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Creativity, Happiness & Flow

Several years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak on "Creativity and Flow."

In a nutshell, he said that we are happiest when we are in a state of flow. Flow is a deep state of concentration and absorption with an activity or situation.  We often express this as being in the "zone" or in the "groove."  And we've all felt it.  Artists, athletes, musicians, even gardeners or hobbyists can become so profoundly engrossed in what they are doing that they achieve flow.

Sometimes when I'm writing, hours can go by without my even noticing them.  I'll work through lunch - not knowing or even caring what time it is.  Ideas come one after another, and I can feel the euphoria of continual creation.  This is what Mihaly refers to as flow.  And he says that when we are in that state of flow, all aspects of performance are increased, including creative performance. 

The benefits of flow continue to flow.

Interestingly. Harvard Professor Teresa Amiable discovered that not only are we more creative when we are in a state of flow, we are also more creative the day after a state of flow.  So flow isn’t just improving creativity in a given moment, but continues to improve it over time. Simply being in a state of flow actually trains us to be more creative.
Similarly, researchers determined we are more likely to have a creative breakthrough if we felt happy the previous day.  

Creativity, it seems, is less likely to occur following negative emotions and anxiety.  If that happiness is caused by a state of flow, or simply a result of a day filled with positive emotions, I don't know. But if we want to be more creative, it seems we need to find ways to be happier

Creativity and flow actually change our brains.

Flow occurs when there are actual changes in our brain function, "our brainwaves move from the fast-moving beta wave of normal waking consciousness down to the far slower borderline between alpha and theta waves. Alpha is associated with daydreaming mode—when we can slip from thought to thought without much internal resistance. Theta, meanwhile, only shows up during REM or just before we fall asleep, in that hypnogogic gap where ideas combine in truly radical ways."

Since creativity is always a result of combining things in new ways, where old thoughts and new merge together, our brain's ability to slip between these states "wildly enhances creativity at a very fundamental level."  Add to that the hormonal boosts we get from dopamine and the like, and you have a potent cocktail for some pretty good feelings

Be happier to be more creative to be happier about being more creative.

In my last blog post, I talked about happiness.  Not simply because I'm human and I desire to be happy, but because I'm creative. And happiness is an outcome of, as well as an instigator of creativity.  If I desire to be more creative, then I need to seek happiness and positivity to help spur my brain into the state of flow that will produce the creative ideas I'm after.

Of course the great news is that the more creative I become, the happier I become. Which leads to greater creativity.  Which makes me even happier. And thus increasingly more creative. And that makes me very happy, indeed.