by Ben Dean Ph.D.
This newsletter marks the beginning of what will be a whirlwind tour of character strengths—strengths such as wisdom, honesty, spirituality, kindness, gratitude, curiosity, and creativity.
According to Dr. Martin Seligman, we can become lastingly happier by using our signature strengths more often and in new ways. Early support for this theory comes from a random-assignment study in which research participants were asked to use their signature strengths more often and in different ways. These participants were happier six months later; individuals who received a “control” exercise stayed the same.
The recently published handbook by Peterson and Seligman (2004), Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, summarizes all there is to know about each of the 24 strengths. So ideally, you and your clients can read the relevant chapters in the Handbook and use the knowledge contained within to inform your strengths work. Although we encourage you to use the strengths handbook, we recognize that the scope of this 700+ page book can be somewhat daunting to be busy professionals and clients. If this is the case, then you are in luck. What we will be doing over the newsletters is offering you the Readers Digest version of the Handbook. Each issue will be devoted to a different strength, and my focus will be on application. In each newsletter, we will present information that will make it easier for you and your clients to (1) own your strengths, (2) develop them further, and (3) use them in new ways.
To start things off, allow me to introduce this strength, Creativity.
A creative person is someone who comes up with ideas that are (1) original and (2) useful.
Like all strengths, creativity exists on a continuum. Some find it helpful to distinguish between “little c” creativity and “Big C” Creativity. Big C Creativity is reserved for once in a lifetime, creative acts. (Think Einstein, DaVinci, or Edison.) In contrast, little c creativity refers to day-to-day creativity.
Points To Consider
People are much less creative when they are under time pressure, when they are being scrutinized and judged by others, and when external circumstance limit the range of options available.
Hard work is often a prerequisite for creativity, particularly Big C Creativity. Big C artists, inventors, scientists, and writers spend years mastering their respective domains before making a valued creative contribution.
In order for an idea or product to be considered creative, it typically has to be complete. Who knows how many potentially Big C Creative manuscripts or paintings remain forever unfinished?
Situations To Approach And Avoid When Exercising Your Creativity
People are much less creative when they are under time pressure, when they are being scrutinized and judged by others, and when external circumstances limit the range of options available.
In contrast, creativity is encouraged by environments that are supportive, reinforcing, open, and casual.
Dr. Barbara Frederikson, author of the “Broaden and Build” theory of positive emotion, suggests that positive emotions are evolutionarily adaptive because they trigger a broadening of our mental state. Creativity is much more likely to occur when we are open to new ideas and new experiences.
Supporting this “broaden and build” theory, researchers found that participants in a happy mood outperformed participants in a negative or neutral mood on a task requiring a creative solution (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987).
Take Home Message
When you or your clients want to exercise your creativity, try doing something first that you know will put you in a happy, relaxed mood. Avoid criticism (and this includes self-criticism!) and time-pressured situations when possible. Finally, recognize that creativity often requires work, work, and more work. (Stay tuned for a future E-newsletter about the character strength of perseverance!)
Just Do It
Finally, it is interesting to note that people are more likely to be creative when they are (drumroll please) told to be creative! So if you want to exercise your creativity, then just do it!
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