For years, managers, executives and company founders have all wracked their brains for ways to keep people happy, believing that happy workers equaled creative--and, therefore, more profitable and competitive--employees. But apparently, those business leaders never met Mozart. A new study that looked at the creativity of Mozart and two other composers flies in the face of the idea that workers can't be innovators when they're feeling blue.
Research method and findings
Karol Jan Borowiecki, economist at the University of Southern Denmark, used linguistics software to analyze 1,400 letters from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Liszt. More specifically, Borowiecki scanned the text for words that expressed various emotions, such as love and hurt. He then analyzed the results against the composers' compositions. Borowiecki found that, when the composers encountered emotional difficulty, particularly sadness, they actually were more creative, producing a larger output of music. In addition, the composers wrote more letters when they felt bad.
Borowiecki's results could stem from a few possibilities:
- The composers used music as a nonverbal way of communicating the negative feelings they were experiencing.
- The composers looked to their art because it was something familiar and, therefore, stabilizing in times of tumult.
- The novelty and pride of completing compositions gave the composers a boost of feel-good endorphins--that is, the composers subconsciously were looking for a biological way to negate the negative feelings they had.
- Composition (being creative) served as a distraction from the negative feelings the composers had.
Whatever the cause, the study suggests that negative feelings like depression don't always hurt creativity. They can actually improve it in some cases.
Where to start when you need to channel how you feel
Sometimes, the hardest part of feeling down is that the emotions you're experiencing can be so complex and overwhelming. Subsequently, we end up feeling stuck, uncertain of which creative outlet is best going to communicate and release all the interconnected aspects of what we feel. But there are techniques and strategies you can use to figure out where to direct your energy in a positive way. For example, you could
- Give yourself some sensory stimulation--touch some fabrics, smell different flowers, have lunch at a buffet where you can sample different tastes. What type of stimulation do you find yourself responding to most? Sensory and emotional processing are connected in the brain, so whatever kind of input is most striking to you, find an creative activity that uses it.
- Go for a walk or do something else physical. Gestures and movements can express both concrete and abstract concepts. Additionally, for some people, the repetitive nature of some physical activities can quiet the mind. The resulting state of relaxation is highly conducive to creativity.
- Play! Games often require you to think outside of the box or come up with ideas on the fly to win. Those ideas can guide you toward larger, therapeutic projects.
Channeling your emotions through creative processes like art, writing or even cooking can go a long way in helping you get through rough periods. But you don't need to rely on it exclusively, and in many instances, using other coping tools simultaneously might be more effective and safest for you. If your home or work space is a flurry of innovation and you still feel bad, it's perfectly acceptable to explore options such as a different schedule, reducing your workload or talking things out with a friend or professional. Just be realistic and honest with yourself as you walk the road back to happiness, and remember that your pace or steps don't have to match those of anybody else.