Everyday Creativity Can Keep You Healthy

A creative idea a day keeps the doctor away. And it doesn’t even have to be a big idea. We don’t have to be the next Michelangelo or be a whiz at creating things with pipe cleaners. We just have to practice what psychology professor Ruth Richards calls “everyday creativity.”

Richards, one of the researchers at Harvard Medical School, says expressive writing has been shown to improve immune system functioning, for example, and older people who think more innovatively tend to cope better with aging and illness. In an article in Psychology Today, she maintains that engaging in creative behaviors makes us more dynamic, conscious, nondefensive, observant, collaborative, and brave.

Creativity “makes you more resilient, more vividly in the moment, and, at the same time, more connected to the world,” Richards says.

What is everyday creativity anyway? And what are some everyday things you can do to enhance your creativity and get some of those healthy benefits?

Everyday creativity, as defined by Richards, is simply an expression of originality and meaningfulness. It could be something as simple as wearing blue eye shadow when you always wear gray or taking a different route to work just for the heck of it. If these things suddenly put a smile on your face, give you a lift, and open your spirit a little wider to the world around you, you just tapped your everyday creativity. Here are some more ideas:

  • Try a new recipe. I am always amazed to hear Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table on public radio take three disparate ingredients and come up with a whole new dish—and it’s not because boiling water is a challenge for me.
  • Discover the joy of writing morning pages. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, encourages writers and nonwriters alike to start the day filling three pages of a notebook with their worries, joys, dreams, and thoughts. The idea is that once you take out the garbage, there is a ton of room for creativity. Who knows what you’ll think of?
  • Take a field trip. Go some place you’ve never been or do something you’ve never done. I personally find museums inspiring and calming, but I love to explore the unknown. I was at a Minnesota Twins baseball game recently and Rubbertoes (my husband) offered to arrange for me to run the bases. I’ve never stood on a major league baseball field before. If it hadn’t been 95 degrees and I hadn’t been frustrated with the team’s poor showing, I would have done it.
  • Turn your day upside down. That’s when you eat breakfast for dinner. I still get this feeling I’m pulling something over on someone when I have pancakes for supper. And if the pancakes are chocolate chip, I’m practically beaming. But this tip doesn’t have to be about food. Try looking at something one way and then flipping it around and looking at it another way. When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Henry David Thoreau, who was in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax that supported slavery, Emerson said, “Henry, how did you come to be here?” Thoreau replied, “Ralph, how did you come to be out there?” Challenge your perceptions and energize your creativity.
Lost and found creativity is the topic of my novel Maud’s House. It has a postmistress who writes poetry, a minister who plays the sax, a dairy farmer who tap dances, and a sheriff who builds birdhouses modeled after historic residences. So what happens when the whole town loses its creativity? Pick up a copy and find out.
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