Does happiness always enhance creativity?
A study by June Gruber of Yale University and others (“A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good”), notes “Emotional states exert significant effects on memory, judgment, decision-making, and creativity.”
Her study also reports that “moderate levels of positive emotions engender more creativity, but high levels of positive emotions do not.
“Furthermore, when experiencing very high degrees of positive emotion, some individuals are inclined to engage in riskier behaviors, such as alcohol consumption, binge eating, and drug use.”
The research is summarized in a press release: Happiness Has a Dark Side.
“We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value as happiness, excitement and inspiration.” Alanis Morissette
To live a full life, we need to deal with extreme and self-limiting levels of feelings like anger, anxiety and depression.
But too often, people run away from or try to suppress emotions that help make us human – and creative.
Below is a brief clip from one of psychologist Michael Britt‘s outstanding PsychFiles podcasts.
In this episode – Thinking Positively – or Running Away from Your Feelings? – he talks about the article Happiness: Enough Already, by Sharon Begley.
The value of sadness
“The push for ever-greater well-being is facing a backlash, fueled by research on the value of sadness,” Begley declares.
Begley (and Britt) refer to the book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric Wilson.
She writes, “Wilson trots out criticisms of the mindless pursuit of contentment that philosophers and artists have raised throughout history—including that, as Flaubert said, to be chronically happy one must also be stupid.
“Less snarkily, Wilson argues that only by experiencing sadness can we experience the fullness of the human condition.
“While careful not to extol depression—which is marked not only by chronic sadness but also by apathy, lethargy and an increased risk of suicide—he praises melancholia for generating ‘a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.’
A more ‘negative’ mood can be more creative
“This is not romantic claptrap,” she continues, and quotes University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener: “Studies show that when you are in a negative mood, you become more analytical, more critical and more innovative. You need negative emotions, including sadness, to direct your thinking.”
(One of Diener’s books is Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.)
Begley points out, “Abraham Lincoln was not hobbled by his dark moods bordering on depression, and Beethoven composed his later works in a melancholic funk. Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and other artistic geniuses saw the world through a glass darkly.
“The creator of ‘Peanuts,’ Charles M. Schulz, was known for his gloom, while Woody Allen plumbs existential melancholia for his films, and Patti Smith and Fiona Apple do so for their music.”
From Happiness: Enough Already, Newsweek Feb 11, 2008
[Image from post Paul Pearsall on Beethoven and thriving – finding courage and resilience.]
In her Fast Company article Stop Chasing After Happiness And Do This Instead, Jane Porter notes “When we’re feeling positive and things are going well, we tend to be more passive.
“Why shake things up?” we might think. But there’s a danger to this. ‘When we are happy … we are very superficial in our thinking,’ says psychologist Todd Kashdan.
“Research has shown that negative emotions can actually help motivate you…”
In an episode of his The Psychology Podcast, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has a fascinating conversation on these topics: Todd Kashdan on dancing with the dark side of your personality.
In the episode you will hear about:
How feelings like anxiety, jealousy and selfishness can be beneficial
The functional value of exploring different emotional experiences
Scott and Todd’s campaign to encourage being “your authentic pissed off self”!
Louis C.K. and the science of bonding over things you shouldn’t say
How open monitoring meditation aids creativity
How to find happiness — and much more
Book: The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan, and Robert Biswas-Diener.
“Dear Reader, We want to offer a counter-intuitive idea about the human condition: the cultural message that “you should feel good and try not to feel bad” is one of the most toxic pieces of advice in modern psychology.
“Americans are not fans of anger, sadness, guilt, and other negative emotions. Just take a tour of the bookstore aisles and you’ll see countless titles about positivity and happiness.
“We invite you to take a closer look. We think that you can gain more from accessing the full range of your emotions. You don’t have to avoid discomfort to live a meaningful and engaging life. In fact, a bit of occasional anxiety or guilt can propel you to do great things.”
[From info page about the book on www.toddkashdan.com]
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Dealing with depression is a way to stay healthy and creative
A “dark mood” may be natural at times for most people – or more often, for those of us who are melancholic of temperament or have episodes of clinical depression. Staying in that kind or level of mood disorder is not healthy, nor is it a way to enhance creativity.
Especially with all the advertising that promotes “effective cures” for depression or “the blues” and other “unacceptable” moods, many people may be running too fast and far from emotions that can enrich their lives.
In his article The Art of Seeing Depression, Tom Wootton (author of the books The Bipolar Advantage, and The Depression Advantage)
says, “When I went into depression the first time all I saw was darkness and pain. At the time I thought it was unbearable, but looking back and comparing it to some of the far deeper states I have been to since, it was really nothing.
“As my perception has grown I am beginning to ‘see’ things I never knew were there. In ‘seeing’ them more clearly, I notice that they don’t affect me so negatively any more either.”
Alicia Keys has commented about being overwhelmed by her dark moods: “I was feeling so sad all the time, and I couldn’t shake it. I started burying my feelings, and it got to a point where I couldn’t even tell my family or my friends, ‘I’m twisted,’ or ‘I’m exhausted,’ or ‘I’m so angry.’ I became a master of putting up the wall so that I was unreadable.”
From my post Working with depression
Maybe it’s a matter of continually exploring the balance of feeling the depths without being swept into an emotionally destructive pit – and at the same time finding real pleasure and happiness in our lives.
Authentic happiness doesn’t necessarily mean “pleased” – Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D. is author of Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life. This post has an excerpt from her ShrinkRapRadio.com podcast interview.