About a year ago, my sister and I were talking about my writing and she made a comment that sparked an idea for a non-fiction book that I've since written with a co-author. "I remember being creative as a kid," she said. "I made ceramics and did a lot of other things. What happened? I don't have an imaginative bone in my body anymore. I'd like to have a creative hobby but I don't have a clue what I'd be good at or even what would interest me."
My sister has raised two great kids and is a very accomplished business person, a partner in an insurance firm. She is a self-made woman who managed to climb the ladder of success in her field without even having a college degree. She is smart and personable and beautiful. Yet, it was clear to me that my sister felt as if something important was missing in her life -- a piece of the puzzle that keeps a happy life in balance.
I started thinking about the importance of creativity as a part of a full, happy life and asking myself if there is a creativity/happiness connection. Intrigued, I thought about the role creativity has played in my own life and contentment. I also did research on the topic of creativity and happiness and talked to my writing friend Mary Schramski, who studied creativity extensively while working on her Masters and Ph.D. Mary also taught creative writing for many years as a college professor. When all was said and done, I came away with the certainty that having a creative outlet, or simply living with heightened creative awareness, leads to a more complete and joyous life. So Mary and I decided to write a book on the subject: HAPPINESS REHAB: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life.
Which leads me back to my sister's question: What happened?
What happened to my sister's imaginative instincts is all-too-common. As human beings, we're all born creative. If you don't believe this, observe children and think about your own childhood. Children play make-believe. They dress up like Mommy or Daddy. They pretend to be teachers or firemen. They draw pictures and make up stories. But as time goes by, the circumstances of life and added responsibilities slowly begin to try to reign in our imaginative instincts, or at the very least, to restrict them. We start school and are told to stop daydreaming. We're instructed on what kind of story to write or what to paint or sketch, and then our efforts are graded. Even more time passes and suddenly we have homework, then a job, then others who rely upon us. Imagination often gets pushed aside, then buried, to make room for the more practical thought processes that help us do what we need to do to meet our obligations and get through each day.
The good news is that my sister was wrong when she said she doesn't have an imaginative bone in her body anymore. Her creativity still exists. It's buried somewhere deep inside of her. She just needs to unearth it to tap into it again. In our book HAPPINESS REHAB: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life, Mary and I include several Practices to help start that process and also suggest attempting a few "exploriments." Exploriments are a hands-on way to rediscover an old creative passion, or to form a new one. For instance, anyone wanting to rediscover or enhance their creativity might try one of the following:
1. Grab your camera (or buy an inexpensive disposable camera) and take off on a photo-taking mission. Snap shots around your neighborhood, the mall, a park, a cemetery, an amusement park. Or simply take photos inside of your house or in your own backyard.
2. Buy a new cookbook or pull out an old one you seldom use. Find a recipe for something unlike anything you've ever made before. Assemble the ingredients and utensils you need, tie on an apron and get cookin'.
3. Rearrange and redecorate a room using furniture, knickknacks, lamps, pictures, etc., that you already have on hand. Position furniture in a way you've never considered before. Combine items you never thought about putting together -- a pillow on a sofa, a picture above a chair, a flower arrangement on a table.
4. Take a field trip to a hobby store and wander up and down the aisles. Explore the artificial flower department. Touch knitting and crochet yarn. Feel the texture of upholstery and clothing fabrics. Scoop loose beads for making jewelry into your hands. Shake tiny bottles of artist oil paint and look at all the brushes. Take note of where you linger the longest, what catches your eye, and what keeps drawing you back for another look.
These are just a few of the exploriments Mary and I came up with. With a little thought, you can invent others on your own.
Another helpful creative tool that we recommend is starting a Creative Happiness Journal. Write down your thoughts about your own creativity. Recall any imaginative pursuits you engaged in as a child. List what's holding you back from becoming more creative. Record your fears, your hopes, your dreams. Write down your experiences with any exploriments you undertake. Note your newly-found creativity and happiness as it unfolds. Don't worry about the correctness of your journal. Spelling, grammar and neatness don't matter. Simply write down what you're thinking and experiencing.
Creativity is a wonderful gift -- one we're all given at birth. I have experienced, firsthand, the joy of living a full creative life, and I know that creativity can bring anyone more happiness. If you have trouble recalling a time when you were creative, or you feel as if you've hit a creative roadblock, try a few exploriments or start a Creative Happiness Journal and begin to rediscover the joy that, as a child, you experienced daily.
HAPPINESS REHAB: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life by Jennifer Archer & Mary Schramski, Ph.D., will be available online soon. Visit Jennifer's website and blog for more information and to vote through Friday, 8/17/12 on the cover you like best. You'll be entered to win a prize just for casting your vote! www.jenniferarcher.com