Spotted Together: Creativity and Wellbeing
History shows us that many creative people in the world were often quite unhappy. However, there is a more prominent narrative at play here!
In this post we will discuss:
What is creativity?
Big C and little c creativity
How creativity can enhance our wellbeing
Let’s get straight into it.
What Is Creativity?
Most of us tend to understand what creativity is, yet find it difficult to define. Let’s begin there.
Creativity involves developing original ideas and ways of doing things. Often it can look like transforming what exists in our imaginations into reality. And it doesn’t apply to the arts alone!
When we are being creative, we can see patterns and make connections that aren’t normally related. We go beyond the traditional ways of thinking and acting to come up with a new idea.
And here is the amazing thing: we ALL have the ability to be creative. I hear this a lot from people: “I’m not one of those creative people” or “creativity is not my strong suit”. If this sounds like you, scroll down to the section on ‘Big C’ and ‘Little c’ creativity!
Creative People See The World Differently
People who are creative tend to see more possibilities in the world
Psychologists often measure creativity using something called a divergent thinking task.
In this task, you list as many possible uses for a mundane object, such as a straw. The most creative people tend to be those who can come up with many different uses for the object.
Creativity also helps us see things that others miss!
Let’s borrow from psychology once again to explain this one. Inattentional blindness is a phenomenon where we fail to see obvious things that are right in front of us.
The best known experiment studying this phenomenon has come to be known as the ‘invisible gorilla test’. In this experiment, participants watch this video of people passing around a basketball. During the video, a person in a gorilla costume walks right into the middle of the game. Did you see the gorilla? About half of the participants in the original study completely MISSED the large costumed gorilla!
How is that even possible? Well, apparently people who are creative genuinely SEE things differently. Being more open to possibilities increased the likelihood of seeing the gorilla.
‘Big C’ And ‘Little c’ Creativity
If you are someone who doesn’t believe you can be creative, don’t rule yourself out just yet.
We tend to think creativity involves ground-breaking ideas or making far-fetched connections. The experts say there are actually two types of creativity:
“Big C” creativity is the breakthrough kind of thinking most people associate with creativity. However, it’s actually quite rare
“Little c” creativity involves taking a different approach to the things we do in our every day lives- think of this as every day creativity
Many people don’t even consider ‘little c’ creativity as a form of creative thinking! Perhaps because it’s more subtle than the ‘big c’ variety. For example, ‘little c’ creativity can look like making a new recipe (or putting a game changing twist on it), figuring out a convenient way to format your spreadsheets, changing up your personal style, or even teaching your pet a new trick.
It’s easy to compare our creative abilities with ‘big c’ creativity because this is what gets the most air time. However, ‘little c’ creativity is more widespread, and has a larger collective impact. Almost everything we do could benefit from outside-the-box thinking!
Relationships, personal problems, re-purposing household items, cooking, business proposals, leadership, management: the impact of ‘little c’ thinking in all these areas is invaluable!
The Link Between Creativity And Wellbeing
Let’s connect the dots here. How does creativity make use feel better? Yes, it can make our lives more interesting and efficient but what does creativity have to be with wellbeing?
Researchers found that people who are engaged in every day creativity (i.e. ‘little c’ creativity) were more likely to report feeling happy at the time of sampling.
Furthermore, a group of psychologists in New Zealand (arguably, a very happy place…they have so many adorable sheep!) reported that engaging in creative activities contributes to an “upward spiral” of positive emotions, and psychological wellbeing. To add to this, participants in the study also reported feeling that they were flourishing in life.
What could be behind this positive upward spiral?
Creativity Can Improve Self-Confidence
When we create new ideas or interesting ways of doing things, we feel good about ourselves. It can help us feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges because we can rely on ourselves to think about life from a variety of perspectives.
Creativity Helps Us Find A Purpose
None of us fit neatly into boxes. Yet, society is always trying to push us into a box, a category, or a way of life. Creative thinking can help us find our way out of ideas and lifestyles that box us in.
We can also lean on creative thinking to help us solve problems, and in doing so stumble across ideas that eventually grow into our life’s work. It’s powerful stuff!
Creativity Helps Lower Stress And Anxiety
When we are feeling stressed, many therapists will encourage us to decompress by doing something creative! And this is for good reason! When we are engaged in a creative activity, it engages different part of our brain which are not engaged when we are in fight-or-flight mode.
Creative activities can soothe our nervous system and give our minds and bodies a break from survival mode.
Creativity does not have to be an earth-shattering idea. And you don’t have to be an artist either.
We can use every day creativity to enhance our wellbeing. In this phase of lockdown, many of our brains are on autopilot. Many of my clients are telling me they are going through the motions and just getting through the day.
Creativity can disrupt this pattern! Try cooking without a recipe and see what happens. Or re-arrange your books and decor in a new way. It won’t hurt, and who knows, perhaps practicing every day creativity will help us feel more interested and engaged with life these days. We could all use some of that in our lives right about now!
I want to hear from you: Do you consider yourself to be a creative person? How do you show creativity in your every day life?
Until next time!
Sarah Ahmed is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Sarah strongly favors an integrative, trauma-informed, client-centered approach to create a healthy alliance with clients and their loved ones.