Friday, September 23, 2005

More thoughts on Mood and Creativity

Old Taiwanese Postcard Altered by Lani

Dr. Seligman was asked this question on his website ( 'What is the relationship between happiness, depression and creativity?'

Seligman described some of Teresa Amabile's research, in which she either induced sadness or happiness and looked at creativity using routine psychological testing. She found that sadness reduced creativity and happiness increased it.

Seligman believes it's a little more complex than that sounds, that a positive mood jolts us into a neurologically different way of thinking from a negative mood. He uses over thirty years of psychology department faculty meetings as his research playground. I'm sure we've all experienced what he descibes, these airless, joyless meetings conducted in rooms without windows or redemption of any kind, full of people who would rather be almost anywhere else. Seligman describes the ambient mood of these faculty meetings as being on the "chilly side of zero." He believes this general mood makes everyone extremely critical. He observes that this negative environment causes the faculty to man their “battle stations," to focus on what is wrong with any new idea, any new suggestions, and any candidate for a new faculty position.

Seligman has observed that positive mood, in contrast, moves people towards ways of thinking that are "creative, tolerant, constructive, generous, undefensive and lateral." People are willing to look for what is right rather than find fault with everything. Rather than looking for sins of omission, people start to hone in on the "virtues of commission." His observations lead him to believe that these positive, creative ways of thinking are occurring in a different part of the brain with a different neurochemistry from the typical negative faculty meeting, with it's highly critical thinking with it's "chilly side of zero" mood.

He suggests you design your mood to fit the task at hand. So tasks that usually require critical, analytic, grumpy thinking (like doing your income tax, or deciding who you need to fire) can be carried on rainy days, in uncomfortable chairs, and in joyless institutional type rooms. Being miserable or grumpy may help you make better critical decisions.

Seligman believes that other life tasks call for creative, generous, and tolerant thinking. Most artistic and associational activities should be carried out in settings that will buoy your mood. Make sure your furniture is comfortable, your music joyful, and that there's enough sun light and fresh air available. If possible, for these activities at least, make sure that the people around you are unselfish and of good will.

In Keri Smith's blog ( there is an amazing story unfolding in Palm Springs. Her husband and his best friend created a film about dancing in the street, using a digital camera, put on the film clip setting. The film was entered in the Palm Springs Film Festival where it is doing very well, to everyone's surprise. As a part of their creative Palm Springs film festival adventure, Keri, her husband and his best friend started dancing on the street corners. The responses were wonderful, as you might imagine, but every day a particular woman stopped to tell them that they were making fools of themselves, that people don't do this sort of thing in Palm Springs. Then someone called the police and four squad cars of policemen came to talk to Keri, her husband, and his best friend. In the end they couldn't stop them because no law was being broken.

She concludes "... if you are passionate about what you are doing, tell your story as directly as you can, the world will respond to it. ... 'Use what you got.' don't wait until your situation is perfect (until you have the right space, the right equipment, enough money.) Begin now.

don't worry if people tell you you are crazy.

'We are fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.' -Japanese proverb"

Have a challenging but happiness filled weekend.

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