A major research paper was published last year about the links between creativity and emotions. The paper examined the results of 66 different studies about how people’s emotions affect their creativity.
It looked at various different aspects of creative thought process like flexibility, originality, and eureka/insight moments.
The researchers concluded that how a person is feeling does affect their creativity. But, what was really interesting is that they found that it’s not just whether people’s emotions are positive or negative that’s important. The specific type of emotions is important too.
1. Feeling happy, upbeat or elated is associated with increased creativity.
2. Feeling calm, serene, and relaxed isn’t associated with either increased or decreased creativity.
3. Feeling anxious, uneasy, tense, or fearful is associated with decreased creativity.
4. Feeling sad, discouraged or disappointed, isn’t associated with either increased or decreased creativity.
In an evolutionary sense, negative emotions like fear are designed to make us focus narrowly on a threat (e.g. is that moving thing a snake?). Positive emotions like feeling happy or upbeat are designed to make us want to explore, try new things, learn new information, and build relationships with other people. Positive emotions signal to us that the current environment is safe enough that we can do things to prepare for the future. When people are experiencing positive emotions, they tend to look at the whole picture rather than details (i.e. attention is broader).
So the message is – To increase your creativity you need to cultivate positive emotions and reduce negative emotions (particularly fear and anxiety). I’ve written lots about how to increase your positive emotions and decrease your negative emotions, but here’s a summary of some of the most well-researched strategies.
1. Developing closer relationships
2. Imagining a positive future
3. Mindfulness meditation
4. Expressing gratitude (either verbally or by writing down grateful thoughts, or through actions),
5. Doing kind acts for others
(Physical exercise is one of the most powerful happiness strategies. It directly changes neurotransmitter activity in the brain and effects some of the same neurotransmitters that antidepressant medications alter. More about the effects of exercise on your thinking processes)
7. Spending time in nature
8. Reducing avoidance
9. Learning to dispute negative thoughts (best done through working with a psychology PhD)
10. Reducing gossip and sarcasm
11. Assessing your media diet and reducing your intake of negatively toned news/entertainment
12. Learning how to effectively deal with interactions with other people that trigger negative emotions in you