Our culture is populated with the stereotype of the tortured artist, who suffers emotional pains and struggle in the name of creativity. If we buy into this stereotype, we may be tempted to assume that by dwelling on negative emotions we are broadening our creative potential.
The science of positive psychology, however, increasingly teaches us that this is wrong – that whilst being creative can be a powerful method for understanding our negative emotions, our true creativity is greatly increased when we are in a positive state of mind.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson set out to understand the reason why positive emotions exist. She wanted to know what we gain from being positive, and what benefits being positive brings to our lives.
“Our true creativity is greatly increased when we are in a positive state of mind.”
She called her discovery the ‘broaden and build theory’. The theory teaches us that if we are feeling unhappy, we are psychologically preparing ourselves for negative events. The result is a reduction in our ‘thought-action repertoires’.
In layman’s terms this means that we can’t see as many possible options for dealing with our problems when we are feeling down. The idea is that if times are tough we tend to stick to tried and tested plans that we already know will work.
On the other hand, when we feel positive we have a broadening of our thought-action repertoires which lets us build a more diverse range of personal resources. In other words, when times are good we experience happiness, and with happiness comes a greater ability to see different options, and to try new things in a playful way.
Most importantly, when we are positive we are much more creative, and we use that creativity to improve our relationships with others, to play, or to create art, and so on. This in turn gives us more reason to be happy, and positive spirals of happiness are created in our lives.
The moral of the story is, if you want to be more creative, or if you can’t seem to find your way out of a creative block, the best thing you can do is to become more positive about your life in general. This will bring about chemical changes in the brain that will actually make you a more creative person.
So how should you go about being more positive?
A very good start is to take up a regular meditation practice. A few minutes a day has been shown to make people significantly happier in only a few months, and you can read a beginners guide to meditation here.
Getting regular exercise is also key to being happier. Try going for a jog each morning, or join a local sports team.
Spending time with friends is another easy win. Don’t sacrifice this time for anything – when you look back over your life it’s always the time we spend with friends that leaves the most positive mark.
Keep a positive diary. Note down a few good things that have happened to you recently, and a few things you are grateful for each morning.
And finally, keep smiling. When you smile you feel happier, you think happier, and you get your creative juices really flowing. Next stop, creative success!
This was a guest post from Alex Markham, a life coach and creator of ‘Inspired Primate‘. His passion is learning about what makes people happy, and sharing ideas for living happier lives. Check out Inspired Primate to learn more about how to be happy.
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