Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

creativity-illo

(Photo: ollyy/Shutterstock)

Not-So-Tortured Artists: Creativity Breeds Happiness

• February 18, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: ollyy/Shutterstock)

New research finds college students are happier than usual when they are engaging in creative activities.

What makes you happy? As we noted recently, giving away money seems to do the trick. But for the cash-strapped or cost-conscious, newly published research suggests an enjoyable alternative: Engaging in a creative activity.

In a study of college students, “people who reported feeling happy and active were more likely to be doing something creative at the time,” a research team led by Paul Silvia of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro writes in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

What’s more, the researchers add, you don’t have to be a master poet or painter to reap the emotional rewards. Even if the results of one’s creative activity are “frivolous, amateurish or weird,” this research suggests “the creative process that yielded them appears important to positive psychological development.”

“Engaging in creative pursuits allows people to explore their identities, form new relationships, cultivate competence, and reflect critically on the world. In turn, the new knowledge, self-insight, and relationships serve as sources of strength and resilience.”

The week-long study featured 79 students at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, 26 of whom were pursuing an arts-related major. All began by taking a detailed survey designed to identify their basic personality traits, and reporting “how often they engage in everyday creativity” such as “writing a poem, drawing a picture, making a recipe.”

Participants were then called on their cell phones eight times a day for the next seven days. They replied to each call by answering the question “Are you doing something creative?” and describing their emotional state at that moment. Specifically, they reported the extent to which they were currently experiencing a variety of feelings, including happy, sad, anxious, angry, and restless.

“We found that the frequency of doing something creative was quite high—around 22 percent,” Silvia and his colleagues report. What’s more, when participants were caught in the act of being creative, “they reported feeling significantly happier and more active” than at other reports.

Interestingly, the researchers found no evidence that negative states such as sadness, anger, or anxiety had any effect on the likelihood of engaging in creative behavior. The stereotype of a neurotic person “seeking solace in creativity was clearly not supported in this study,” they write.

Overall, the study provides evidence supporting Dr. Ruth Richards’ theory of the psychological value of “everyday creativity.” Richards, the researchers note, wrote that day-to-day creativity “is both a cause and consequence of positive development.

“Engaging in creative pursuits allows people to explore their identities, form new relationships, cultivate competence, and reflect critically on the world,” they write. “In turn, the new knowledge, self-insight, and relationships serve as sources of strength and resilience.”

So if you’re stopping yourself from writing that song or short story for fear you’ll fall short of brilliance—well, relax. No matter your level of talent, doing something creative contributes to your psychological growth, and increases your happiness.

And who knows? You might be better than you suspect.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


December 15 • 2:00 PM

No More Space Race

A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project.


December 15 • 12:32 PM

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.


December 15 • 12:00 PM

Gluttony and Global Warming: We’re Eating Ourselves to a Warmer Planet

Forget your car. Our obsession with beef and dairy has a far more devastating effect on the climate.


December 15 • 10:00 AM

The 2016 Presidential Race Has Already Started

And this is the most exciting part.


December 15 • 8:00 AM

The Second Life of Old iPods

Why is it that old iPods are suddenly cool—and pricey again?


December 15 • 6:00 AM

The Lifelong Consequences of Rape

The long-term psychological and physical effects of the experience are devastating. And they’re likely exacerbated by the shame our culture insists on perpetuating.


December 15 • 4:00 AM

Mating Mindset Interferes With Attempts to Stop Smoking

Taiwanese researchers find photos of attractive women put men in an immediate-gratification state of mind.


December 15 • 2:00 AM

Where Innovation Thrives

Innovation does not require an urban area or a suburban area—it can happen in the city or in a small town. What it requires is open knowledge networks and the movement of people from different places.


Follow us


Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

There’s More Than One Way to Be Good at Math

Mathematical ability isn’t one single skill set; there are indeed many ways to be “good at math,” research shows.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.