Creative work matters to me. It wakes me up to life, restores me and makes me whole again. It makes me feel human and alive–reconnects me to wonder. The importance of creativity, however, is more than just a personal preference. It’s actually important to our individual well-being, and to our culture. While attending a workshop for middle school educators in Rome recently (ELMLE), one of the presenters, Danielle Veilleux, from the IB organization, explained that studies show that after age 30, creativity declines for the rest of your life unless you travel, change your career, or you interact with new colleagues at work. Contrary to what it might sometimes seem like, then, disruption to our habitual patterns of thinking, and being pushed in a new direction can be good for us!
Creativity–seeing things in new ways, making new connections between ideas, solving problems, as well as making something new like a piece of art or a poem, or your personal recipe for minestrone soup, helps to keep us happier, and I love that idea! In fact, positive breakthroughs are more likely to happen when people were feeling happy the previous day.
Keeping creativity alive is not easy, however, as so much in our lives is structured. We define standards and work toward them, rather than aiming to think divergently. Making mistakes in order to learn is not necessarily rewarded. An education professor at William and Mary, Kyung Hee Kim, did research on creativity using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, tests that are highly correlated with adult success in creative areas. Kim’s research, carried out on children from kindergarten through grade 12 over a period of several decades, indicates that children’s scores on the TTCT began to decline in the mid 80’s, and have been declining ever since. Kim states that “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” (Read more about this research here.)
Creativity matters. As Peter Gray, professor at Boston College, says in his Psychology Today article, “As Children’s Freedom has Declined, So Has Their Creativity,” “In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution: that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world.” Creativity is needed in the workplace. In 2010, an IBM NYSE survey of over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 nationalities indicated that “successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.” Certainly, there is a world of need in our world that businesses could address that require new thinking–how to heat our homes efficiently without relying on oil might be one, how to create nurture economic development without destroying the environment could be another. But creativity isn’t important just because businesses say it is. There are personal reasons to develop and nurture creativity: you’ll not only live longer, you’ll be happier. If you practice creativity through doing things like reading books, go different places on your holidays, talk to different people, and do things that make you think divergently, you will actually live longer. The Scientific American journal quotes a study by Nicholas Turino in the Journal of Aging and Health that collected data on more that 1,000 older men between 1990 and 2008. The study found that “[k]eeping the brain healthy may be one of the most important aspects of aging successfully—a fact shown by creative persons living longer in our study,” Turino explained.
Though creativity can decline as we age past childhood because we tend to become more concerned about fitting in and begin to live more habitual lives, aging doesn’t have to lead to this way of being. In his article in Psychology Today, Steve Sisgold quotes research from the director of UCLA’s Center on Aging, indicating that because older people can “better tease out patterns and see the big picture,” age actually works in people’s favor when it comes to motivation, and because the capacity for empathy is “refined as we age.” If we want to perk up our lives, or continue growing creatively, maybe it’s a good idea to put ourselves purposely into different contexts and to pose questions for ourselves that make us see things from new angles. Everyone can be creative, it’s not something you’re born with or that applies only to certain fields. There are a list of things we can do to help nurture our creativity, but I want to start small, with just one thing. This week I want to spend more time nurturing creativity by taking time during the week for my own creative work.