.
Words Sarah Heeringa
We can’t all be creative all the time, but with encouragement we can boost our potential for imaginative thinking and become more confident at expressing ourselves. And it’s a spark worth nurturing, as new research confirms what we intuitively know to be true; creativity is good for us.
Dr Tamlin Conner and her research team at the University of Otago Department of Psychology wanted to know if engaging in everyday creative acts could make people feel better emotionally. In a 2016 study, they asked 658 university students to keep a daily diary of their experiences and emotional states over 13 days.
Analysing the students diaries, the researchers discovered a pattern whereby the participants felt more enthusiasm and higher than usual “flourishing” following days when they were more creative.
Flourishing is a psychological term used to describe living within an optimal range of human functioning – including such things as goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.
The study, which was published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, found that creative activity on the previous day had a discernable impact, or “positive affect” on wellbeing over the next day – including feelings such as pleasurable engagement, happiness, joy, excitement, and enthusiasm. In addition, earlier research by the team had found that positive affect appeared to also increase creativity during the same day.
The findings, suggest Dr Conner and her study co-authors, “a particular kind of upward spiral for wellbeing and creativity”.
What were the students doing that made them feel so good? According to a previous informal survey, the researchers had ascertained that the students range of creative activities included songwriting, creative writing, poetry and short fiction, knitting and crochet, painting, drawing and sketching, graphic and digital design, making new recipes and musical performance.
Knitting or poetry not your thing? The good news is that creativity is not limited to artistic or craft pursuits – the ability to look at problems or situations from a fresh perspective (which is the essence of creative thinking) is equally important in scientific endeavours as it is in engineering. The idea that there two types of people – creatives and everyone else – is a myth, and an unfortunate one at that, according to US technology and innovation expert Diego Rodriguez.
Creativity is a key component of social and emotional intelligence and is essential to modern work-life. Creative people are better problem solvers, and flexible thinking enables us to cope with change, adapt to technological advances and take greater advantage of new opportunities.
Bringing your creativity home
Home is a place to retreat from the bustling world outside. It’s where we find our favourite things and – all going well – our favourite people. Home is where we can indulge in simple pleasures; taking time to linger over a lazy weekend morning coffee and jammy toast, or that delicious moment at the end of the day of climbing into bed made up with smooth, clean sheets. It’s the place we can wear whatever we feel like and sing badly in the shower if the fancy takes us.
The dwelling we currently live in might be far from our dream home, but given the importance of creativity to life and happiness, we want our home to be a place that nurtures our creative inclinations. We all notice the difference between homes that make us feel welcome and relaxed and those that leave us uncomfortably on edge. What if we imagined our creative spirit to be like a special guest we really want to invite home and feel welcome to stay.
Five ideas for helping our creativity feel more at home
Embrace routine chores
Letting our mind wander can increase creativity and help us tackle complex problems, according to Dr Fiona Kerr, a neural and systems complexity specialist from the University of Adelaide. Psychologists call this divergent thinking – spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ thought processes that can be used to generate creative ideas and explore many possible solutions. Dr Fiona Kerr says that daydreaming acts in ways similar to reflection mode in terms of memory consolidation and allowing non-linear connections to form. The mindlessness of boring household chores – folding the towels, sieving leaves from the pool – might be just the thing to get into this distracted, wandering state of mind. Who knows what brilliant new thoughts might bubble up to the surface.
Cultivate a space that reflects you
Making a house a feel-good space is not about slavishly following the latest interiors trends. That feeling of home as a haven is less about the building and more about the emotional connection and sense of privacy, comfort and self-expression. A sense of home that includes private spaces is key to our feelings of wellbeing and personal space allows you to have a thinking space.
Establish a creative nook
We don’t all have the luxury of space to dedicate an entire room to be a study or artistic studio – but you can create a simple study nook or creative corner in a surprisingly compact area. Take a walk around your home looking for potential spaces and consider what you might use the space for. Look out for second-hand furniture to repurpose as a desk, shelves or handy storage cabinet. For more ideas, visit good.net.nz/office-makeover.
Stock up on supplies
Remember the newsprint sheets, painting easels and pots of invitingly gooey paint from kindergarten? Let alone the childish freedom to paint exuberantly and without any particular skill. Whatever your artistic urge why not provide your adult self with a few resources in anticipation of creative expression. It might be as simple as buying a thick pad of art paper, eraser and a couple of soft leaded pencils.
Feed your mind
Creativity is recombinatory – it’s the product of new information bumping into old ideas to produce something startlingly new.
Don’t limit your reading to skimming through your Facebook feed. Expand your sources and feed your curiosity. Listen to historical podcasts while doing the dishes or getting dressed in the morning. (Try Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Library or the BBC’s countless fascinating offerings). Give yourself permission to read for pleasure as well as for illumination. Try turning off your phone and put a novel by your bed instead. As pioneer US product designer Sara Little Turnbull put it, “Great designers are great readers.”