To be happy and less stressed, be creative.

There is a direct link between creativity and happiness. That’s because research shows that being creative stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers.

Not only does being creative make us happy, it’s a natural way to fight stress, to build confidence, and to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. The more we exercise the creative, right-half of our brain, the greater our ability to find creative solutions to difficult problems in our work or personal lives.

To cultivate creativity in your life, try the following:

Use creativity training techniques. Just as weight training makes a person stronger, creativity training can make a person more creative. Come up with as many uses as you can for a white paper bag. A chef’s hat? A comet catcher? A lunch bag (of course)? Now push yourself to 50 more. The technique is called brainstorming, and it’s only one of many ways to exercise the creative side of your brain.

Express yourself. Find a way to express yourself through writing, painting or doing a craft. But don’t overlook other forms of expression such as restoring an antique car, gardening or solving a difficult math problem. Whenever we lose track of time doing something just for the love of doing it, we’re in a heightened sense of creativity called “flow.” Flow is an ultimate human experience that refreshes and makes us happy.

Unlearn ways that stifle creativity. James Higgins, author of Escape from the Maze: Nine Steps to Personal Creativity, says that to be creative, we should look beyond certain rules in life that stifle creativity. For example, place someone in a maze, and s/he will likely walk the corridors in search of an exit. After all, isn’t that the rule one is supposed to follow when in a maze? But what about digging a hole and tunneling out, Higgins asks? Or pole vaulting? Or calling a friend with a helicopter so you can be lifted out? To unlearn ways that stifle creativity, look at the rules you follow, then look beyond them.

Change your environment. A new environment can give you a different, more creative outlook on something, such as a difficult problem. One software company encourages whole departments to take a movie break when they’re stuck on an especially vexing challenge. The employees carpool to the theater to see a movie with the understanding that no one will talk or think about the problem until they return to the office. Once back, managers say employees are so rejuvenated, they often solve the problem immediately.

Have creative things around you. Books of poetry, art, photography or architecture and other reflections of creativity can inspire your own creativity. But it’s not enough just to have these resources around – you must turn to them for inspiration. Higgins says that people who believe that their lives have become routine and dull should make use of the many resources that can inspire passion and creativity.

Identify times when you are most creative. Just before a deep sleep and after a good workout are naturally occurring creative moments. A workout increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and leads to other physiological changes that encourage an active mind. And just before a deep sleep is a period of highly creative dream-like brain activity.

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