You might know I’ve been donating my time as a Red Cross volunteer to run “Healing Arts” sessions. Initially, these sessions were targeted primarily at Wounded Warriors and warriors in transition units who are heading home from war.
Lately, we have also offered our sessions to various military units around the Ramstein area as part of “Resiliency Training.” Resiliency describes a number of initiatives by the U.S. military addressing the rise in mental health problems across the services due to twelve years of war. See data on rising suicide rates here. To me, the issue seems all the more important in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting this week by a disturbed veteran.
Last night, we offered one of our art sessions to staff members at an Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation center.
I heard a familiar refrain: “I’m just not artistic at all…. I am not a creative person.”
Whenever I hear this, I say, “Well, I’ve heard that same statement from a number of people who then went on to make an amazing project. Just get started and see where it takes you.”
I haven’t found the key to success in every instance. I believe some people are truly paralyzed when they sit down to make something with their hands. Perhaps a teacher told them they had no talent early on and they gave up. However, I cannot believe they were never creative people because, almost without exception, children are able to express themselves artistically with fluency. That is, until something stops them.
I recently came across this quote from the children’s author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak who wrote Where the Wild Things Are:
“It isn’t until an adult criticizes the picture and makes derogatory comments … that children lose their confidence and stop drawing. If young people spent as much time drawing as they do learning [the] alphabet … they would all make good pictures and maybe never even need to draw a straight line.”
I think he’s absolutely right, including his little joke about making straight lines. Adults love to help children draw straighter lines or make their coloring pages look more realistic and neater.
Let’s assume for a moment that most people aren’t artistic or they “can’t draw a stick figure.” Isn’t creativity much bigger than that? And don’t you have to be a little creative to appreciate creativity? If you did not have a creative bone in your body, how could you enjoy music, or a movie, or a comedy routine?
Here are a few truisms about creativity (not just the painting and drawing kind) and why it’s important.
1. Creativity is therapeutic.
2. Creativity is good for brain health.
3. Creativity is beneficial in ANY career field.
4. Creativity makes life richer and more meaningful.
Cultivating creativity introduces “good stress” to the brain. When you sit down and make a drawing or start taking guitar lessons for the first time in your life, you are reviving neural pathways, inverting your perspective on things, and opening up new areas in your awareness.
The next thing you know, you head back to your real job and the answer to a nagging question or intractable problem suddenly seems clear. This is creativity, too.
Anything that can increase your mental agility and flexibility is a defense against depression, mental illness, and the onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. This has been supported by a wealth of research.
What is surely NOT good for your mental state and health is following along in the same grooves and ruts, never trying anything new.
Do you want to be more creative? Here a few suggestions.
- Do puzzles.
- Draw pictures.
- Sing songs.
- Redecorate a room.
- Turn off your smartphone for a day.
- Play with your kids and let THEM teach YOU about the world.
- Tell stories – real stories. With a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Find a chair you never sit on in a corner of your house you never go and sit in it.
- Make a sandwich backwards. In other words, if you usually start with mustard and then layer meat and cheese, reverse the order.
- Take a walk.
- Do yoga.
- And this last one I owe to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Can you think of any other suggestions? Add them to the comments section.