The Many Benefits of Creativity for our Mental Health 

Think you have to be a “creative person” to get the benefits from creativity? Read on to find out.

What Is Creativity?

Creativity is about making or discovering something new, whether by connecting different ideas, producing a work of art, or approaching a situation in a novel or unexpected way. Creativity also includes solving problems or using tools or ideas in new ways – whether they’re new to the world or new to you.

And if you’re left immediately thinking of the most accomplished creative people throughout history – painters, musicians, sculptors, filmmakers, authors, actors, etc.  – don’t worry. Creativity doesn’t have to mean making something; just appreciating creative works, whether made by people or occurring in nature, can bring a wide range of benefits to our mental health. What are those benefits?

Side Note: Creativity and Mental Illness

Before we dive in, let’s clear up the myth that creativity requires some kind of mental health concern. While there is a popular image of the most brilliant creatives being driven by mental illness to create history-defining works, the link between mental illness and creativity has been disproven time and time again by a range of studies. Mental illness is not a requirement for being creative, and experiencing the symptoms of mental illness does not automatically make someone more creative.

Benefits of Creativity for Mental Health

No matter what creativity means to you, there are so many benefits to doing something creative, even for a short amount of time. Here are four benefits:

  1. Creativity can help us reach a flow state. You’re no doubt familiar with the concept of a flow state, in which we are so involved with an activity that we lose track of time. Engaging in creative pursuits, from painting to playing music to writing a short story, can help us reach a state of flow and thus tap into benefits like the increase in “feel-good” brain chemicals.
  1. Creativity can be therapeutic. Doing creative activities, such as art, writing, or music, can be therapeutic. These pursuits can help us process emotions, particularly those associated with the impacts of past experiences or current circumstances, in a way that is positive and productive. The act of organizing thoughts and expressing ourselves through creativity can help us see situations and feelings from a different perspective. Creativity can even help reduce depression and anxiety.
  1. Creativity can help build relationships and community. When people with similar interests get together to do those activities, connections often form that can support our mental health. When these activities involve a measure of vulnerability and self-expression, our relationships might be turbo-charged to become even stronger. This is one of the several ways WellPower’s art and music programs support people we serve.
  1. Creativity can help strengthen resilience. Engaging in creative activities has also been shown to increase our ability to be “open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic and intrinsically motivated” – all qualities that contribute to resilience. This set of characteristics can help us navigate the complexities and challenges of our lives outside of our creative endeavor, from family difficulties to stress at work to the many other unforeseen twists and turns of life.

Creativity is for Everyone

If you’ve ever thought about trying something creative – whether trying your hand at oil painting or taking piano lessons as an adult – but decided that you’re just not “good enough,” don’t worry – you don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart to reap the benefits.

Here are three of the many ways creativity is for everyone:

  1. We all use creativity every day. Thinking about a problem at work a different way, finding a different route home to avoid a traffic jam, cooking something new for dinner – we use creativity throughout the normal course of our lives. And when this creativity leads to positive results it can support our mental health through a sense of accomplishment and greater confidence.
  1. You don’t have to be a world-class creative genius. Just the act of exercising our creative muscles is beneficial to our mental health, especially when we approach the activity with a sense of curiosity and humor. While putting too much pressure on ourselves to perform perfectly can have detrimental impacts, instead seeing value in the process itself and embracing imperfections can help us maximize the benefits of our creative hobby.
  1. Appreciating creativity counts. Listening to music you like, going to an art gallery, watching a good movie, even taking a moment to appreciate your kids’ finger-painting masterpieces on the fridge can all provide positive mental health benefits.

20 Creative Things You Can Do Today

Instead of waiting to do something creative until you’re feeling particularly inspired (and deferring all the benefits that are just waiting for you), why not start small right now? If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, here are a few to get you started – and remember, you don’t have to make anything in order to engage in creativity:

  1. Pick up a pencil and doodle on a piece of scratch paper.
  2. Watch a film (or a short film – we know you’re busy).
  3. Go to an art gallery.
  4. Try a color-by-numbers book (they’re all the rage right now).
  5. Listen to a music album that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while.
  6. Look at paintings online (tip: start by Googling “Vincent Van Goh” and look at the Images tab).
  7. Go for a walk and take a few photos along the way.
  8. Sign up for piano lessons (or clarinet lessons, or guitar lessons, or any kind of lessons).
  9. Go ahead and buy that watercolor paint set you’ve been eyeing for too long.
  10. Try your hand at knitting, crochet, sewing, or other needlework.
  11. Sing along to the radio in your car.
  12. Dance in your bedroom after work (door open or closed – you know your family best).
  13. Go for a hike in a park.
  14. Pick up some clay at the store and see what you can make.
  15. Make up a joke – knock-knock, pun, whatever tickles your funny bone.
  16. Grab a piece of paper and try origami (remember how to make a crane?).
  17. Make up a bedtime story, whether for your child or yourself.
  18. Write in a journal (bonus: try to describe the same thing in three different ways).
  19. Make a photo album – either a digital or printed version – with old photos.
  20. Learn how to say something in another language – start with “Hi, my name is____.”