tvořivě sebevědomý blog
It makes me very happy to follow the UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center online course “The Science of Happiness”. As other courses I have taken on Coursera, EdX or Novoed, I find the experience inspiring, informative and entertaining.
The course also clarified for me the interesting links between happiness and creativity, there seems to be a virtuous cycle between happiness and creativity.
There are dozens of studies proving that happiness and positive emotions make you more creative and innovative at work. Studies by Alice Isen and Barb Fredrikson show that when I am in a state in positive emotion, I become more creative. In their experiments, people who are given a bag of candy or shown a few minutes of a comedy film perform better on creative tasks and have more ideas about what to do next. Interesting work was done with doctors making better medical decisions, being better at integrating the complex information of an unsolved case when they're given a bag of candy - which when you think of it, is a really small positive emotion induction.
In the interviews I am conducting with people about their own creativity, the same pattern emerges - when people remember the conditions which made it possible for them to be creative, they talk about happy periods and moments in their lifes.
At the same time, being creative is the sort of activity that makes us happier. I am writing this on a train to Berlin right now, and as I look around at my fellow passengers, I wonder: “why are some happier than others?”
Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying this and have come up with some approximate answers. So, Sonja Lyubomirsky (LINK) explains that fifty percent (50%) of the variance in happiness is due to our genes, about ten percent (10%) lies in our life circumstances, being richer, poorer, more or less attractive, more or less healthy. And that leaves forty percent (40%) of happiness (and again, that number shouldn't be set in stone, but quite a large number that is under our control, under our power to change. So: how do we harness that forty percent (40%)?
Creativity might be part of the answer. I am not quite sure how many percent (and probably - maybe fortunately - we will never be sure), but there are definitely elements that contribute to happiness. Let me list the most important ones
1) Focused states lead to happiness - again and again, my colleagues mention in their interviews how much pleasure they derive from a "flow" state (as famously defined by Mihaly C ) who first studied artists. I liked the description of one of my respondents, who likened it to being in a jaccuzi.
2) Self-expression leads to happiness through meaning - recently, Roy Baumaster from Florida State University has published a controversial paper trying to disentangle what makes our lives happy and what makes them meaningful. This is a slightly complicated debate trying to separate the "pleasure happiness" from the "meaningful happiness". However, usually, the both are linked and go hand in hand.
Part of his conclusions, as described by Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh (LINK) are that Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example, considering oneself to be wise or creative was associated with meaning but not happiness.
3) Sense of achievement leads to happiness - researchers find that students who do have sense
of achievement both academically and socially rate themselves as happier and as having higher levels of subjective well being. Many of the people I speak to describe the sense of achievement about their creative projects - independently from any external praise or success, “just” the sense of completing a project brings pleasure.
4) Community - many of my respondents mention their creativity as part of a group of like minded inviduals. and that is the part that makes most sense to them.
What about you? What about being creative makes you happy?
Yesterday, we joined few friends and went to see classical Indian music concert in London’s Barbican Centre. Zakir Hussain, in his 60s, is described as a "classical tabla virtuoso of the highest order". On Saturday, he was accompanied by and several younger instrumentalists playing a bamboo flute, sarangi, and several types of drums.
Zakir Hussein is a virtuoso, in the sense of doing something very few people can do - in his case, moving his hands on the tabla in such a way that this produces interesting sounds. For some reason, I am usually not very impressed by virtuosity. My main pleasure and joy from the concert was the the playfulness, the dialogue between players. In front of a sold out hall of 1900 people, there was call and response between Zakir and one of his colleagues, there were laughs, and smiles and a sense of ease and fun.
To give you an idea, an example recorded in France last year is here (especially from minute 15 onwards).
Few days ago, I was working for one afternoon with a small group of international senior executives on their persuasiveness and passion while presenting. They kept referring to “rule number 6”. Intrigued, I had to ask - they shared that it is a rule the main facilitator of their week-long training, Pierre, mentioned on day 1, inspired by Benjamin Zander, an orchestra conductor, author and speaker. Obviously, this resonated enormously with the participants, from Brasil, Netherlands, China or Indonesia.
Rule number 6 is: Do not take yourself too seriously! What are rules number 1 to 5? There are no rules number 1 to 5.
I am not sure if Zakir Hussein and his colleagues know rule number 6, if that is a conscious choice. And it definitely works for me - my only complaint is that the concert was too short!
What is it that the "simple" idea of not taking ourselves too seriously resonates so much? What does it really mean "do not take yourself too seriously"? Is it because this instruction provides a "gap" in our hurried reality? Is is because it includes the assumption that we are human, imperfect, vulnerable?
Cornwall, October 6th, 2014
“Happiness project” by Gretchen Rubin is a book I came across in various airports and bookshops in the past year or two, leafed through it and left it there. I only bought it in Boston airport few weeks ago - and I am glad I did. I finished reading it yesterday and in many ways, this is an inspiring book for me at this point of my “journey” with the creativity “project”.
Gretchen is an ex-lawyer and has written books on Winston Churchill and J.F.Kennedy before, but her “Happiness project” became a bestseller - as the colorful cover says: one million copies sold.
What made it an "acceptable" self-help book for myself, is a clever mix of research, inspirational quotes and personal experience. The main heroine (Gretchen) undertakes a journey to improve her happiness in one year, by concentrating on one aspect each month (January - clutter, February - marriage, March - lighten up). What works in that wild mix? A heroine who one can identify with, a journey limited in time, the chapters. Unfortunately, the book does not include links to the research (some of it is well-known, some of it is new to me), and the first part is better than the second one, but overall, an enjoyable read with few inspiring things to remember ...
For myself, it provided encouragement - here is someone who was not an “expert on happiness”, and yet, managed over a reasonable period of time (maybe it took her more than a year) to write something which had impact for myself and for thousands, well, maybe even a million of other people.
On the more technical aspects, maybe I can be inspired by
This week, enjoying more and more our weeklong meditation retreat, and while I might “use it” to get some deeper ideas about my various project(s) (as mentioned in the previous blog), the biggest reminder is a simple one: that ultimately, I believe that there are no “points” for projects, for being productive, for answering emails, for “doing”.
Quoting Donal’s article from his new website
"We often live with a sense of tremendous speed propelled towards a vague future in the company of the twin terrors: hope and fear. Life seems always to lie in that future. We miss completely the in-dwelling life and the life around us and live in the realm of thought and projection. Thus the greater background, the space of awareness and the mystery and depth of being-in-itself is obliterated by the hard speed of thought and habit. What does it mean to be fully present in our living? Is it possible to be present to the world around us; to the wind in the trees, the bird in the air, the woman sweeping the floor and the man at the gate, to beauty and sorrow? Is it possible to be present to the internal world of thought and feeling and of speech, action and reaction? And going further, what is presence in itself, free of any object, presence without becoming?"
I find it reassuring that I do have a choice about spending time on “projects” and spending time in the “gap”.
It also reminded me of an interview I did recently for this creativity project with a friend who is a teacher and therapist and she came up with the distinction between “product creativity” and “process creativity”.
"And as with all my creative life which used to be much more actively in theatre, it was always improvisation. It's always been about process. I've never been engaged in a creative process that was about an end product only. That's never been interesting to me. And it still really isn't interesting to me. I mean, not that I don't love great pieces of art, but I know that's not what I can create. I'm compelled in the moment to be moved in a moment. That's what creativity is for me. (...) Improvisation and picking up things in a moment in just being very present has always been most interesting and I'm most good at it. And I don't know exactly why, but I'm paying extreme attention to everything all the time. And that's what, I think that's this like present process creativity."
So, on a very practical level, should I go to the next meditation session, starting in 3 minutes and be present, in the "gap", or should I continue writing this blog and aim for the end-product? Is there a formula for integrating those two?
On a more philosophical note, is creativity in this sense all pervasive? A sign of being human? A sign of being alive?
2nd of October, Cornwall
I am spending this week on a meditation retreat in a beautiful place in Cornwall, with old and new friends and a wonderful meditation teacher, Donal Creedon. Meditating for more than six hours per day is a mixture of beautiful, inspiring, deep, irritating, boring and difficult.
On the third day of the retreat, when I finally settled in after a schedule in the weeks before, have had a couple of 9 hour sleep nights, the thoughts, plans, feelings, pains, retreated slightly. And while “resting with whatever comes” in the morning meditation session, I suddenly had a few ideas about the “creativity project” I have been working on for some time now (and to which this blog is dedicated to - actually I had the idea of starting a blog in this session :-)).
It was not really meditation, maybe rather daydreaming - the fact of stopping and going into a “deeper” place has helped me come up with better ideas than if I had spent the same amount of time more "efficiently" in front of the computer or reading articles and books.
This reminded me of an article recently mentioned at Brainpickings website (a great source on creativity) referencing an article called "“Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming”, published in the Frontiers in Psychology.
Rebecca McMillan and Scott Kaufman write:
(...) most recent studies depict mind wandering as a costly cognitive failure with relatively few benefits (...). This perspective makes sense when mind wandering is observed by a third party and when costs are measured against externally imposed standards such as speed or accuracy of processing, reading fluency or comprehension, sustained attention, and other external metrics.
There is, however, another way of looking at mind wandering, a personal perspective, if you will. For the individual, mind wandering offers the possibility of very real, personal reward, some immediate, some more distant. These reward include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion.
From this personal perspective, it is much easier to understand why people are drawn to mind wandering and willing to invest nearly 50% of their waking hours engaged in it.
So next time you daydream, do not beat yourself up for that. Rather, I am asking myself the question - how to integrate those moments into the creative process? For an individual? For a creative group (i.e. a theatre company or a radio production)? Rather than sitting for 4 hours with no break in the studio, go out for some time and daydream?
Happy daydreaming to you!
Eva Blechová facilituje, koučuje, napsala několik rozhlasových her a jednu disertaci. V současné době zkoumá tvořivost a tvořivé sebevědomí. Před tím vším vedla týmy jako Ředitelka kabinetu na Ministerstvu zahraničí a byla strategický konzultant v McKinsey & Co.
o blogu/about the blog
Původně (v roce 2014) jsem psala blog (anglicky) jako sebe-povzbuzení pro psaní disertace. Teď (2017) píšu jako sebe-povzbuzení pro eventuální přetvoření disertace na knihu/pamflet/kurz/něco.