We often state that being creative makes us happier. But what if we flip that concept on its head and say that being happier makes us more creative, more innovative?

Defining Creativity

Creativity is conceptualized as the generation of ideas, insights, or solutions that are both novel and potentially useful (Amabile, 1990).

Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing.

“If you have ideas and don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative” Linda Naiman

Creativity and the Myth of the Tortured Artist

As to the idea that being creative needs a “wound”: The tortured artist mythology is an ancient and enduring notion that art depends on suffering, and artists are likely to be fraught with suffering and dark emotions, and even need their pain to create. But a number of artists and psychologists say that is a wrong and distorting myth.

So let’s forget the image of the brooding artist alone in a basement studio. Research suggests creative people are actually happier than everyone else. Artists and scientists throughout history have remarked on the bliss that accompanies a sudden creative insight. But what about before such moments of creative insight.. What emotions actually fuel creativity?

Positive Emotions and Creativity

The long-standing view in psychology is that positive emotions are conducive to creativity because they broaden the mind, whereas negative emotions are detrimental to creativity because they narrow one’s focus.

Dr.Barbara Fredrickson conducted randomized control studies and found that positive emotions change our view and even our peripheral vision. They open us and change our outlook on the environment and the way we approach tasks. This is where creativity comes in. As our world expands, we become more flexible, innovative, and creative and are able to see solutions we would not normally

Watch talk by Barbara Fredrickson on Positive Emotion https://youtu.be/Z7dFDHzV36g

in her book “Your Creative Brain” Creativity researcher and Harvard Psychologist Dr. Shelley Carson observed from her studies that “Increases in positive mood broaden attention and allow us to see more possible solutions to solve creative problems.” 

We Can All be Creative

But I can’t sing, write or dance? Am I even a novel thinker, curious, flexible, and in tune with the world? If the answer is “No”, you may begin to curse your parents and the society that bore you. But stop! Experts say absolutely anyone can be creative, though different people may have different talents. We are deluded when we think that creative characteristics are entirely innate.  Creativity can be taught. “It really has to do with open-mindedness,” says Dr . Carrie Barron, co-author of “The Creativity Cure,” who says creativity applies to everything from making a meal to generating a business plan.

Tips to Increasing Creativity and Happiness

Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfilment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work. (Czikszentmihalyi,2007).

  1. Try to be surprised by something every day.
  2. When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.
  3. Recognise that if you do anything well it becomes enjoyable.
  4. To keep enjoying something, increase its complexity.
  5.  Make time for reflection and relaxation.
  6.  Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible.

Watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak on Creativity, Innovation and Managing “Flow”

Increasing Positive Emotions

Over the past few years, many researchers have found new and scientifically proven ways to increase positive emotions and well-being.

Try some of these techniques shown below:

(Note- depending on your preferences, you might find some techniques suit you more than others)

1)”Three Blessings exercise”

This classic gratitude exercise is recommended by Seligman (2011) in his book “Flourish”. The idea is a simple journaling exercise. Every day, at the end of the day, write about 3 things – large or small – that went well for you, and why they went well.

2) Posture and Power Poses

Amy Cuddy’s new book “Presence” (2016) and her 2012 Ted talk, “Your body language shapes who you are” explains how our posture affects our emotions, and she shares “power poses” to quickly change your frame of mind and build confidence.

3) Reframing

Reivich and Shatté (2002) describe a sequence of steps you can take to examine and reframe negative events, which include:

  • identifying the type of emotion experienced,
  • identifying thinking traps preventing us from seeing the bigger picture,
  • putting our negative thoughts into perspective and
  • taking positive action.

Famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins shows us the power of shifting perspectives in his TED talk, “Why we do what we do“.

Combating Negative Self Talk- Try Mindfulness for Creativity

Self-censorship and censorship are enemies of Creativity. Negative self-talk along the lines of, “It will never work” “It is not realistic” “You are so not creative” can be a real barrier to creativity. Practising mindfulness has been found to increase self-compassion  (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004). As mindfulness is a state of relaxed, but alert attention to the present, we observe our emotions and thoughts in an open, non-judgmental way, we distance ourselves from negative self-talk, and we make room for the experience of the moment.

In his book Mindfulness for Creativity, Dr Danny Penman writes

  • How mindfulness helps us cultivate the three skills that are vital to creativity.
  • Why stress kills creativity and what you can do to become more relaxed, open and creative.
  • Practical tips of what to do in a moment of creative block.

Dr Danny Penman shares his daily meditation practice for cultivating creativity.


Thinking Differently-Change your mindset about “being wrong”

Why not allow yourself to be wrong once in a while? Create a work culture that sees mistakes as a pathway to innovation and growth.

Ken Robinson claims that the reason we fail to be creative is because schools teach us to be right. So we get out of school in fear of being wrong, which suffocates creativity. Here is how Robinson explained the concept in a TED talk: https://youtu.be/iG9CE55wbtY

The Takeaway

Get Happy. Start Creating. And if nothing else works…Smile.. simply smiling more and saying hello can lift you up as well as the other person! And it’ll make you look more creative! 


The Six Best Books on Creativity and Innovation


Ten Must watch ted talks on positive emotions



Amabile, T. M. (1990). Within you, without you: The social psychology of creativity, and beyond. In M.

Runco & R. S. Albert (Eds.), Theories of creativity (pp. 61–91). CA: Sage Publications

Czikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2007). Creativity. Kindle Edition. London: Harper Collins ebooks

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35-43.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

Fredrickson, B.L. (2003): The Value of Positive Emotions. In: American Scientist, Volume 91, p. 330-335.

Penman, D. ( 2015) Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, create and thrive in a frantic world

Seligmann, M. (2011): Flourish. New York: Free Press.