The Value of Creativity
Creativity could be a powerful alternative to mindfulness. If you find yourself getting easily distracted and bored during this practice, why not get creative... literally.
Small acts of creativity, termed ‘little C’, in everyday life have been shown to improve mood, psychological functioning and cognitive performance (Richards 2007; 2010). It has also been linked to self-actualization (Heerden, 2010) - the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, defined as ‘the realization of ones’ potential and full development and appreciation of life’ (Maslow, 1970). Indeed, those people who attain self-actualization are characterized by a drive to be creative in all aspects of their lives (Warr et al, 2018).
Some individuals may be predisposed to pursue creative pursuits. Notably, positive traits such as conscientious and openness to experience have been associated with it, whilst neurotic individuals and those who report negative mood states such as anger, stress and self-consciousness report less creative activity.
Whether creativity is a result of these traits, or, being creative causes them, is unknown. Nonetheless, its association with positive traits we all desire surely suggests its pursuit is worthwhile (Silvia et al, 2014).
La Ludwigskirche en Munich
Oil on cardboard
67,3 x 96 cm
La persistance de la mémoire
Oil on canvas
24.1 x 33 cm
How does this work?
It is thought that the benefits of creativity are accessed by enabling individuals to reach a flow state. This is when we become fully emersed and focused on a task and all other sensations- whether we are cold, hungry or need to pee, go away. Moreover, reaching flow through creative activity induces physiological changes consistent with flow. In a 2010 Swedish study on classical pianists, the musicians who entered flow exhibited deepened breathing and slowed heart rates (Manzano, Theorell & Ullen, 2010).
This is not dissimilar to what happens during meditation. Creativity gives us an outlet to express ourselves in a way that does not require conscious articulation or thought analysis. Our thoughts and feelings can manifest in abstract ways, and realized intuitively. At work this has been associated with productivity, motivation and company loyalty. In general life, it is linked to subjective well-being, satisfaction with life and happiness (Kasa & Hassan, 2013).
Flow state of mind is the goal, it is the by-product of creativity which reaps so many benefits.
Nowadays, creativity is being incorporated into an array of interventions to improve health. Most notably art therapy has a robust evidence-base. A review of studies found it this is effective for reducing symptoms of stress, trauma an anxiety (Campbell et al, 2010).
It also may contribute to better aging. Indeed, older adults in nursing homes reported being involved in hobbies such as crafting help them keep healthy (Bickerstaff et al, 2003). Moreover, it has been associated with features of successful aging: a sense of purpose, interactions with others, personal growth, self-acceptance, autonomy, and health. It is thought that creativity fosters a sense of competence, purpose, and growth. Therefore, creativity is not a temporary fix, but ought to be a part of your lifestyle to age well (Fisher & Specht, 1999).
So, why not incorporate it now!
How to get creative...
As a society we are swept up in our careers, relationships, health or money that it may feel difficult to make the time or have the energy to fulfill a creative pursuit. Yet, given the evidence above, maybe it is time to make the space for it...
Choose a creative activity that is meaningful to you. It could be anything from knitting, drawing, dancing or writing, so long as you find it engaging. And, don’t worry, you do not have to be particularly good at it, it is the process, not the end product that is important.
It should be an appropriate level of difficulty- not too easy so you get bored, or too hard that you give up.
Ensure you are in an environment that will optimize flow. Remove any distractions and noise, get comfortable, relax and begin...
You may at first find your creative pursuit pointless and weird, yet, this should not put you off, I myself can advocate for this.
Despite having never written before, last year, I began writing a series of fictional diary entries.
After an hour or so I found myself fully immersed in the characters, the setting and the plot. I typed away rapidly to keep up with the thoughts flowing through my fingertips onto the keypad, not allowing myself to stop until some sort of conclusion finalized. Importantly, I did not know where my writing would take me, instead, I allowed it to reveal itself.
At times the process felt frustrating, with multiple twists and turns to be story. Yet, the complexity of it was imperative as it suggested my thoughts were tangled, confused and sporadic.
In the end, I was able to clarify them through my writing process and gain insight into my thoughts and feelings.
The secret when being creative is not to look for the answer to a specific question… do not draw, dance or run expecting to know what your future career will be or whether your boyfriend is the one. Search for a flow state, fully engage in the activity, and, in doing so, become immersed in flow, meet your challenges, overcome problems and learn new things (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).
Bickerstaff K., Grasser C., McCabe B. How elderly nursing home residents transcend losses of later life. Holistic Nursing Practice May-June, 2003
Campbell, E. R. (2010). The effectiveness of art therapy in reducing symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and stress: a meta-analysis. Wheaton College.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Happiness and creativity. The Futurist, 31(5), S8.
De Manzano, Ö., Theorell, T., Harmat, L., & Ullén, F. (2010). The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing. Emotion, 10(3), 301.
Eberth, J., & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: a meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), 174-189.
Elwood, K., Henriksen, D., & Mishra, P. (2017). Finding meaning in flow: A conversation with Susan K. Perry on writing creatively. TechTrends, 61(3), 212-217.
Fisher, B. J., & Specht, D. K. (1999). Successful aging and creativity in later life. Journal of aging studies, 13(4), 457-472.
Parry, D. C., & Johnson, C. W. (2007). Contextualizing leisure research to encompass complexity in lived leisure experience: The need for creative analytic practice. Leisure sciences, 29(2), 119-130.
Richards, R. (2007). Everyday creativity: Our hidden potential. In R. Richards (Ed.), Everyday creativity and new views of human nature: Psychological social, and spiritual perspectives (pp. 25-53). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/11595-001
Richards, R. (2010). Everyday creativity: Process and way of life—Fotir key issues. In J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Stemberg (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 189-215). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511763205.013
Silvia, P. J., Beaty, R. E., Nusbaum, E. C., Eddington, K. M., Levin-Aspenson, H., & Kwapil, T. R. (2014). Everyday creativity in daily life: An experience-sampling study of “little c” creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(2), 183.
Warr, M., Henriksen, D., & Mishra, P. (2018). Creativity and flow in surgery, music, and cooking: An interview with neuroscientist Charles limb. TechTrends, 62(2), 137-142.
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