Everything I Know About Happiness I Learned from a Child
Lesson 4: Get Creative
"Two Halloweens ago, when he was 4, our son, Cinco, asked to be 'a dog
named Chocolate driving a Subaru,'" says Jenifer Walter, 37, of New York
City. "It was wonderful to see him in his one-of-a-kind costume, driving
his cardboard car through a sea of red Power Rangers. He's totally himself,
unafraid of being different."
Children don't often suffer from writer's block, or freeze in front of an
easel not knowing what to paint. Tapping into the unfettered creativity we had
as kids — when no inner critic yammered in our heads — can make life more
"Many studies have shown that creativity is associated with positive
mood, even joy," says James Kaufman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and
director of the Learning Research Institute at California State University at
San Bernardino. "Other studies have shown that people who express
themselves in writing on a regular basis are less depressed, take fewer bad
risks (like smoking), and visit doctors for physical ailments less often."
Writing reduces physical and mental stress, Kaufman says, because creating a
narrative orders our thoughts. You don't have to sit down and produce the Great
American Novel; keeping a journal, blogging, or writing to a friend has the
same positive effect.
"One of the hallmarks of creative activity is the feeling of flow —
losing track of time because you're so involved in what you're doing,"
Kaufman points out. "If you experience flow, whether it's while you're
amusing your child or cooking a meal, that's creative."
There are lots of ways to stoke your creativity. For example, the next time
you need to buy something, make it instead — a birthday card, a loaf of bread,
or a Halloween getup for next year. Or you could spend some time noticing how
often you engage in creative problem solving even without realizing it.
Lesson 5: Explore More
The familiar sound loop of a 3yearold — "But why? But why? But why?"
— may sometimes drive us bonkers, but in essence, it's worth emulating. Kids
are dogged in their pursuit of knowledge. "My husband and I are amazed at
our little gadget junkie, Larkin," says Deborah Helman, 34, of Houston.
"He's just over a year old, and he's already figured out how to turn on the
dishwasher and use the remote!" Larkin is as delighted as his parents when
he acquires new skills by exploring. Curious people are more likely to be
positive, explains research psychologist Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., of George Mason
University. "They expose themselves to challenges that lead to the
accumulation of knowledge or experience. This leads to improved skills, which
leads to an increase in confidence and wellbeing."