Don’t worry, be happy: Why science proves creativity is good for your mood

Don’t worry, be happy: Why science proves creativity is good for your mood

Creating new things is real hard – the process can be painful. There’s all that self-doubt too – boo hoo my stuff’s rubbish – but does it make you happy in the end? According to science yes, it does. And not only that, the happier you are the more creative you become too… erm, so remind me what’s stopping you?

Don’t ‘do’ if you’re blue

One sure fire way to quash your creativity according to scientists is to try to make, do or build anything when you’re feeling down in the dumps.

Black moods, grumpiness and negativity towards the world, your job, your life or your ex, means that you’re likely to be far less creative. Scientists have tested this over and over.

In one study, researchers made feel people happy or sad by getting them to remember positive or negative times in their life (that sounds pretty mean but scientists ARE mean).

Then, they gave them a bunch of creativity tests and measured the results – and yes, people who were made to feel rubbish performed poorly whereas people who remembered happy events performed well.

Psychologists have even fiddled about with levels of dopamine in their subjects’ brains to chemically induce feelings of sorrow or happiness – then measured how good they were are doing creative things. They found similar results.

In general, these studies find that being in a grouchy mood is a creativity killer whilst being in a good mood improves your creativity – in terms of both its quality and its quantity. People produced creative ideas of a higher quality and more of them when they were in a good mood.

Couch creativity?

But other scientists have said that’s all a bit too simple. They say that in general, whilst good moods are better for creative thinking, some good moods are better than others.

When you’re feeling relaxed and chilled out you could say that you’re in a good mood – but these researchers found that being in what they call a ‘passive’ positive mood wasn’t going to do you much good creatively-speaking.

So, you might feel quite content slobbing out on the sofa watching Game of Thrones stuffing your face with M&Ms – but it doesn’t make you creative (it will also make you the size of small family car).

The researchers find that it’s only when your passive mood becomes active – when you start to feel excited, or joyful – that the creative sparks really start flying around.

Okay, so far, so creative.

So it looks like feeling upbeat is good for your creativity and feeling really happy makes you a creative dynamo. But let’s flip that around.

Can the act of being creative – making, doing, drawing, writing, baking – make you happy and improve your wellbeing?

Here the academic egg-heads aren’t as clear but one study tries to get to grips with the topic.

Think creative

Here, researchers recruited a bunch of undergrad students and either gave them creative or non-creative tests to complete.

The creative tasks enabled them to play around with ideas and dream up solutions to problems where the non-creative tasks were more about getting an answer right or wrong.

Once they’d taken the tests, the scientists measured their happiness levels.

They found that the people who’d been given the non-creative tasks all reported feeling significantly less happy than the people who’d been given the creative tasks.

But not only that. They also found that people who’d just been told that they were going to be given a creative task to do (but not actually been given it) reported feeling happier.

These scientists found that just thinking about doing a creative task and solving a creative problem can make you happier – actually doing the task made them significantly happier.

You might think it’s just because creative tasks are just more fun to do – but the researchers took pains to make sure both types of tasks were equally hard.

The creative tasks were difficult to solve – but they gave the subjects something else. But what?

Flow time

Another study might have at least part of the answer – and it’s something to do with something called flow – a kind of meditative state that we get into when we get creative.

These scientists collated results from 500 people across four countries. They conducted a series of tests in which people were again, given a range of tasks designed to get the creative juices flowing.

Afterwards they asked people a range of questions about how they felt during the tests.

The questions were designed to help the researchers understand two things; how absorbed the person was in the task and how autonomous they felt when they were doing it – in other words, whether they were experiencing flow.

Express yourself

They found a link between how happy people said they were and how absorbed they were in a task.

They also found a link between happiness and autonomy – when the students felt they were free to express themselves – this boosted their mood.

So, whilst it’s true that being creative does make us happier, it’s not because it’s fun paint a pretty picture or sing a song.

These researchers found that being creative makes us feel more absorbed and in the world and more free to express ourselves as people and human beings – and it’s that which makes us happy.

Creative take-aways

  1. It’s scientifically proven that people are better are undertaking creative tasks when they feel happy and in a positive mood – so, if you’re down in the dumps, save that creative project for tomorrow.
  1. It’s also proven that the very best time to be creative is when you’re feeling really happy – being chilled out isn’t enough – you are at your creative peak when you’re feeling joyful.
  1. Research also proves that being creative itself can improve your happiness. In fact, even thinking about being creative puts you in a better mood. Best get that paint box out. But not only that…
  1. Being creative gives us something on a far deeper level – it makes us feel autonomous and free – and that makes us happy. So what are you waiting for?

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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