Kurt Vonnegut once said that practicing any art ― no matter how badly ― makes the soul grow. “So do it,” he wisely advised.
Psychologists have now come to a similar conclusion. According to a recent study out of New Zealand, engaging in creative activities contributes to an “upward spiral” of positive emotions, psychological well-being and feelings of “flourishing” in life.
This isn’t just good news for people who work in creative fields. Anyone who finds time for creative hobbies and side projects like writing in a journal, sketching, crafting or playing the ukulele is likely to experience the same effect.
For the study, which was published Nov. 17 in the Journal of Positive Psychology, 658 volunteers were asked to keep a diary for 13 days, rating how creative they had been over the course of the day and describing their overall mood. Creativity was defined as coming up with new ideas, expressing oneself in an original way or spending time engaged in artistic pursuits.
Each day, the participants also rated how much they felt they were “flourishing” ― which the researchers define as experiencing positive personal growth ― by assessing things like how engaged they felt in their daily activities and how rewarding their social interactions were.
A clear pattern emerged in the diary entries. Immediately after the days participants were more creative, they said they felt more enthusiastic and energized ― in other words, they were flourishing more.
“This finding suggests a particular kind of upward spiral for well-being and creativity,” Dr. Tamlin Conner, a psychologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago and the study’s lead author, stated in a press release. “Engaging in creative behavior leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”
Creating and expressing ourselves gives us a sense of purpose, according to Tony Wagner, a senior research fellow at Harvard and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.
Creativity can also help lower stress and anxiety, enhance resilience and contribute to a sense of playfulness and curiosity. Engaging in creative activities and art-based therapies has also been linked to improved physical and mental health.
But if you don’t consider yourself an “artist,” don’t worry. You don’t have to have any particular creative talents to benefit from creative activity. Anything from experimenting with a new dinner recipe to creating a mood board on Pinterest can give you that creative boost.
As the study’s authors concluded, “Finding ways to encourage everyday creative activities, not just master works of art, could lead directly to increased well-being.”
Happy upward spiraling!