One link between emotion and creativity

Say you want to help a group be more creative. 

What emotion would best help the group achieve this goal?

This question was recently posed to students in a weekend workshop I attended on Emotional Intelligence at Columbia University.

The choices:

1. Happiness

2. Worry

3. Sadness

4. Anger

5. Other

What would you say? I listened as classmates, one after the other, suggested that negative emotions would fuel the creative fire.

Sure, we know that not everyone responds the same way, but could negativity really be the answer? It saddened me that this was the myth or common view floating around the University halls.

Results of a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, set us straight.

The emotion that best helps a group promote creativity is happiness.  Why? An upbeat mood makes people more receptive to information, helps widens our lens and allows us to see connections we normally would have been closed off to otherwise.

In addition, happiness and laughter release dopamine which contributes to stress reduction.

Stress reduction and an overall relaxed state triggers responses in our brain that coincide with inhibition – and the ability to have more creative insights.

This blog post is brought to you by the letters “H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S” and Positive Psychology. Now go out and make someone happy!

This just in… emotions are contagious – via The Energy Project

Emotional contagion spreads quickly and fills the air of your environment. Can you put out the fire?

Take this warning (story) from Energy Project CEO, Tony Schwartz, and his lessons learned…

Emotional Contagion Can Take Down Your Whole Team – The Energy Project.


  1. The emotions people bring to work are as important as their cognitive skills, and especially so for leaders.

  2. Because it’s not possible to check our emotions at the door when we get to work — even when that’s expected — it pays to be aware of what we’re feeling in any given moment. You can’t change what you don’t notice.

  3. Negative emotions spread fast and they’re highly toxic. The problem with the executive we let go was not that he was critical, but rather that he was so singularly focused on what was wrong that he lost sight of the bigger picture, including his own negative impact on others.

  4. Authenticity matters because you can’t fake positivity for long. It is possible to put on a “game face” — to say you’re feeling one way when you’re actually feeling another — but the truth will ultimately reveal itself in your facial, vocal, and postural cues. We must learn to monitor and manage our moods.

  5. The key to balancing realism and optimism is to embrace the paradox of realistic optimism. Practically, that means having the faith to tell the most hopeful and empowering story possible in any given situation, but also the willingness to confront difficult facts as they arise and deal with them directly.

Train your right-brain for success as a leader

Recent posts of mine touch on exciting research: evidence that we can in fact train our brain to be more positive, more grateful and more empathetic through practice and habit-building.

Empathy is a muscle we can strengthen, and as research suggests it is one of the most important traits for success as a leader.

Famed emotional intelligence guru, Daniel Goleman has dissected the attributes that great leaders in the future will need to be successful in increasingly complex organizations. He shared these at the recent World Economic Forum:

  1. authenticity and sharp clarity of purpose
  2. empathy, and the ability to relate to people at “the front line” levels
  3. self-awareness and the humility to constantly question and adapt.
What many of us know is these attributes can take time, practice, and effort to acquire.  The good news is they can be learned, but reading a book about leadership skills is often not enough. The work we do as facilitators is to provide a safe atmosphere to learn, drill, and practice these skills, with direct tie-back to actual work scenarios and experiences.