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  • AnJenette Afridi. MA

Creativity & Happiness

People can learn much about creativity and happiness from children. They are naturally creative. That's because much of the world is relatively new to them, and they are happy exploring that new world. Observe the intense and joyful expression of a child making an airplane out of a simple cardboard box. The process is creative and satisfying from start to finish. As adults we can rekindle our creative sides and so find pleasure even in the ordinary by being more like children.

Psychologists categorize happiness in numerous ways. One type of happiness is transient - the kind you get from eating your favorite chocolate bar or listening to your favorite music. The other is more enduring - the kind you get from reaching a goal you were never sure you'd reach until you did. Maybe the first kind could be more precisely described as pleasure and the second more as satisfaction. Regardless of the definition, the second kind is linked to creativity.

Keep in mind, being creative doesn't necessarily mean you are musical or artistic. It means that your brain functions in a way that helps you solve problems, think up new ideas, and have insightful “aha” moments. The word creativity itself is ambiguous. It's not just the process of making art, or writing a story, or composing a song. Some of the most creative people do none of these things, but are involved in, for example, science. These include people who devise and create software algorithms, or those who invent vaccines.

Yet all creative processes are similar. They all start with an idea that triggers a spark in the person's imagination. The spark spurs the person to develop the idea and set a goal. Initially, the goal might not be very clear, yet its creator is conscious of its general shape and roughly how to reach it.

Creativity's reward has three parts: it comes from setting a goal, doing what's needed to reach it, and finally reaching it. Though the greatest satisfaction comes from achieving the goal, the journey towards it is usually also stimulating and mostly pleasant.

According to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at California's Claremont Graduate University, a person's happiness is greatly enhanced through creativity. Creativity is the process of having a new idea and setting out to achieve it. Creative achievement can come from the most common projects as well as the more demanding.

Examples of the more common projects might include devising and implementing a specially tailored exercise plan, designing a garden, creating a new recipe, or researching and planning a foreign vacation. More demanding projects might include conceiving an advertising campaign, setting up a new business, or building a unique software application. Successfully devising and concluding the relatively ordinary projects gives satisfaction in the same way as completing more complex projects.

While there's little doubt that the creative process leads to happiness, Professor Csikszentmihalyi points out the corollary is also true, namely that happiness aids creativity. For many years a common belief was that sad and depressed people were more creative, or that creative people had a tendency to be depressives. This belief does not stand up to scientific scrutiny, according to Harvard professor, Teresa Amabile. She studied hundreds of people in diverse jobs and found that those experiencing feelings of happiness were generally more creative than those experiencing feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. So, the cliché angst-ridden writer or painter - a common stereotype in the past - seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Not everyone is a Picasso, an Einstein, or a Steve Jobs, and not every task involves creativity. Yet even routine tasks can be made creative and so be more enjoyable with a small amount of tweaking. Professor Csikszentmihalyi says that to keep enjoying something, we should increase its complexity. Put another way, routine tasks are boring because they are routine. We take the routine out of them by making them more complex. Cooking a weekend family meal could be turned from a mundane boring activity into an exciting and creative challenge by, for example, devising a new sauce to accompany it, or trying a completely new recipe.

We can all tap our creative side by simply deciding to do so. We can make ordinary things less mundane by changing our approach and adding a little complexity. It may require extra thought and effort, but it produces a much more satisfying result. Albert Einstein summed it up very well; he said, "Creativity is intelligence having fun."


This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical issue or disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this article and will not be held responsible for the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to replace a personal relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your personal health care provider for specific medical advice.

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