One of the definitions of creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” That’s something our world desperately needs! Thankfully, creative ability doesn’t belong to the select few.
Everyone—regardless of age, hair color, piercings (or lack thereof), style or personality type—possesses the potential to be creative. That’s why we see breakout authors like John Grisham, Toni Morrison, Robert Ludlum and Frank McCourt, who began writing seriously for the first time in their 30s, 40s or later. (We know a woman whose first book was published when she was 93!) Grandma Moses started painting at age 75—and continued creating art until she passed away at 101.
The desire and ability to create and innovate are part of our DNA. But busy schedules, conflicting messages about the value of creativity, and the tendency to compare our creations with others’ (Hello, inferiority complex!) have a way of snuffing out this inborn gift. We want to give you permission to be OK with imperfection and to enjoy the creative process as you play, explore, experiment and, yes, fail. Heck, post a picture online of your lopsided cake, misshapen pottery project, your rejection letter or the warbly video in which you missed a few notes, and join millions of others who have learned to laugh at and grow from so-called failure. In truth, our creative mistakes often lead to new ideas and better techniques—so they can’t really be called failures at all.
Happy Act: Schedule Some Fun!
Make an appointment with your creative, playful self. Set aside time on the calendar this week to do something you enjoy.
The Wisdom of Creativity
Creativity is essentially the act of putting fresh, new ideas into action. Although scientists and artists may dispute the “true” definition of creativity, Shelley Carson, Harvard psychologist and author of Your Creative Brain, explains that creativity must have two specific components: It must be or involve something novel or original, and it must be useful in that it either benefits you or someone else. That benefit could be something tangible, like crocheting a baby blanket to give to a new mom, or intangible, like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Or it could be the benefit of reinventing your career—or yourself. When creativity is viewed in that context, we can apply it to virtually any aspect of our lives.
Intertwined with the idea of creativity is the concept of flow. Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes in his book Flow that our best experiences come not when we are relaxed, but when we are exceptionally focused. “The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Martin Seligman explains in Flourish that we don’t necessarily have good (or bad) feelings while in this state, which scientists define as optimal consciousness. After a period of flow, however, we often feel happier, less stressed and generally more satisfied with life. Flow can lead to better creativity and productivity. It also has a happiness holdover effect that continues even after you return to less exciting or enjoyable tasks.
Happy Act: Do Something That Makes You Stretch
You never know what you’re capable of until you do something that takes you outside your comfort zone. To stretch your creative muscles, try a new challenge. Write in a different genre or format, try cooking a new recipe, work on solving a problem at work. Then, whatever your results are, pat yourself on the back for your efforts.
Five Ways to Get Started
Daydream. Find a quiet space and let your mind wander, question and invent without boundaries.
Be curious. It’s easy to think, “Been there, done that” in your daily routine. Rather than walking mindlessly through your day, take notice of the way things work (or don’t work) in your home or office. Ask, “Why do we do it this way?” “Why do I take this route to work?” “Is
there another way to do this?”
Learn something new. Take a class or find a YouTube video to help you master a new skill. Make a creativity playlist of your favorite instrumental music and allow your mind to wander … and create.
Give yourself time to get into flow. Getting into flow, that optimal state of consciousness, isn’t like flipping a light switch. It requires a bit of time and concentration. To get in the zone, find a quiet place to work or put on music that helps you block out distractions, so you can really focus on your creative task.
Have fun! Play a game, swing with your kids at the park, schedule time for a hobby you enjoy.