A few weeks ago I mentioned the renewed importance of creativity in my life. Growing up, I loved to create. Arts & crafts projects, building forts, writing stories, sewing clothes, you name it, I loved it. Like many people, however, upon entering adulthood, that passion grew dormant and eventually disappeared underneath piles of work.
Fortunately, this situation started changing for me in July; I began I’m Busy Being Awesome, which offered an outlet for my creativity, and I followed up with my Etsy shop in September. And over a period of about six months, I rediscovered my passion to create.
It goes without saying that this shift in mindset is utterly refreshing. But I also find it incredibly interesting. Why do these little creative projects have such a significant impact on my happiness?
Well, it turns out, the creative process plays an enormous role not only in one’s happiness but also their overall well-being.
As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explained during his 2004 TED talk, “When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” Furthering the argument, psychologist Cathy Malchiodi explains that art and the creative process “improves not only our quality of life,” but is also “effective in reducing pain, fatigue, and stress, and increasing cognitive abilities and emotional well-being.”
In other words, creativity improves both our mental and physical states and helps us live life more fully.
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Then read on to learn how creativity improves your health and what you can do to gain those benefits today.
How Creativity Improves Your Health
Beginning my research on how creativity improves your health, I was astounded at the amount of information readily available from academic journals, news articles, and websites. (As a heads up, my love (obsession) with research comes through a bit strong in this post; I totally geeked-out on the findings.)
In her article “Creativity as a Wellness Practice,” for example, Malchiodi cites study after study supporting the positive impact of creative expression on a person’s life. She explains how participation in the arts has proven to have “a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.”
Perhaps even more astounding is a 2015 study by the American Academy of Neurology that suggests how involvement with art is not just cognitive. In fact, it also improves conditions like Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and some forms of dementia.
In her article from CNN, Ashley Strickland explains, “people who engaged in artistic activities, such as painting, drawing, and sculpting, in both middle and old age, were 73% less likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as mild cognitive Impairment, that lead to dementia. The study also revealed that craft-based activities such as sewing, woodworking, and ceramics in midlife and old age, were 45% less likely to encounter cognitive issues.”
Seriously. How incredible is that?
Boost Mood and Relieve Stress
Coming from a more holistic angle, participating in these creative activities is also like a form of meditation. As I’ve personally discovered, the process of creating offers a means of reducing stress while also enhancing your mood.
Furthermore, often times when faced with a challenge, creative people don’t get as overwhelmed as their non-creative counterparts. As researcher Nicholas Turiano explains, “Creative people may see stressors more as challenges that they can work to overcome rather than as stressful obstacles they can’t overcome.”
The important thing to keep in mind with creativity, however, is that your project does not need to be perfect. Whether you’re drawing a sketch of your dog or finishing a batch of frosted cupcakes, don’t let your high (read: unreasonable) expectations take away from the experience. Remember, it is the sheer act of creating that is important here.
Participating in creative activities also helps us approach new obstacles from different angles. Many of us tend to tackle life in a linear fashion. But with regular creative practice, we learn to consider ideas from different perspectives. This change in routine helps us see options we might otherwise overlook, while also opening our minds to new possibilities.
In an article from Scientific American, Tori Rodriguez discusses a study done by the Journal of Aging and Health. An 18-year look at more than 1,000 older men, the study ultimately revealed: “only creativity—not intelligence or overall openness—decreased mortality risk.“ As Turiano suggests, this may be due to the way creativity pulls from different neural networks within the brain, since “[i]ndividuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age.”
How to Find Your Creativity
In her CNN article “A Creative Life is a Healthy Life,” journalist Amanda Enayati notes, “the creative path can be an unconventional one, and choosing may sometimes be a difficult pursuit.”
And she’s absolutely right.
In our society, taking the creative path is often not the norm. So how can we cultivate creativity in our daily lives anyway? How can we improve our health through creative living?
Tony Wagner, Education Fellow at Harvard’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Center highlights several strategies that can help guide our creative path. And I’ve included my favorite suggestions here:
Believe in yourself and your ideas:
Whether you’re determined to crochet a hat and scarf set, or you want to take your photography skills to the professional level, having confidence in yourself and your vision is key.
Believing in your abilities helps you push through the challenges and frustrations that accompany learning a creative skill. And what’s more, it will keep you from throwing in the towel when things get tough.
Keep learning and ask for help:
We are naturally lifelong learners. As Wagner explains, “it’s in our DNA.” So keep that curiosity alive. Take a class, check out books from the library, or ask a friend to help you strengthen your skill.
By occasionally pursuing our creative interests in a formal or semi-formal way, we get an extra boost of energy that reinforces our drive. It’s just what we need to strengthen our passion for the subject and keep us working toward that creative goal.
This is hands-down the hardest suggestion for me. I’ve mentioned my perfectionism in the past, and this character trait makes it easy for me to see anything short of 100% as a failure.
Of course, this is an incredibly unhealthy mindset. And by changing our definition of failure, we can avoid that negative self-talk.
One of the ways I’ve approached this idea recently is through a process of reframing. Rather than labeling success as 100% perfect, I’m trying to embrace 100% effort instead. In other words, if I know I did my best, and I offered everything I had, that is enough. It is a success.
Wagner has another great suggestion, which is looking at projects in “iterations.” And by this, he means viewing creativity as a process. Our projects are an evolution of prototypes; every version is a different iteration from the last, with each one having its strengths.
If you’ve been a reader of I’m Busy Being Awesome for a while, you’re probably not surprised to see this strategy listed. I’m all about self-reflection, and reflecting on the creative process is certainly no exception.
So spend some time thinking about your creativity, your creative process, and how it makes you feel each day. Consider what you’ve learned, what you’re proud of, and where you want to go next. Remember, slowing down and taking time for mindfulness and reflection is key to a healthy creative life.
(If you’re interested in learning more of Wagner’s strategies, check out the rest of his suggestions here!)
So what can you do? How can you start embracing your creative life?
Explore Your Passions
First, (and perhaps not surprisingly) I recommend thinking about where your creative passions lie. And if you can’t remember because it has been too long, perhaps consider what you loved doing as a child. I wrote a piece about rediscovering your passions in your childhood dreams, so if you’re stuck on finding your creative drive, check out this post here.
Once you highlight potential areas of interest, simply dive in. Remember, creativity is supposed to be FUN. So open yourself up to new projects, and don’t let intimidation or “imposter syndrome’ sneak their way in. Instead, recognize that it’s okay if you don’t like everything or aren’t “perfect.” Discovering what you love and where you excel is all part of the creative process.
Expand Your Horizons and Your Skills
Once you’ve identified a few activities that fill your creative need, consider branching out to take a class.
You could start by checking with your city; chances are there are multiple community classes available throughout the year. This is often an affordable way to get started, and also a great way to meet others on a similar creative journey.
Alternatively, you might consider sites like Groupon for discounted classes. This is one of my favorite options because it lets you dig further into the art and see if it’s really for you before making a major investment.
And finally, if you’ve really found your passion, you could attend a retreat or travel to learn more about your art. I know when I discover a new creative project, I’m hyper-focused on learning everything I can. So spending a weekend doing just that sounds like a creative dream to me.
So tell me, do you have any creative passions? Has creativity improved your health in any way? Have you ever taken a creative class before? Let me know below!