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!

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A note on happiness, by the godfather of positive psychology

‘Happiness’ is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it if you can pursue. For the ‘Pleasant Life,’ you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. For the ‘Engaged Life,’ you identify your highest strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the ‘Meaningful Life,’ you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.  — Martin Seligman

 

Tips for navigating the path from passion to purpose

It can be a bumpy ride, this whole passion and purpose adventure. Buckle your seatbelt but please remember to take in the view.

Here are some practical tips for navigating the journey to finding and pursuing your passion and purpose.

1. Mistakes are gifts

Something I’ve learned over the past 8 years is to truly embrace the improv principle of: “Mistakes are Gifts”. If we can learn to view what might be considered a mistake, as a gift, there really are no mistakes. Our definition of a mistake, or a failure can be shaped by our mindset — and our mindset is something we can control. What did you learn from each experience, and what lessons can you take with it on to the next stop in your adventure?

My “mistakes” contributed to so many positives – I feel more equipped to take on challenges, I have come to appreciate my breadth of experience, and I actually found my passion because of some of the “mistakes” I made in choosing past jobs.

Increase your bounce-back rate from these “mistakes” and use them as intuitive guides to help shape your path. What gold can you mine?

2. Diversify your dreams

This blog from HBR’s Passion and Purpose series stresses the importance of diversifying your dreams. It may seem silly to treat our dreams as stocks. But what happens if your dream never generates a return?

Keep an open mind as you look to follow your passion. Several years ago I was convinced I would be happy IF I landed a certain dream job. I very much had a “if then, this” attitude. I landed the job after over a year of waiting and paying my dues. Turns out, it didn’t make me happy. What I thought was my passion was just a hobby. Finding your passion doesn’t always include a means to an end. As so many say, the reward is the journey, not the destination.

Diversify your dreams. Find the tools that inspire you and keep adding to your toolbox. Remember that the tools you acquire can be used for a multitude of projects and jobs. Keep searching for more tools, keep adding to your toolbox. And most of all, keep an open mind.

3. Celebrate the small wins

It’s more important than we realize.

4. Practice gratitude in the face of uncertainty 

This quote from today’s HBR article encompasses the grateful, open-minded approach we need to keep on the path:

“develop a folder of gratitude – a constantly updated listed of all the things in life you’re grateful for. Chances are, many of the things on your list correspond neatly with your underlying passions. Then, take your list and amplify these passions with intelligent experiments. Test and invest in your areas of interest, and cultivate the joy of learning from failure. Finally, just like any investor worth their salt, double down on winners. If something strikes a chord, reallocate more time and energy to it. View your dreams as organic and ever-changing, and you’re much more likely to be pleased with the outcome”

Remain flexible, adaptable, open-minded and most of all curious. Set your intention and keep moving one foot in front of the other. There may be multiple paths, but the unknown is as exciting as it’s ever been.

How to celebrate Leap Day literally

Let’s pretend, just for a moment,  what would happen if “Leap Day” branded itself, hired a marketing team and became known around the world as a “magical extra day dedicated to taking leaps, jumps, risks and chances”.

Sure, some TV shows may make fun (I’m looking at you beloved “30 Rock”), but what a day this could be: a day dedicated to all the things we wanted to do, but were too scared and so many of the experiences we’d like to have but kept putting off or piling the excuses on instead.

If taking risks and chances were celebrated and encouraged, or even mandated,  instead of feared… what leaps would you make?

Yes, sometimes these leaps are forced upon us, and when this happens we don’t often want a “leap day” to remind us that we should really be taking more chances.

Maybe instead, what we need are reminders about all of the great, unexpected, sometimes challenging, yet always rewarding learning experiences that come from taking leaps. If we can change our mindset, we have the power to accept, encourage and embrace leaps and change.

If this could become our mindset, I’d vote for Leap Day to be celebrated every year, or every month, or even every day.

When we leap, we can choose to focus on what could go wrong, or what could go right. When we leap and don’t know where we are headed, we can learn to embrace the unknown, respect it, and yes, even enjoy it.

After all, change is necessary.  Complete control is impossible. Our happiness, and perhaps our success as individuals and as companies depends on our ability to make friends with the unknown.

Celebrate leap day. Use your instincts, trust, patience and hard work to navigate the uncertainty and the feeling of risk, no matter how small. I can tell you… you’ll face the next day stronger, smarter, more confident, and yes, a day older.

What is levity, and why it matters more than ever

In The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up, Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher argue that levity is a must-have tool for your workplace toolbox.

Levity, they argue, helps people work better. For example, it helps people pay attention, eases tension, and enhances a feeling of connection. These factors certainly can contribute to a happier and healthier workplace, and a more engaged one at that.

Increasing levity, and in turn, engagement can have a large effect on profits. We know the cost of disengaged workers:  the Gallup organization has found that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy roughly $416 billion last year, primarily through lost productivity.

It seems the workplace could benefit from levity, or happiness training.  Now, the question is how. Is there such a thing as levity training?

We can re-train our brain to be more positive, can we train ourselves to be more light-hearted in the stress of day-to-day work, pressures, deadlines, and a difficult economy?

It may not be as hard as it seems. I’ll offer a few tips below.

We know that laughter and humor, for example, release dopamine (and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol) in the brain which regulates mood, motivation, attention and learning. Findings from research at Stanford indicate that humor can have positive effects not only on mood, but also on motivation and learning.

But it’s not just about the laughs. Just like we often dispel myths about Improv training, it’s important to clarify what levity means. The authors stress levity is really a sense of lightness. Just like formal Improv training, it’s less about being funny and more about being able to have fun, and see the humorous side of everyday situations — especially difficult ones.

Improv and levity training can look like this:

  1. Creating a more positive mindset
  2. Building connections and trust amongst groups and teams
  3. Increasing your capacity for gratitude and the gifts of others
  4. Being more present – to appreciate and recognize everything and everyone around you
  5. Increasing confidence to make building connections with others more natural
  6. Turning mistakes into gifts
  7. Adding more play into day-to-day work

We are in charge of our own happiness and how we measure it, but the environment in which we work can do more to increase workplace levity and contribute to more positive experiences at the office. It is worth taking the time.

Gostick and Christopher include a quiz about workplace levity. Take this quiz and see how your workplace measures up. If it falls short, what small changes can you initiate?

New employees are made to feel welcome.
Meetings are positive and light.
We have fun activities at least once a month.
It’s common to hear people laughing around here.
I can be myself at work.
We have a lot of celebrations for special events.
When brainstorming, we like to have fun.
My boss is usually optimistic and smiling.
Customers would call us fun to do business with.
I have a friend at work who makes me laugh.
We have a good time together.