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The Side Road to Happiness By Lybi Ma

Posted Nov 19 2009 10:01pm


You may wonder why it's so important to loosen your creative juices, but diving into innovative pursuits can be your ticket to a healthier, more joyful life. When a painter paints, for example, he becomes utterly immersed in what he is doing. This focused engagement takes deep involvement where time seems to move effortlessly. The fulfillment that provides is at the heart of happiness. Forget money and worldly possessions. They're not even close. Instead, plunging yourself in work, a hobby, or craft will get you to the bliss you're looking for.

  Go With the Flow: Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conferred the label "flow," on the mental state in which you are fully engaged in creativity. In his research on happiness and well-being, he learned that people can become so absorbed that they feel they are outside of time. Other researchers have found that the passion of such pursuits can keep you physically healthy and out of the doctor's office.

Up to the Challenge? Psychiatrist Gregory Berns of Emory University takes the idea of engagement even further. He has found that experiencing discomfort is necessary to get you to contentment, arguing that satisfaction is to some extent generated by the stress hormone cortisol's effects on the dopamine system. That's why some people derive joy from extreme challenges. Think about the marathon runner who slogs through 26 miles of pain and suffering or the crossword puzzler who gets that same feeling when everything falls in place in "Aha!" clarity.

I'm Not That Creative: Yet, you wonder, isn't creativity reserved for the likes of artists, writers, and inventors? Not so fast. We all know that kindergartners are bundles of creative energy. But all of us were once in kindergarten, weren't we? So where does this early innovation go? The truth is: We are all creative, but somewhere along the way it was beaten out of us. Finding your passion is the key; think about what moves your motor and start small. But whatever you do, start somewhere.

Creative Thinking in Suits: Granted, you may not play the cello like Yo-Yo Ma or paint like Picasso, but creative thinking can be deployed in any profession. Take sales and marketing: Each new sale requires a different approach. "If that doesn't work, I'll try this..." Corporate America knows a good thing when it sees it. Companies like Microsoft and Toyota are using the idea of flow to get the best out of their workers—with employee satisfaction and productivity in mind.

Got What It Takes? To be creative you have to be passionate about what you are doing. This passion will lead you to a more joyful life. What helps? Creative people do not live by rules, they know how to do their own thing. These people are also more open to experience and fantasy; that's why they are happy to take more risks. And remember, genius does not require a tortured spirit—Van Gogh is not the epitome of the creative soul.

Showing Up: Sometimes just showing up is all it takes. Make a time and place for your pursuit, and your body will slip into the moment as soon as you allow it. If you follow a pattern, it will become somewhat automatic. You might even find yourself pining for your easel when that time of day comes. Beyond that, stick with the program; nothing will happen if you quit in the thick of it.

Work Is Play: And play is work. Don't worry about the end product, just concentrate on the process. Fussing over finished results will get you nowhere. And don't fret over what other people might think. You're doing this for you, not for them. Think about the knitter who pulls apart a sweater just because she wants do it all over again. Sounds crazy, but it can be worth it.

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