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The Column icon The Column: Issue 38

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Happiness & Creativity
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

It is often said by writers, artists, and composers that their creativity is at its most prolific when melancholic. I ponder on this and argue that sadness is not a prerequisite of creativity, but rather that creativity is vital to our happiness.

"Imagination reveals what the world could be"
Princeton University

"Imagination is the highest creative faculty of mind, but the most unruly."
Miriams Well

"As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poets' pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Nights Dream

The Art of Trauma

Personal challenges and difficulties often motivate our creative urge. When we are very sad we either repress our feelings, or need, or are forced to meet our negativity head on. Conscious expressive creativity (writing, painting, composing etc.) helps us to communicate and confront our fears and anxieties when our dream time (I'll call this "unconscious creativity") is unable to leave us refreshed and recovered in the morning. In contrast when we are happy and content we may seem less emotionally driven to create.

Emotion however is not the whole story, although it is often our prime urge. I'd also like to distinguish between emotion and feeling. Emotion defines our strong feelings like joy and anger, while feeling takes in our sensory and intellectual perceptions and appends that to our emotions. This view presents feeling as more complex than emotion. These are ideas that need pondering and I'm having to re-read as I write so please do the same :)

To recap, when we are sad we want to become less so, and one way of achieving this is to share our sadness for others to understand our circumstance and empathize with us. Expressive creativity is therefore a vital strategy for dealing with the great challenges and trauma of unwelcome events, and may well be the reason we evolved to be as creative a species as we are.

The Creative Life

In addition to emotion there are other equally important motives for creativity. We must create to satisfy our insatiable curiosity. We must be creative to solve the practical challenges we face: from designing a chair for us to rest, work, and play on, to developing new medicines and treatments that help prevent suffering. Creativity is far more than art. We are all creative. We all dream.

How Happy Are You?

Many of us are less happy because we do not allow time for our creativity to flourish.

Ed Diener, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, argues it is possible to measure happiness. Ed Diener has devoted his working life to researching, writing, and teaching about 'subjective well-being', the scientific name for how people evaluate their lives. Ed Diener has produced a simple five question survey that can indicate your level of happiness.

Test your happiness

To find out how happy you are, read the five statements below, and use the 1-7 scale to indicate your agreement with each item. Being open and honest in your response will determine the accuracy of your happiness rating.

Once you have answered all five questions press the "submit" button. Your score and a brief summary analysis of your happiness by Professor Diener will immediately appear below the "Submit" button.

  1. Strongly disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Slightly disagree
  4. Neither agree nor disagree
  5. Slightly agree
  6. Agree
  7. Strongly agree

In most ways my life is close to ideal.

The conditions of my life are excellent.

I am satisfied with my life.

So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

  • 35 - 31 Highly satisfied

    People who score in this range love their lives and feel that things are going very well. Your life is not perfect, but you feel it is about as good as life gets. Furthermore, just because you are satisfied does not mean you are complacent. In fact, growth and challenge might be part of the reason you are satisfied. For most people in this high-scoring range, life is enjoyable, and the major domains of life are going well - work or school, family, friends, leisure, and personal development.

  • 26 - 30 Satisfied

    People who score in this range like their lives and feel that things are going well. Of course your life is not perfect, but you feel that things are mostly good. Furthermore, just because you are satisfied does not mean you are complacent. In fact, growth and challenge might be part of the reason you are satisfied. For most people in this high-scoring range, life is enjoyable, and the major domains of life are going well - work or school, family, friends, leisure, and personal development. You can draw motivation from those areas of your life that you are dissatisfied with.

  • 20 - 25 Slightly satisfied

    You have an average score. The average of life satisfaction in economically developed nations is in this range – the majority of people are generally satisfied, but have some areas where they very much would like some improvement. Some people score in this range because they are mostly satisfied with most areas of their lives but see the need for some improvement in each area. Other people score in this range because they are satisfied with most domains of their lives, but have one or two areas where they would like to see large improvements. Generally people who score in this range have areas of their lives that need improvement, but would usually like to move to a higher level by making some life changes.

  • 15 - 19 Slightly below average in life satisfaction

    People who score in this range usually have small but significant problems in several areas of their lives, or have many areas that are doing fine but one area that represents a substantial problem for them. If you have moved temporarily into this level of life satisfaction from a higher level because of some recent event, things will usually improve over time and satisfaction will generally move back up. On the other hand, if you are continually slightly dissatisfied with many areas of life, some changes might be in order. Sometimes we are simply expecting too much, and sometimes life changes are needed. Thus, although temporary dissatisfaction is common and normal, a continual level of dissatisfaction across a number of areas of life calls for reflection. Some people can gain motivation from a small level of dissatisfaction, but often dissatisfaction across a number of life domains is a distraction, and unpleasant as well.

  • 10 - 14 Dissatisfied

    People who score in this range are substantially dissatisfied with their lives. People in this range may have a number of areas that are not going well, or one or two areas that are going very badly. If life dissatisfaction is a response to a recent event such as bereavement, divorce, or a significant problem at work, you will probably return over time to his or her former level of higher satisfaction. However, if low levels of life satisfaction have been persisting for some time then some changes might be in order – both in attitudes and patterns of thinking, and probably in life activities as well. Low levels of life satisfaction in this range, if they persist, can indicate that things are going badly and life alterations are needed. Furthermore, a person with low life satisfaction in this range is sometimes not functioning well because their unhappiness serves as a distraction. Talking to a friend, a member of the clergy, a counselor, or another specialist can often help to get moving in the right direction, although positive change will be up to you.

    However, dissatisfaction at this level is often due to dissatisfaction in multiple areas of life. Whatever the reason for the low level of life satisfaction, it may be that the help of others are needed - a friend or family member, counseling with a member of the clergy, or help from a psychologist or other counselor. If the dissatisfaction persists, you need to change, and often others can help. Talk to your GP or contact a mental health organization.";

  • 5 - 9 Extremely dissatisfied

    People who score in this range are usually extremely unhappy with their current life. In some cases this is in reaction to some recent bad event such as the death of a loved one or unemployment. The dissatisfaction can be a response to a continuing problem, such as alcoholism or addiction. In other cases the extreme dissatisfaction is a reaction due to something bad in life such as recently having lost a loved one.

Be Happy

Happiness is not the same as pleasure. Pleasure is the partner of emotion, happiness is far more long lived. What pleasure brings we soon adapt to and become dissatisfied with. Happiness builds resilience, both in ourselves, and in society in general. Get creative today and build your happiness...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also the Creative Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company.

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