THE LINK BETWEEN WELL-BEING AND CREATIVITY
MACRAME FOR THE FIRST TIME
I first came across macramé while searching for Pinterest educational craft projects for my Pre-K class several years ago. I marveled at the intricate designs made from knotted cotton cords and wondered how the makers could craft such lovely decorative wall hangings. I doubted my ability to replicate such beautiful work because I was never very good at drawing or painting and didn’t consider myself a creative person. I was curious though, and trying new things piqued my adventurous spirit.
I set out to give it a shot, watching a couple YouTube videos and scouring Dubai for cord and something that could pass for a dowel.
My first attempt was a disaster. I struggled for the better part of an afternoon, repeatedly pausing and re-watching the instructional videos. My clumsy fingers could barely knot the totally inappropriate cord. I worked on a flat surface rather than suspending my workspace mid-air, not realizing how much more challenging it would make the process.
All in all, it was a pretty terrible attempt, and the end product was mildly hideous. However, I loved every messy bit of the experience. I even felt happy despite my seeming failure. I couldn’t wait to try again. How was that?
WELLBEING & FLOURISHING IN LIFE
Wellbeing can be described as the extent to which we are comfortable, happy and healthy. Positive psychology uses the concept of “flourishing” to measure and describe wellbeing. Just like the word implies, flourishing in life is a state in which people thrive, and experience positive emotions and enhanced psychological and social functioning. A person who is flourishing cultivates strengths and resilience and grows continuously.
My creative failures, I realized, were helping me flourish and contributing to my wellbeing. I wondered what the creative process would feel like if the end product was actually something decent.
The state of flourishing sounds lovely. So how do we get there?
In 2016, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago studied over 650 of students’ daily experiences and emotional states over the course of 13 days. When the Department of Psychology finished analyzing the data, they found that engaging in creative activities contributed to an upward spiral of positive emotions, psychological wellbeing and feelings of flourishing.
In the days following activities that involved creative expressions, students reported feeling more enthusiasm and higher flourishing levels than usual. The study’s authors confirmed “everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.”
Even though my macramé was a mangled mess of cord, I had tapped into the upward spiral of flourishing resulting from creative activities. I was hooked! But it’s not always so easy to find this flourishing through creative expression.
WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR CREATIVITY?
If you find yourself stuck when it comes to your own creativity, you aren’t alone. When we are young, classroom education emphasizes exploring our environment and expressing ourselves through music, movement, craft projects and making things with our own hands to build up our motor skills. However, as we grow older, avenues for the arts and expression become extracurricular or weekly specialist classes, focused on skill-building instead of fostering individual expression.
Slowly, we lose connection to curiosity, expression, and discovering magical new avenues. We begin to doubt our abilities or their value. Over time, we remove ourselves from the creative box.
CURRENT CREATIVE AVENUES
The truth is, we are all creative in some way, even if we aren’t Van Goghing around. In the University of Otago study, participants named the manner in which they expressed themselves. The responses ran the gamut: songwriting; creative writing (poetry, short fiction); knitting and crochet; making new recipes; painting, drawing, and sketching; graphic and digital design; and musical performance were some of the top responses.
That’s all well and good, but there are many other little ways in which we exhibit creative brilliance in life. It’s time that we start expanding our definition of creative pursuits!
Maybe your Insta-feed is especially beautiful these days or your kids’ lunches are artfully arranged color blocks. While gardening, you select and arrange plants in your yard in a pleasing manner. Here in the region, shopping and dressing are Olympic sports, and outfit assembling and pattern mixing are serious talents. Perhaps you make your own pallet furniture on inspired weekends. Even developing your own yoga flow sequence in your home practice is a creative production at the end of the day!
FINDING NEW CREATIVE FLOWS
Taking time to acknowledge the traditional and less traditional ways that you currently express yourself sets a confident foundation from which to explore further. It also can provide insight into how your creative “flow” feels. This is the state where you are completely focused on what you are doing, and the rest of the world pauses for a bit. While flowing, you go on a mini mental vacation similar to meditating or practicing mindfulness with a focus on the present. Remember back to the last time you were so calmly and happily absorbed by your activity that you forgot about time. You were in the flow!
So why does this flow matter? According to positive psychology expert Dr. Mihaly Chentmihalyi, we are at our happiest when in this flow. He says there is a sense of ecstasy in being outside of our everyday reality and great inner clarity can be found in recognizing that the activity is doable and in knowing what needs to be done. When in flow, we feel serene and expand beyond the boundaries of the ego. Sign me up!
In finding new creative flow experiences, think about what brings you joy for clues, and build on it. As an example, a lot of us in this region are lucky enough to travel frequently. If you really enjoy being behind the lens while on vacation, take an online course for travel photography and start a separate Instagram to honor and encourage that expression and creative flow dropping.
Exploring your creativity even incrementally will lead to a feeling of flourishing in life, which will in turn activate more creativity and more positive vibes, in the magical upward spiral! Similar to practicing for sports or becoming more skilled at a task, you can flex and build your creativity like a muscle so you can enter a state of flow more regularly.
MAKING WITH YOUR OWN HANDS
While they are not the only methods to express yourself, there are special benefits to creative pursuits that specifically involve making items with your own two hands. Dr. Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond in Virginia, USA, studied the connection between the brain and hands. She reported that creating with our hands decreases stress, relieves anxiety and can even transform depression through a phenomenon she termed “behaviorceuticals.”
She told CBS News in the US, “I made up this term called ‘behaviorceuticals,’ instead of pharmaceuticals, in the sense that when we move and when we engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain.”
According to Dr. Lambert, a making activity with repetitive actions like knitting or woodworking can be especially potent in increasing certain neurochemicals in the brain. Ultimately, the end product of a scarf or a piece of furniture becomes the “reward,” the satisfaction we feel in accomplishment. Although many of our jobs are sedentary and require a lot of button pushing, our brains are still hardwired to benefit from using our hands to create physical items.
With the rise of Pinterest and its magical power to send people down creative rabbit holes for hours, there is no lack of inspiration to get you going. Some projects only require items that you already have in your apartment or are a few clicks away from arriving on your doorstep from Souq or Etsy.
Finding ways to create and use your hands to make inventive items is a fun way to invest in yourself and contribute to feelings of satisfaction, happiness and flourishing in life. In this way, my first disastrous macramé experience actually led to many more creative expressions and DIY projects, some of them actually resembling what they were supposed to as well. Most importantly, I learned that expressing myself is a lifehack for flourishing and overall well-being. Building upon that, I’ve spent the past few years helping others find their flow – and it’s become my own latest creative expression.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith Huston is a passionate advocate for engaging, hands-on education and training at all ages and interactive and meaningful event activities. As a certified American system elementary school teacher, a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher (200 hour) and a non-profit trainer and project manager, she has worked across the sectors in the Middle East for the past 8 years in Amman, Cairo and Dubai.
She is the Founder and Principal Daydreamer at Turquoise Boutique Studio, a creative arts company with a mission to make it easy for people of all ages to be creative in their everyday life and during special occasions, through modern and inventive DIY event activities, teambuilding experiences, workshops, DIY kits and online tutorials.
An adventurous DIY enthusiast, she loves to share the freshest DIY trends and to encourage people to try new things, leading over 80 creative DIY workshops and providing over 3,000 DIY and craft projects at high-profile events in the Middle East region.
this article originally appeared in the december/january 2018 issue of yoga life middle east