Creativity is a fickle mistress. Sometimes you’re just shit out of luck when you need it most and sometimes the ideas just won’t stop. There are many factors that may impact how creative you may be in any given moment, but one is of particular peaked my interest – mood.
For years there has been a perceived link between sadness and the power of art, insight, and creativity. We’ve all conjured up the idea of the melancholy artist or writer or performer who is brooding and hates the world and yet is able to create astounding pieces of work. It’s an idea as old as the great philosophers.
…all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.Aristotle
The interesting thing is how the opposite mood, that of happiness, is often overlooked. Mood absolutely has an impact on your proclivity for being creative. The question is, which one is better? Good or bad?
What the Research Says
There have been several studies over the years that explored the impact of mood on creativity. In 2010, researchers at the University of Western Ontario conducted a study exploring the impact of a positive mood on creativity. By using music and video clips, the researchers manipulated the subjects moods and had them complete tasks to measure the impact.
The results pointed to some interesting conclusions. First was that a positive mood does in fact make you more creative, especially when it comes to being open-minded to new ideas, engaging in fluid ideation, and making unusual associations. Pretty much, it’s good when you’re trying to be abstract and connect the dots.
What was interesting though, was that those that were put in a negative mood, didn’t suffer much on performance, but they excelled in a much different way. A more recent study, by Joseph Forgas of the University of New South Wales, explored the inherent value of being in a negative mood.
In it, he discovers that those in a negative mood showed more determination when it came to solving complex problems and were more attuned to deep cognitive reflection about the situation they were facing. In the end, it appears that both positive and negative moods have a positive impact on creative ability, but in very different ways.
The other takeaway is that being in a neutral mood, resulted in the worst results. If you’re not in an active state of emotion (angry or happy), but rather content or apathetic, your ability to be creative diminishes.
ow that we know that being in an active mood is actually good for creativity, how can we use that information? It all starts with paying attention.
In order to adapt to the environment and function effectively, people’s thought processes and behaviors are tuned to the information provided by their moods.Jennifer M. George & Jing Zhou
1. Pay attention to how you feel
The first thing we need to do is be aware of our own emotions and mood. If we can actually recognize when we’re in good or bad moods, then we can use those states of minds for something more.
How can we do this? When you’re getting to work, make it a habit to reflect on how you’re feeling in that moment. What just happened before you started working. Was it something that brightened our day, pissed us off, or nothing in particular?
If we can assess our mood in the moment, we can start to leverage it.
2. Use mood as a tool
Once we’ve identified our current mood, we can make decisions on the type of work we should be tackling in that moment. If you’re in a great mood then it may be better to explore new ideas, do some brainstorming, or start a new project that excites you. Positive moods are also more likely to lead to moments of insight, so take advantage of these strengths.
On the other hand, if you’re sad or upset or furious you’re better suited to tackle complex problems, work on things that require a high level of focus, or finish a project that you’ve been avoiding for some time. Negative moods are great for challenging assumptions, deeper thinking, and creating a higher level of motivation.
If we use our mood as a tool, we can make them much more valuable to us and our productivity.
3. Create moods when you feel meh
What if you’re just content? Not feeling particularly happy and not really upset either. If you’re in need of some creativity, you can try and instigate the mood you’re searching for.
Disclaimer: I’m not going to support the idea of putting yourself in a negative mood just to be creative. I’m sure you could, but I feel like the net impact of making yourself angry or sad may not be worth it. If you’re not already in a negative mood, don’t try and put yourself in one.
What you definitely can do though, is make yourself happier. How can you accomplish this? A few different ways:
- read/watch funny or uplifting content (YouTube was made for this)
- meditate for just five minutes to clear your mind and find some quiet
- listen to your favorite music, whatever works for you
- go for a walk, especially in nature
There are many ways to improve your mood and I’m sure you’re aware of what works best for you.
The next time you’re happy or sad, euphoric or furious, remember that you can use that mood to your benefit. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and take advantage of it.
Image via flickr