The Good Life and creativity go hand in hand—each enhances the other, like peanuts and chocolate. While creativity can be tricky to define, we usually know it when we're doing it, in part because being creative actually evokes good feelings. That's right. Creativity belongs on the list of Cheap Thrills as a source of happiness.
Think back to when you were a child and made whole worlds out of the simplest of things. A refrigerator box became a rocket ship, a tunnel, or a club house. You used your imagination to transform what was into your vision of what could be, and in the process you improvised with the things at hand, being deeply engaged in the creative process.
We recently listened to a talk by Jim Diers about Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way. (Watch the talk, or read a related paper.) The energy in the room lifted higher and higher as he showed example after example of the creative ways neighbors in Seattle came together to solve their common issues. Got a public nuisance under a bridge? Why not create a huge troll (yep, a troll) to turn the area into a tourist destination. Got too much car traffic in your neighborhood? Issue undrivers licenses and offer a human powered Shuffle Bus.
The point is that experiencing creativity in our own lives, as adults—individually and collectively, is not only a wonderful experience in itself, it can also bring forth significant improvements in our quality of life.
Imagine furnishing your living room on a budget of $500, $5,000, or $50,000. Which budget would require the most creativity to look and function well? Less can be a great impetus for creativity, and it can inspire us to find, combine, and apply resources in unique ways. While not having enough can sometimes impede our abilities, almost enough can often provide the push we need to kick into a more creative mode. Whereas more than enough, or as is often the case, too much, can make it hard for us to focus our attention and act with the same clarity and intent.
(Watch the creativity in kids who have just a few toys to play with versus those who have dozens. Most child psychologists recommend a maximum of 10 toys, particularly toys that can be used for multiple purposes like blocks and crayons, for developing a child's creativity.)
When we extend this creative approach to the design of our whole life, we find ways to be creative in the way we work, eat, recreate, worship, maintain relationships, and, as in the Seattle examples, build community. Creativity becomes a resource we can draw upon just like money, time, and effort. In fact there can be a trade off among these elements, and the more creative we are, the less money, time, and effort we need for some things. Creativity can be a positive response to having less as well as the reason for needing less.
How can we become more creative in our lives? To a certain extent, creativity is like a muscle, and working out regularly helps us become even more creative. Start by thinking about some of the times and ways in which you are already creative, and look for patterns that can help you build up those creative muscles.
Here are some other suggestions which may help you to develop your creativity:
—We often look for the new and novel through our purchases. By consciously shifting to creating things as well as experiences we slow this metabolism down and more deeply scratch this itch. Gifts are an easy place to begin; a handmade object or a shared experience can be more meaningful and memorable than a store bought alternative. Entertainment is another area ripe for creativity with game and music nights, or for those of us less musically inclined, storytelling. Rearranging and repurposing what we already have (furniture, clothes, food, plants, computer programs, etc.) requires creativity and is yet another way of refocusing our consumption toward more creatively using what we already have.
—When a problem arises we often look for the quickest or "right" solution. When possible, try brainstorming a few creative responses first. Divergent thinking, where you spontaneously come up with a number of random ideas, is a useful step in the creative process. This free flow of ideas can spark unexpected connections that lead to new ideas and insights. You might just be surprised by some of possibilities and have a bit more fun in the process.
—Creative responses often fall outside the bounds of convention. It is helpful to give ourselves (and others) permission and encouragement to be creative when appropriate. We can block our own creativity by feeling inhibited or embarrassed by our uniquely individual expressions and solutions. While creativity can be inappropriate at times (airport security lines come to mind), there are plenty of times where more creativity is welcomed and beneficial (airplane safety talks, anyone?).
—The relationship between time and creativity is a complex one, and it is best to figure out what works well for you. Some of us need an expansive sense of time to feel creative. We can sometimes shorten this by our choice of environment or an established ritual that cues our mind and body that it is time to be creative. A basement workshop, certain music, and caffeine are examples of these kinds of strategies. Other folks find they are more creative on the fly, and therefore they put themselves in circumstances where there is no time but to be creative.
—The more creativity you experience, the more creative you can become. By enjoying the creativity of others—professionals, and amateurs alike—the more ideas, examples, and inspirations you will find. Seek out creative places, experiences, and people regularly, and see how quickly you catch the creativity bug.
Court your creative muse. What inspires you to be creative? Is it reading, music, being in nature, visiting art galleries, talking with friends, or solving puzzles? Muses need to be attended to or they slip away. If you have been neglecting your muse, schedule a date with it in the near future. Take note of what goes on when you are together. If you and your muse are in close contact, congratulations! Perhaps you can help a friend or loved one reconnect with his or hers.
Think of one area of your life that feels a bit stale or stuck: a room, a friendship, meals, your job. On your own or with others, brainstorm some creative possibilities. The primary rule of brainstorming is that there are no wrong answers so no criticism or censoring of any initial idea is allowed. In some cases giving yourself a set time to come up with a whole bunch of ideas is helpful. Briefly record each idea.
Review the ideas and pick a couple to explore further for applicability. Select one to try and do it.
A common stumbling block to creativity is a fear that things won't work out well. If your first idea doesn't work out, see that as useful feedback and trust yourself to modify it accordingly or try something else. Failure and creativity are kissing cousins.
Now honestly, how does it feel to infuse your life with more creativity?
From our cardboard rocket ship,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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