The Greater Good Science Center reports on a new study that seems to clarify the relationship between creativity and flourishing, that emotional state characterized by an “overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection.” A team led by University of Otago professor Tamlin Conner had 658 students keep daily diaries for 13 days. As the article by Conner et al explains, “Each day, they reported how much time they spent on creative activities, daily positive and negative affect, and daily flourishing.”
So what did they find?
Lagged multilevel models revealed that people felt higher activated PA and flourishing following days when they reported more creative activity than usual. The other direction – PA predicting next-day creative activity – was not supported, suggesting that the cross-day effect was specific to creative activity predicting well-being.
In other words, daily creativity increased positive affect and flourishing– but feeling better didn’t increase creativity.
This helps explain something I observed I was writing REST: one of the most striking things about the people I wrote about was how many of them kept really regular schedules. We often think of creative people as burning out in a tragic yet necessary blaze of youthful glory, but people who discover how to practice deliberate rest defy that stereotype. They were much more like craftspeople or professionals than tortured artists.
Novelist Raymond Chandler said that “there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at the least, when a professional writer doesn’t do anything but write.” Ingmar Bergman said that it is necessary to “sit down pedantically every day at a definite time, irrespective of whether you’re in the mood or not.” Piotr Tchaikovsky believed that “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” Joyce Carol Oates agreed: “One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood’” and start writing no matter what; “the writing will create the mood.” Anthony Trollope ridiculed the idea that “the man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till—inspiration moves him.”
Regularity and strict routines turn out to stimulate creativity, rather than hinder it. But it also seems to have the added benefit of increasing your sense of flourishing and emotional satisfaction.