Science shows that some hobbies (like learning a musical instrument) can make you smarter, while others will have a positive impact on your work performance. But according to a new study out of New Zealand the benefits of a pursuing your creative passion in your free time extend far beyond these already impressive benefits.

A little bit of daily creativity, it turns out, might be the perfect prescription for increased happiness.

A next-day anti-depressant

Much research has been done on how our emotions can promote or hinder creativity, but this team, led by psychologist Tamlin Conner, wanted to answer a different question -- not how mood affects creativity, but how creativity affects mood. What they uncovered will come as no surprise to amateur musicians, artists, and crafts people who often swear up and down that these outlets for self-expression keep them sane.

When the team asked 658 students to keep a daily diary of their state of mind and any creative pursuits they engage in, they noticed a startling connection between these two variables. The day after students reported engaging in some sort of creative activity, they reported a major uptick in happiness.

Get caught in a creativity spiral

After spending time on hobbies like songwriting, cooking, and crocheting, the students' self-reports of feelings of joy, engagement, and enthusiasm shot up. That's, of course, good news in itself, but as the researchers note, this sort of "positive affect" has also been shown to promote further creativity.

"This finding suggests a particular kind of upward spiral for wellbeing and creativity -- engaging in creative behavior leads to increases in wellbeing the next day, and this increased well being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day," they wrote.

The bottom line? Your baking obsession or sketching habit isn't just a quirky way to fill your downtime. These sort of pastimes are likely doing a great deal to improve your mood. Or, as the psychologists behind this study put it, "overall, these findings support the emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning."

That means if you don't already have a daily outlet for your creative impulses, you should really consider finding one. (And no, it makes no difference if you're any good at your chosen hobby. Bad art is just as good a stress buster.)

Do you notice a connection between being creative and feeling happier?

Published on: Dec 2, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.