It doesn’t take long to find a link between Positive Psychology and creativity, and research into the link between well being and creativity is constantly growing.
A quick look at the VIA framework reveals creativity to be one of its 24 signature strengths.
More specifically, creativity is one of the character strengths, along with curiosity, judgment, love of learning and perspective, which define the virtue of wisdom and knowledge. All of these are cognitive strengths which entail acquiring and applying knowledge.
In the VIA, creativity is seen as synonymous with originality and ingenuity and is defined as the ability to think of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and achieve goals.
Creativity can be viewed as a continuum. From practical creativity which we are all likely to experience on a daily basis, to those once-in-a lifetime mind-blowing achievements, usually reserved for those with true mastery of their chosen field.
In Authentic Happiness, Seligman describes creativity as one aspect of a broader category of strengths including ingenuity, originality, practical intelligence and street smarts. In his words:
“When you are faced with something you want, are you outstanding at finding novel yet appropriate behavior to reach that goal? You are rarely content with doing something the conventional way.”
– Seligman, 2002, loc. 2375
Conditions for Creativity
Creativity requires a certain state of mind. Barbara Fredrickson (2003) points out in her well-known broaden-and-build theory that an increase in positive emotions leads to a broader thought-action repertoire. This ultimately leads to more creative, flexible, integrative and open thinking patterns.
Research from the University of Western Ontario (Nadler et al, 2010) supports this theory. The results of the study showed that participants who listened to happy music or viewed funny clips were more likely to think innovatively and solve the problem at hand than those who were not exposed.
These findings suggest that we first need to create a positive environment conducive to creativity in order to see an increase in our flow of ideas and innovation.
Creativity and Positive Psychology
In the context of positive psychology, an interesting question is how creativity might lead us to increased well being or even flourishing. Three mechanisms play a role here are:
- The Authentic Self: those individuals who count creativity amongst their signature strengths derive a sense of authenticity, purpose and meaning from exercising this strength, and finding ways of bringing as much creativity as possible into their lives.
What shape or form this creativity takes depends on our personal “brand” of creativity, it may be artistic, cultural, inventive, scientific or basically any other kind of original activity.
If creativity is one of your character strengths, make sure you find ways to regularly exercise your creative muscles.
- Positive focus: Czikszentmihaly’s book “Creativity” is based on interviews with creative individuals from many walks of life and from varied careers. He found that creative outlets can harness otherwise destructive energy.
“ (…) entertainment keeps chaos temporarily at bay, but the attention it absorbs gets wasted. On the other hand, when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy so that it generates its own internal force to keep concentration focused, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities to relate to the world.”
– Czikszentmihalyi, 2007, loc. 5901
Finding the time to incorporate creative activities into your life can open your mind to new discoveries, which can lead you to new places and ways to engage with the world. Creativity when harnessed be beneficial for your well being, even if creativity is not necessarily one of your signature strengths.
- Flow: When challenges closely match a person’s abilities they can enter a state of flow. Flow is the feeling of complete immersion and loss of sense of time when merging actions with awareness. This is experienced by individuals across a range of activities from artistic pursuits, to sports, music, science or invention.
Flow leads us to perceive an activity as enjoyable. In fact, according to Czikszentmihalyi (2007, loc. 1981):
“The process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in.”
3 Exercises To Try Today To Boost Your Creativity
We have created a culture in which being right and doing things perfectly is valued highly. But as we try hard to be perfect, we miss out on the benefits of being wrong. That’s right, a lot of inventions have originated from mistakes.
Take Post-it notes for instance. Spencer Silver failed to develop a super strong adhesive for 3M laboratories, but some years later Arthur Fry turned Silver’s mistake, a superglue that wouldn’t stick, into an innovative new product: an adhesive that sticks to objects but could be easily lifted off.
If only Silver was more aware of his potential for innovation and creativity! Ken Robinson claims that the reason we fail to be creative is because schools teach us to be right. So we get out of school in fear of being wrong, which suffocates creativity. Here is how Robinson explained the concept in a TED talk:
So why not allow yourself to be wrong once in a while? Create a work culture that sees mistakes as a pathway to innovation and growth. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t go wrong?
Create Upward Spirals through Positive Emotions
Another way to increase your creative output is by making positive emotions a habit. Yes, it’s that simple!
Generally, most events we encounter are neither positive nor negative. They are neutral before we categorise them according to our “lense” (how we choose see the world). American social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that as we choose to categorise more events as positive rather than neutral (such as a sunny day) and experience positive emotions, such as joy and appreciation, we experience an upward spiral. This changes our radius of awareness.
Fredrickson calls this the Broaden-And-Build theory (B. L. Fredrickson, 1998). Here is how Fredrickson explains her findings:
Fredrickson conducted randomized control studies and found that positive emotions change our view and even our peripheral vision. They open us and change our outlook on the environment and the way we approach tasks.
This is where creativity comes in. As our world expands, we become more flexible, innovative, and creative and are able to see solutions we would not normally see (B. Fredrickson, 2003). So cultivating positive emotions is a great way to increase your creative output.
One of the most effective exercises to create long-lasting upward spirals is a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes every evening and write down three good things which happened to you today. Initially, you may find it difficult to find 3 positive situations each day.
But as you continue to screen your day for positivity, you become more aware of the many little things, which you choose to either categorise as neutral or positive. By the way, my favourite way of letting positive emotions flow is by putting on some happy tunes.
Are you still reading about mindfulness, thinking that one day you will incorporate it into your daily life?
Well, if benefits such as improvements in physical and mental health, as well as wellbeing, have not yet managed to convince you, the prospect of increased creativity is one more reason to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your busy lifestyle.
Let’s face it: creativity takes time. But our mind can be a tad impatient when it comes to producing solutions, right? Negative self-talk along the lines of, “Your are so not creative! What a pathetic effort!” can be a real barrier for creativity.
Practicing mindfulness has been found to increase self-compassion (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
As mindfulness is a state of relaxed, but alert attention to the present, we observe our emotions and thoughts in an open, non-judgemental way, we distance ourselves from negative self-talk, and we make room for the experience of the moment.
Practising mindfulness regularly allows us to enjoy the process of being creative rather than just focusing on the desired end result. What is more, as my colleague Uyanga Tugsbaatar pointed out in the post “3 Benefits of Mindfulness Practice for Your Brain”, practicing mindfulness raises your happiess set-point, which means you find it easier to experience positive emotions and broaden your creative view.
Not sure where to start? Check out our extensive list of Mindfulness Exercises or simply download a Mindfulness App, my personal favourite is “Buddhify”. So, to make it very simple for you to get started right away here is your action plan, effective from today:
- Accept mistakes! From today, realise their potential for growth and innovation
- Take a gratitude journal make time to write down three good things every day
- Take thirty minutes each day to meditate
A Take Home Message
No matter which way you express your creative potential, there is definite benefit to your health and well being. Creativity starts with an encouraging environment and grows from opportunities where your innovative and original perspective is challenged. Find your flow, live your authentic self and welcome well being and flourishing into your life.
“Even though personal creativity may not lead to fame and fortune, it can do something that from the individuals’ point of view is even more important: make day to day experiences more vivid, more enjoyable, more rewarding. When we live creatively, boredom is banished and every moment holds the promise of a fresh discovery.”
– Czikszentmihalyi, 2007, loc. 5817
Need some inspiration?
Check out this list of TED talks that demonstrate just how many guises creativity comes in – perhaps you will discover a new outlet for yourself!
Czikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2007). Creativity. Kindle Edition. London: Harper Collins ebooks
Fredrickson, B.L. (2003): The Value of Positive Emotions. In: American Scientist, Volume 91, p. 330-335.
Seligmann, M. (2002): Authentic Happiness. Kindle Edition. New York: Free Press
Nadler, R., Rabi, R. and Minda, J.P. (2010). A positive mood allows your brain to think more creatively. Retrieved (15/06/2016) from: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/a-positive-mood-allows-your-brain-to-think-more-creatively.html
Fredrickson, B. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is comming to understand why it's good to feel good. American Scientist, 91(July-August), 330-335. Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? . Review of General Psychology, 2(3, Sep 1998), 300-319. Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35-43.