Being yourself (expressing creativity in whatever form it takes) guides you to your purpose and to your ideal clients (if your purpose is professional). Creativity, especially as it relates to self-expression, can also improve immune function, mood, and resiliency.
Making Art Is Fun
Every child knows that making art, singing songs, playing games, and moving the body feels good. Science has also proven that each of those things has multiple cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits. Some of the healthiest, most well-balanced adults are those who remember a bit about being a child while living in an adult body. Scientists have established that having fun increases dopamine, and that engaging with art (as a viewer or creator) is a healthier way to raise dopamine, compared to many other pleasure-reward sources.
Just Looking at Art Helps
Many people realize that the process of creating something is soothing, a sort of meditation, though even just looking at beautiful things is healing! A study from the University of Westminster in England proved this with a lunchtime art intervention. The research team had people come into a gallery over their lunch breaks, look at art, fill out a survey, and have their salivary cortisol (a physiologic indicator of stress) levels checked. Looking at art dropped cortisol significantly—to levels it would have taken 5 hours to reach otherwise. Survey results indicated that this simple intervention also enhanced mood and relaxation. The conclusion: looking at art results in rapid normalization of stress.
Data from Environmental Psychology literature tells us that employees are happier, take fewer sick days, and feel more productive (up to 15% more!) if their workspace includes natural light, art, plants, and attractive design elements. Beautiful environments are inspiring places to work. This has been proven! Form influences function! The energy of a space matters, and surrounding ourselves with attractive things has a calming, pleasing effect on mind and body.
Making Art Is Even Better
Looking at art, having art in your work/home space, and surrounding yourself with plants and natural light can make a profound difference in your quality of life. Making art, playing music, dancing, writing, or doing another creative activity can take the benefits even further. A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal looked at both passive (viewing) and active (participatory) arts engagement. More people in the study engaged in passive art experiences, and those experiences resulted in statistically significant improvements in quality of life, perceived health, and sense of belonging. Those who actually made art experienced even greater improvements in quality of life and perceived health. The art-makers additionally had statistically significant improvements in spiritual well-being, sense of meaning, and peace.
There are multiple studies documenting the benefits of art therapy for a variety of conditions. It is especially helpful for stress, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and cancer diagnosis. I personally got into art therapy during my final year of college when I founded an expressive arts program for children with cancer at Duke University hospital. In this program I offered pediatric oncology patients (and their families) weekly art activities, including time for discussion and processing. The projects were intended to be fun, calming, and connective, but they also ended up being a vehicle through which the children could express some of their thoughts and feelings.
The experience had such a profound impact on me that I founded a similar (but larger) program at the University of Michigan (where I was a medical student), run by fellow medical students. Through art, the children (and their med student guides) could find a moment of peace and a way to release some of their fear or pain.
Incorporating Creativity Into Your Life
We are all creative in some way. Your creative impulses may show themselves though cooking, decorating, gardening, social media, business, and other not-overtly-artistic (but still creative) expressions. These are all wonderful and have benefit! Some people really are more practical. Others are more bohemian, whimsical, or artsy. Get to know your unique expressive style. Adjust your expectations for the kind of creative output that may come more naturally, depending on your personality (as evidenced by your astrology or your values/aesthetic/priorities/etc.).
Aim to find YOUR growing edge, where you can stretch yourself a little--design something, make something, write something, teach something, or start a new program. We all have something we can share, something we can offer to the world. Putting your ideas or your actual physical products into the world is a creative act.
Ask yourself, “What am I inspired to do with my life, right now?” “How can I contribute to the collective?” “What can I create with my unique ideas, energy, attitude, and talents?” I personally am really passionate about art and love helping others open up creatively, which is why I wrote this article! My favorite things about art are the JOY of inspiration, the meditative calmness of making something, and the thrill of seeing the end product. There are many ways to experience those rewards, however, each reflective of a unique personality. Please use this article as encouragement to find and explore your way!
Try the following ideas and prompts to activate and expand the healing power of creativity in your life:
1. Play with “non-dominant hand doodles” in a dedicated art journal. Make drawings on one side of the page, and write your feelings on the other side.
2. Go to a drum circle (and participate)! The repetitive patterns of drumming are highly soothing. Drumming was one of my main stress-relieving practices in med school.
3. Have a dance party with friends or by yourself. Learn a TikTok dance. It may be choreographed, but how YOU do it is your own creative expression.
4. Draw something you see around the house or yard, but color it non-realistically (just for fun).
5. Buy an adult coloring book (mandalas, perhaps?) and enjoy creating your own designs and patterns within or outside the lines. Add inspiring words, too.
6. Bake, but change the recipe a bit (insert something fabulous).
7. Garden, and think of the yard or patio as your canvas.
8. Keep an “idea journal” and commit to trying a few of them each month. Invest in your ideas. Make them real.
9. Play with your wardrobe. How you dress and style yourself reflects your personality. How you decorate your house or market your business are additional expressive opportunities. Posting on Instagram or other social sites can be incredibly creative.
10. Make art with children (yours or someone else’s). Explore watercolors, clay, glitter, and finger paints.
11. Make a “vision board” with pens, paints, and found objects. Write and illustrate some of your dreams.
12. Journal Prompts: “Where does my creativity best reveal itself?” “How can I be more uniquely inspiring to others?” “What kinds of things inspire me?”
13. Create a friend collection! Gather art friends, writing friends, dancing friends, music friends, cooking friends, business mastermind friends, etc. You may need different friends for different activities. Having a few friends with whom you can do creative things will allow you to learn from each other, motivate each other, share ideas, and collaborate.
14. Consider joining (or starting) a group focused on developing ideas, increasing creativity, and stoking inspiration.
15. Crafting Prompt: Look at something you own (thermos, incense burner, mug, flower pot) and ponder how you could decorate that to make it even more fun, beautiful, colorful, or interesting. Take something relatively boring and imagine making it marvelous.
16. Play with patterns. Many of my own pieces of art feature patterns of colored stripes, shapes, and simple designs.
17. Add words to drawings and other creations to make them more expressive.
18. Meditate before, during, and after a creative session to enhance the benefits.
19. Add a plant, crystal, or small piece of art to your workspace to encourage inspiration and productivity.
20. When creating something – whether it’s a journal entry, a meal, a song, or a piece of art, do it mindfully. Have gratitude. Thank yourself for taking the time for what may seem like a less productive task.
We are all artists in this life, creating constantly with the different tools and talents at our disposal. What you focus on grows, so practice being creative, in a variety of ways. Self-expression is good for stress, mood, and anxiety. Making art may additionally reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. If interested in holistic health, then try to incorporate more creativity into your life.
Creative self-expression is a part of being a balanced, self-actualized human. It doesn’t matter what sort of creativity you express or if you consider yourself artistic. Making art is ultimately just a clever way to benefit from your own LOVE. Put your heart into ANY process, and joy is the result.
Discover how to cultivate awareness and develop a quiet, alert mind in a special conversation with Deepak Chopra, available now in the Chopra App.