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Creative Blocks from A to Z: Happiness

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Editor’s note: This article is the eighth in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at how happiness affects creativity.

There are those who support the idea that emotional distress and trauma fuel the need for creative expression, that they give rise to the motivating force behind art making due to its ability to facilitate the healing process. Others are proponents of the view that happiness and that elusive “sweet spot” between boredom and anxiety lend themselves to the creation and execution of creative ideas.

In this installment of the A-to-Z series, we will look at how feeling happier by taking care of your emotional health can help address creative blocks.

  • Adversity: Research has indicated links between the characteristics associated with creativity and the ability to recover from adversity—often found in emotionally healthy individuals (Forgeard, 2013). A person who is able to bounce back from difficult life events exhibits traits such as openness to experience and perception of new possibilities in life, both of which are predictors of creative thinking. In other words, nurturing your inner “trauma survivor” opens the door to creative growth by displaying creativity-enhancing thought patterns.
  • Stress: Stress drains your emotional health and creative energy. It can be easy to get lost in a world of high demands, pressure, work, and financial obligations. However, this type of stress can deprive you of the opportunity to utilize your time and motivation for something creative and productive. In addition, during times of stress we tend to revert to old habits and rehearsed behaviors rather than demonstrate innovative and new thinking patterns. By taking a step back to gain perspective and apply stress- and time-management strategies, we can work toward building the psychological and environmental conditions needed to be emotionally healthier and more creative.
  • Distractions: Today’s world is full of distractions and interruptions. Cell phones, notifications, social media, and status and news updates pop up in an intrusive and somewhat uncontrollable manner. This can be anxiety provoking in that it conditions us to be in a continuous state of arousal and alertness, but it can also be detrimental to one’s creative flow and process. Imagine having to write a story, compose a piece of music, or paint a picture if you are forced to think about something else every few minutes. By working on eliminating unnecessary distractions, we reduce overwhelming racing thoughts and become more present during the creative journey.
  • Social interaction: Social interaction may not always be necessary to spark new ideas, nor in their execution. However, remaining socially connected can have one major advantage for emotional health. It provides a sense of belonging, safety, and a feeling of being supported throughout the pursuit of creative goals. I once worked with a young man whose strained relationships with friends and family occupied so much emotional space that he found it impossible to find the confidence, drive, and commitment to follow his artistic dreams. By nurturing his social relationships, he stopped worrying about having to “fight against” people around him who might have doubted his ambitions and goals.
  • Motivation: Emotional satisfaction associated with a particular creative task can be a source of just the right amount of energy and motivation. Tasks that are too complex and difficult demand too much energy and can be frustrating and discouraging. On other hand, working on something that is too easy or repetitive can be a source of boredom and may lead to hindered creativity. By making sure that creative goals are at that “sweet spot” that makes you feel both challenged and rewarded, you develop the motivation needed to break through creative blocks.

Reference:

Forgeard, Marie J.C. (2013). Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. Vol. 7, No. 3, 245-264

© Copyright 2014 by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, therapist in New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Zoe April 3rd, 2014 at 2:58 PM #1

    In the drudge of daily life it becomes it easy to forget about how stress can affect us and literally zap the creative energy right out of us. We sit around thinking that we have no energy to do absolutely anything and then you read something like this and it becomes so clear to you why that could be.

  • Brecken April 4th, 2014 at 3:37 AM #2

    If I feel like I have been cut off from my friends for too long, then I don’t feel good at all. They are just my happy place, the place where I feel like I can let loose a little and be me so the time that I get to spend with them is time that I always very much look forward to and I think that they all feel the same.
    It’s nice to have this little core of friends who you can always depend on for a laugh and a bit of a time where you can forget about all of the bad things that might have happened during the week and just catch up on the good things.

  • lilly April 4th, 2014 at 3:46 PM #3

    Reading through these I was astonished at how much of this I actually do have some control over. I am always complaining about how this, that and the other are sneaking in and taking over my time, but in all honesty, most of the things that do it are things that I ALLOW to be in my life.

    My cell phone, my computer, my facebook and twitter accounts, my phone calls, my dinner dates, all of these things I could do without form time to time but I allow them to stress me out because I stretch myself too thin with all of these things in addition to the real responsibilities that I also have like my home and my family. If I could just cut out some of the extraneous things then I see that my life would be much more manageable than I have let it become over the years.

  • Amy Armstrong April 5th, 2014 at 5:29 AM #4

    This is an excellent challenge to the stereotype that misery and heartbreak spark creativity. It seems like we really need to feel like we are in a safe space in order to let creative ideas flow, and happiness can give us the energy to put that energy into something. I also like the way you highlighted that recovering from trauma can tap into thought patterns that enhance creativity. I love tortured artists, but it’s nice to remind everyone that artists needn’t be tortured.

  • Bonnie S April 5th, 2014 at 5:38 AM #5

    I love the point about motivation because I have students in class complain all the time that this or that assignment is too difficult when I know that that isn’t the problem, but what is the problem is that they don’t like having to deal with a little bit of a challenge. They would rather, on the surface, for everything to be super easy so that they can fly through it and be finished. But what they don’t understand is that without these little challenges from time to time they will lose any motivation to be a success and to try to push themselves to achieve more. They don’t get it yet that sometimes you need to push for goals that are a little more beyond your reach each and every time so that you can constantly see how you are learning and growing as both a student, a person, and eventually, a professional in your chosen career path.

  • Joanie H April 7th, 2014 at 3:54 AM #6

    even more proof that are undoubtedly our own worst enemies

  • carmen April 7th, 2014 at 3:49 PM #7

    I sometimes feel so stifled by my social circle. I see all the great things that they are doing and I wonder why this can’t happen for me or to me. For some it seems so effortless and for me it’s like I have to scratch and claew for every single thing that I get. Will it ever be this easy and effortless for me?

  • liz April 8th, 2014 at 3:50 AM #8

    Somewhere along the way I seem to have lost that ability and desire to bounce back from adverse challenges.
    In the past I may could have seen these things as a way to imporve myself, learn from them and grow. But now? they stifle me, make me feel weak and not up to par.
    Sometimes I can only stand outside of myself and wonder what happened to the old me

  • Kenneth April 9th, 2014 at 11:54 AM #9

    Liz- it sounds like you are going through a pretty rough patch right now, but I know that things can get better, you just can’t give up. Take a moment when you are outside of yourself and look at all of the things that you are good at and should be thankful for, think of all the times when you have done something positive for yourself and for others. Doesn’t that count for something good and meaningful to you. Life can be full of challenges but that does not mean that it isn’t worth trying to amke the most of them. This is the time to see that you are not weak, that you can do this, and though you may not be able to do it alone that is most of us at times and that is nothing to feel bad about.

  • brandi April 11th, 2014 at 1:44 PM #10

    There are ao many things in our lives that can keep us from reaching our highest potential. However I think that it is so important to at least try to give it your all and break through those cobwebs so that you can be your absolute best. You are given these talents, these gifts, and it is such a waste to squander them due to distractions and things like that that we are all too apt to let get in the way.

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