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People enjoy the process of being creative and being “in the zone”—a state researche call “flow.”

Creativity and flow are linked to better job satisfaction, higher-quality leisure time, more positive emotions, and greater overall well-being and happiness. The good news is, everyone is creative—and everyone can nurture their creative side.

What is creativity?

Creativity is the ability to generate new ideas and new connections between ideas, and ways to solve problems in any field or realm of our lives. Many of us think of creativity as making something new—like a new song, poem, painting, or novel. Creativity is certainly involved in making art. However, creativity is much more than that. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to work or solve problems in our daily lives. All people have the capacity to be creative. We can also nurture and increase our creativity.

There’s a link between creativity and positive emotions and, ultimately, happiness. Researchers have found that people are more likely to have a creative breakthrough if they were happy the day before. Creativity is less likely to be present with negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety; it is positively associated with positive emotions such as joy, love, and curiosity.

Positive emotions and creativity make us feel interested in the world around us. The ability to be fascinated and allow ourselves to explore and discover makes us feel open and alive. It’s also what draws us to learn new skills, perspectives, and ideas—resources that we can draw on to solve life’s problems. This boosts our resilience and our satisfaction with life—both part of the equation for overall happiness.

Positivity, by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph. D.
The 6 Myths of Creativity, Fast Company
Psychology Today

Nurturing your creativity

All people have the capacity for creativity. You may not think of yourself as creative, and you may even have been told that you aren’t “the creative type.” Whatever your occupation, temperament, and talents, you can nurture your creativity and create the conditions for flow. Here are some suggestions to get started:

Know your strengths.
 Take an inventory of your talents and strengths and practice them. Even the most talented athletes and musicians practice nearly every day.

Capture new ideas.
 Keep a notebook or voice recorder with you and next to your bed. Make it a habit to pause and jot down ideas and observations as they come to you.

Challenge yourself. Flow comes from the balance of mastery and challenge. And creativity comes from thinking about challenging problems—even ones that don’t have a solution—so that new ideas can emerge. Try working on puzzles and brain teasers.

Broaden your knowledge. You probably keep up with the knowledge in your occupation and hobbies. Occasionally seek out knowledge in a completely new and different area. Some of the most creative ideas have come from making unexpected connections in different fields of knowledge.

Choose what to pay attention to. Flow is a state of heightened attention to the task at hand, to the point of being completely absorbed in it. Make an effort to spend time doing things that are at your cutting edge of mastery and challenge. Give yourself opportunities for flow by creating time and space free of distractions.

Redesign your work to use your strengths more. As much as you can, arrange your job so that you can use your strengths. You may be able to work with your supervisor, team members, or delegate to others so that you can spend more time on tasks and projects that give you the best balance of mastery and challenge.

Change your environment. Put objects in your work space—photos, clippings, comics, mementos, toys—that inspire you and make you smile, and rotate them with new ones from time to time to help inspire you to take notice.

Sleep on it. Studies have found that creative solutions and new ideas really do come to us in our dreams, in the in-between state just before falling asleep, and after waking up.

Collaborate. Some of the most effective brainstorming happens when individuals in a group think up and write down ideas on their own, exchange or share them with group members, and then come up with more ideas. This minimizes the competition or rejection that can happen when the whole group is generating ideas out loud together, and still allows the group to share and build on ideas.

Go outside. Some research has shown that people are more innovative and creative in natural settings.

Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph. D.
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Common misconceptions

Only artists and other “creative types” are really creative.
It’s a common misconception that there are creative “types” and that the rest of us just aren’t creative. Psychologist Robert Epstein, who has been researching creativity for decades, says: “Significant creativity is within everyone's reach—no exceptions. What's more, greater creativity breeds greater happiness. The creative process is itself a source of joy for most people. And with new creative powers we're also better able to solve the little problems that beset us daily.”

Creativity is a right-brain activity.
The popular idea that language and logic are “left brain” activities and creativity and emotions are “right brain” activities is an oversimplification of how our brains normally work. The idea was popularized from research that studied 40 people whose brains had been surgically severed between the left and right sides to control seizures. Most of us, however, do not have split brains. The left and right sides of our brains actually seem to work very well together, and creativity does not reside in one side or the other of the brain.

True creativity is the creation of art.

There are many ways to exercise your creativity, including problem solving and idea generation in whatever field interests you—any of the arts, sciences, professions, trades, avocations, and hobbies. In addition, you can nurture your creativity and reap some of its benefits just by appreciating another’s creativity—listening to music, viewing visual art, and so on.

Being under time pressure can spark creativity.

The opposite seems to be true. One study by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile found that people were least creative when they were fighting the clock—and for two days afterward. Amabile says, “In fact, it's not so much the deadline that's the problem; it's the distractions that rob people of the time to make that creative breakthrough. People can certainly be creative when they're under the gun, but only when they're able to focus on the work. They must be protected from distractions, and they must know that the work is important and that everyone is committed to it.”

Creative types are often moody and depressed.
Researchers have found that creativity is less likely to occur in the presence of sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety—and that it is more likely to occur with positive emotions, such as joy and love. One study found that people are more likely to come up with a creative idea if they felt happy the day before, and then they feel happy when they are creative. Creativity contributes to an “upward spiral” of positive emotions and greater happiness.

Creativity relies on IQ

Definitely not.  Anyone who takes the time to learn, and especially to acquire diverse knowledge, can express great creativity.

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