Practicing creativity can make you happier and healthier. It’s true. Of course, you would expect that coming from the mouth of an artist. But it goes further than just the “art makes a person happy” trope.
As far back as I can remember, I would feel this instinctually subconscious need to express myself creatively as a way of feeling better mentally and emotionally. I would start an artistic project of any medium and suddenly the world and time would melt away. While focused on this creative task, I would be so fully absorbed, that there wasn’t any extra space in my brain to think about ALL THE FEELINGS. My anxieties would dissipate and I would literally be able to feel tension leaving my body. If I was able to practice creativity, I could almost instantly tap into a sense of joy, something people with depressive disorders feel an intrinsic lack of. Most of the time, I would come away from the artistic project feeling emotionally better, lighter. It was like magic.
This phenomenon, friends, is what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, one of the world’s leading researchers in positive psychology, has termed “flow”. If you are interested in learning the more technical aspects of Csíkszentmihályi’s research I would highly encourage you to watch his TedTalk, or buy one of his books on the subject:
(affiliate links, see About/Disclosure for more details)
The Evolving Self -Can’t wait to read this one!!
Check out the summaries in the links! These are incredible life-changing books worth reading.
For now, let me tell you how Csíkszentmihályi summarizes flow: “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (source from: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/)
A lot of artists of various mediums will often describe this state, even if they don’t have a term for it. Some people call it, “being in the zone”. Scientific studies have shown that the effects of being in the flow state are similar to the numerously reported beneficial effects of meditation.
So. What is “flow”, how do you get in it and how do you know when you’re in it?
Flow can occur when you are intensely focused on a creative task that is “voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success. You must feel as though you have control and receive immediate feedback with room for growth… A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that flow is highly correlated with happiness, both SWB (subjective well-being) and PWB (psychological well-being). Furthermore, it has been found that people who experience a lot of flow regularly also develop other positive traits, such as increased concentration, self-esteem, and performance.”(source from: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/getting-in-the-flow/)
Seeing Cskikszentmihalyi’s TedTalk video changed my life.
I suddenly looked back on my past and saw the lifejacket of creative action that had buoyed me through miserable storms could be used as a preventative tool for my disorders. Instead of haphazardly flailing onto the creative lifeline when I was drowning, what if I could use my creativity and build a boat instead? What if every day I spent time practicing a creative task as a preventative measure? What if, at the first signs of anxiety, I retreated to the refuge of creativity? And it started working. Anxieties eased, depressive fogs dissipated.**
I started talking about this idea of ‘creative therapy’ with those closest to me and there was a consensus that practicing creative hobbies helped improve mood. I started researching everything I could find about flow, and about how practicing creative tasks alleviates symptoms of mental disorders.
It became apparent that tapping into flow, could not only help improve my mental health, but it could provide relief to anyone who suffers from stress.
In addition, Csíkszentmihályi claims that “….there are people who have developed their flow to such an extent that they are able to translate every potential threat(stressor) into an enjoyable challenge and thereby maintain an inner tranquility as a continuous state of mind. He calls such a person an “autotelic self,” someone who “is never bored, seldom anxious, involved with what goes on and in flow most of the time.”
Csikszentmihalyi points to five ways through which one is able to cultivate one’s self into an autotelic person:
- Setting goals that have clear and immediate feedback
- Becoming immersed in the particular activity
- Paying attention to what is happening in the moment
- Learning to enjoy immediate experience
- Proportioning one’s skills to the challenge at hand
Practicing creativity and subsequently entering into the flow state is physically and mentally beneficial and easily attainable for every person. Even for those who don’t think they are creative.
If my anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to spur you into practicing creativity and subsequently into flow, I am going to throw some easily digestible INFO at ya!
So, my encouragement to everyone I come into contact with is to find a creative endeavour that you enjoy, experience flow and feel the benefits!
You deserve to be happier and healthier. If you want to improve your life, practicing creativity, is one of the EASIEST (and most fun!) ways you can.
I would love to hear from you! Please comment on here, or Renaissance Revival’s Facebook wall to tell me about the creative tasks that you enjoy and whether or not they help improve your health and happiness!
p.s. To all those who feel like they don’t possess the creativity to enter the flow state, please read my previous post: How to be creative. (even if you don’t think you are)
Information source list:
(click on the links to read incredible articles on creativity and flow)
** Disclaimer – I am not a trained professional, I am only relating my experiences and would strongly encourage anyone reading this to continue on in the strategies laid out by your mental health care professional and yourself.