If you ask a room of kindergarteners which one of them is an artist, they'll all raise their hands. At that age, skill level doesn't matter; the kids who aren't as "talented" at making art don't really care — they just like doing it.
Over time, we're taught not to think that way, or at the very least, we're discouraged from our creative impulses. An exceptional few hold onto their creative abilities. Perhaps they're taught to value it or maybe their creativity is a greater source of joy — either way, these are the people who become artists.
But creative work is for everyone. The kindergarden example shows that we all have the desire, so the question is simply finding an outlet that suits you. Flexing your creative brain cells is increasingly valuable in the modern work world. And it turns out that doing creative work also makes you feel good, according to new research.
Turning the creativity question around
The connection between creative tasks and happiness is an idea that hadn't really been proven before now. It was already known that feeling upbeat was linked to creativity, but what about the other way around? A group of researchers from universities in New Zealand and the United States recently studied the cause and effect of creative work and mood in a two-week study of 658 young adults.
"There is growing recognition in psychology that creativity is associated with emotional functioning. However, most of this research focuses on how emotions benefit or hamper creativity, not whether creativity benefits or hampers emotional well-being," they wrote in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
In the study, each person maintained a daily diary. In it, they recorded how much time they spent doing creative activities and the daily positive and negative affect. Positive affect includes the self-descriptors "energetic, enthusiastic, excited (high activation), happy, cheerful, pleasant (medium activation), calm, content, relaxed(low activation)." The researchers also asked about daily flourishing, which they describe as a "state of optimal functioning accompanied by feelings of meaning, engagement, and purpose in life."
The results? "... people felt higher activated PA (positive affect) and flourishing following days when they reported more creative activity than usual." It's important that not only did the people in the experiment feel good the day they did the creative stuff; they felt good the next day, too.
You don't have to be a 'creative type' to benefit
Even more importantly, the positive correlation between mood and creative work counted for various personality types, not just those predisposed to enjoy creative work. According to the researchers: "... one need not have a particularly creative personality (being high in openness or having an artistic skill) to benefit from finding a creative activity in which one might be interested and carrying out occasionally."
If the idea of doing something creative every day sounds like just another chore, you're probably overthinking it. Steve Jobs explained it best: "Creativity is just connecting things."
Those "things" can be everyday work: Cooking and baking, knitting or sewing; organizing closets or drawers; wayfinding; gardening; or repairing broken things are all small creative acts. Of course, the things we traditionally think of as art count too: creative writing, painting and drawing, composing or playing music, photography and dance will help you feel good.
Benefiting from creativity is that simple — as any kindergartener could tell you.