• How many different ways can you use a brick?
• What would happen if dogs could talk?
• What will our homes and workplaces look like 100 years from now?
When you read the questions above, what is your reaction? Do you shrug and start to click away from this page? Get irritated? Or possibly, get curious and start to imagine some possibilities? Your response might give you a clue to how you are presently engaging with your innate creativity and that, we are told, could have a lot to do with your levels of wellbeing.
Creativity: What is it and who’s got it?
You may protest, “Oh, I’m not creative.” But I used the phrase “innate creativity” deliberately. Evidence is mounting to show that we all have an inbuilt capacity to think or behave in ways that are imaginative and which direct activity in a purposeful way, toward a goal: that is, to be creative. We can define the creative process as one which is original, giving birth to ideas that are new to the person involved with them, and perhaps new to others, too. The outcome of the process is of value, providing solutions to problems, being useful, or giving enjoyment to the creator or others.
Naturally, the creations of some people (think famous chefs, scientists, artists, and writers) are widely valued because they are innovative: new to just about everyone. But all of us can have a go at the process of combining things in ways novel and unusual to ourselves, thus exercising our creativity – and we can do this in any profession and just about any human activity.
Why do it? The benefits of creative activity
“I’m busy,” you say. “Maybe when the kids leave home/I win Lotto/I retire I’ll have time to create stuff.” OK, but do you really want to wait that long to gain the wide-ranging benefits of creativity for yourself and others? Creatively messing about helps us to gain:
• Additional perspective(s)
• Concentration and flow, as we focus on projects
• Discipline and self-control as we come to exercise mastery in a creative area (think practicing your guitar every day)
• Emotional intelligence: being able to understand, read, and express emotions
• Empathy: being able to feel our way into others’ experience (not just through drama)
• Autonomy, as we learn to operate from an internal authority and sense of independence
• Open-mindedness and “out-of-the-box” thinking
• Flexibility, as we develop lateral thinking to approach problems in multiple ways
• Problem-solving ability
• Willingness to take risks, embarking on projects without knowing the outcome
• Tolerance for ambiguity (holding lightly the fact that we don’t “get” it all)
• Intrinsic motivation (that is, being involved in something for the sake of that activity, not just because someone will like us or pay us if we do it
• Communication skills, as we sharpen our ability to deliver our most deeply held messages in ideas, words, pictures, or created things Using creativity leads to self-development
As if the above list weren’t good enough, researchers in Scotland have linked the development of the above abilities to those of achievement, self-confidence, self-respect, a sense of belonging, the capacity to align with purpose, the development of strengths and interests, and the ability to aim high, taking on noble aspirations. And all of this stems from a simple willingness to play, muck about, and try new ways of seeing and doing things: that is, to be creative.
So how do we boost our creativity?
The World Happiness Form has given us a list of ten creativity-enhancers:
1. Surround yourself with the colour blue; a Canadian study of 600 participants showed it doubled creative output
2. Read up on what the creative greats have said; follow their advice
3. Put some distance between yourself and your creative endeavour; it helps you to think more abstractly about the problem, which enhances creativity
4. Drop yourself into a stimulating, enriched environment like an art gallery or a concert or a new outdoors environment. That way your brain cells work hard, your neuronal connections multiply, and your creativity takes a quantum leap.
5. Combine imagination and association: by imagining things and associating them with other things, we recall better, and also boost our creativity
6. Take a power nap – even 15 minutes. Nana did it and so can you; no explanation (or apology) needed
7. Become more introverted. The world’s great mystics didn’t have their revelatory epiphanies carousing in a bar. As one sage and spiritual teacher said, “The price of greatness is seclusion.”
8. Start young. This is great advice for parents but even if you’re several decades too late to start young yourself, you can still practice playing, seeing things in new ways, and allowing yourself to feel safe while you creatively explore.
9. Act on your creative ideas. Remember, creative involvement develops your independence. You may need it, because really novel ideas throughout history have often received a hostile reception. Take your amazing idea and run with it. You reap the creative harvest.