Why Finding Time Each Day For Creativity Makes You Happier

Creative activities can trigger an "upward spiral" of well-being, psychologists find.
Creativity can help lower stress and anxiety and give you a sense of purpose, researchers say.

Kurt Vonnegut once said that practicing any art ― no matter how badly ― makes the soul grow. “So do it,” he wisely advised.

Psychologists have now come to a similar conclusion. According to a recent study out of New Zealand, engaging in creative activities contributes to an “upward spiral” of positive emotions, psychological well-being and feelings of “flourishing” in life.

This isn’t just good news for people who work in creative fields. Anyone who finds time for creative hobbies and side projects like writing in a journal, sketching, crafting or playing the ukulele is likely to experience the same effect.

For the study, which was published Nov. 17 in the Journal of Positive Psychology, 658 volunteers were asked to keep a diary for 13 days, rating how creative they had been over the course of the day and describing their overall mood. Creativity was defined as coming up with new ideas, expressing oneself in an original way or spending time engaged in artistic pursuits.

Each day, the participants also rated how much they felt they were “flourishing” ― which the researchers define as experiencing positive personal growth ― by assessing things like how engaged they felt in their daily activities and how rewarding their social interactions were.

A clear pattern emerged in the diary entries. Immediately after the days participants were more creative, they said they felt more enthusiastic and energized ― in other words, they were flourishing more.

“This finding suggests a particular kind of upward spiral for well-being and creativity,” Dr. Tamlin Conner, a psychologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago and the study’s lead author, stated in a press release. “Engaging in creative behavior leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”

Creating and expressing ourselves gives us a sense of purpose, according to Tony Wagner, a senior research fellow at Harvard and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.

Creativity can also help lower stress and anxiety, enhance resilience and contribute to a sense of playfulness and curiosity. Engaging in creative activities and art-based therapies has also been linked to improved physical and mental health.

But if you don’t consider yourself an “artist,” don’t worry. You don’t have to have any particular creative talents to benefit from creative activity. Anything from experimenting with a new dinner recipe to creating a mood board on Pinterest can give you that creative boost.

As the study’s authors concluded, “Finding ways to encourage everyday creative activities, not just master works of art, could lead directly to increased well-being.”

Happy upward spiraling!

The Best Books For Unlocking Creativity
'The Book Of Doing: Everyday Activities To Unlock Your Creativity And Joy', Allison Arden(01 of 10)
If reading about the theory of creativity is more likely to send you into the land of nod than get you firing on all cylinders, this could be the book for you. For Allison Arden, Publisher of Advertising Age, creativity is all about 'doing'. Perfect for those who feel they simply don't have the time to be creative, Arden suggests that everything you do in your daily life can be transformed into the opportunity to unlock creativity. The book delivers 94 activities to help you turn everything you do into an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, recapture your joy and begin unlocking the creativity that lives inside of you. It also identifies the obstacles standing in your way, and even includes calendars to find the time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. You really have no excuse now... (credit: Penguin)
'It's Not How Good You Are It's How Good You Want To Be', Paul Arden(02 of 10)
Written by top advertising guru, Paul Arden, this book is simple, concise and straight to the point. A pocket bible for the talented as well as those who are lacking in creative confidence, it is insightful, uplifting and a humorous, down-to-earth antidote to all those worthy, overly sincere self-help tomes. (credit: Phaidon)
'Lateral Thinking', Edward De Bono(03 of 10)
Lateral thinking has been helping people to unleash their creativity ever since Edward de Bono originated the concept in 1967. In this internationally acclaimed bestseller, de Bono offers practical techniques to encourage the habit of lateral thinking to generate ideas and unlock the imagination. (credit: Penguin Books)
'Imagine: How Creativity Works'(04 of 10)
Jonah Lehrer's look at the science of creativity explores the notion that creativity is not a single “gift” possessed by the lucky few but rather a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively. Drawing on a diverse range of reference points, from bartenders and surfers to Bob Dylan and Pixar, Lehrer reveals tried and tested methods for unlocking the imagination. (credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
'How To Have Kick-Ass Ideas: Get Curious, Get Adventurous, Get Creative'(05 of 10)
Chris Barez-Brown is head of training at '?What If!', a leading innovation firm that coaches major blue chip companies such as Sainsbury's and Nike. But don't be put off if the thought of those motivational workshops at corporate 'team building' away-days leaves you cold. 'How To Have Kick-Ass Ideas' is packed with simple, practical exercises to "help you to unlock your creative juices" and includes real-life case studies to demonstrate the techniques in action. The BBC's Alan Yentob says, "I've seen '?What If!' in action and it works. If it's good enough for Alan... (credit: Harper Element)
'Creativity: Flow And The Psychology Of Discovery And Invention'(06 of 10)
Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychology professor, known for his work in the study of creativity and the notion of ‘flow’ (the mental state when a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity). Here the psychologist uses the ‘flow’ theory to explore the creative process through interviews with 100 exceptional people, from scientists, politicians and business leaders to poets and artists. (credit: Harper Perennial)
'Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All'(07 of 10)
Written by two leading experts in innovation, design and creativity, this book sets out to dispel the myth that creativity is the domain of “creative types” only. Firm believers that creativity is within all of us, the owners of award-winning design firm, IDEO, identify the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives. (credit: Crown Business)
'The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life', Twyla Tharp(08 of 10)
According to Twyla Tharp, creativity is not the result of a spark of divine inspiration, rather it's something that must be worked at but something that is within reach for all of us. Tharp teaches how to make creativity a habit using more than 30 simple exercises to ease the fears of anyone staring at a blank canvas who doesn't know where to start and to open the mind to new possibilities. She offers techniques for finding new ideas and also for getting out of a creative rut.
'Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking'(09 of 10)
According to Roger Martin, the attribute that great thinkers have in common is their aptitude for "integrative thinking" or "the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their mind at once, and then reach a synthesis that contains elements of both but actually improves on each." In 'Opposable Mind' Martin draws on more than 50 management success stories, including the brains behind Proctor & Gamble, eBay and The Four Seasons hotel chain, focusing on what such innovators think, as opposed to what they do. (credit: Harvard Business Review Press)
'On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft', Stephen King(10 of 10)
A must-read for budding writers, this part-memoir, part-masterclass by one of the world's most respected authors offers well-structured, grounded advice and lifts the lid on the world of the writer at work. (credit: Hodder)
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