To Be Happier, Do One Creative Thing Every Day

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Photo: Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

We all have different ways of unwinding after a long day at the office. Some people make a beeline for the couch to start a Netflix binge; some people work out; some people switch on the creative side of their brains, engaging in something crafty or logging time in the kitchen.

All have their benefits, but things in that last category may be an especially worthy way to spend your off-the-clock hours. For one thing, having a creative side hustle outside of work can lead to increased job satisfaction. And according to a new study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, small-time creative pursuits — like cooking, knitting, or even doodling — can influence your overall well-being for the better.

The study authors recruited 658 volunteers to keep a daily diary for two weeks, describing their mood and rating how creative they had been over the course of the day (creativity was defined as “coming up with novel or original ideas; expressing oneself in an original and useful way; or spending time doing artistic activities”). With each entry, participants also filled out something called the “flourishing scale,” ranking their agreement with statements like “Today I was interested and engaged in my daily activities” and “Today my social relationships were supportive and rewarding.”

When they analyzed the diaries, the authors found that “people who engaged in creative pursuits today felt significantly more energetic, enthusiastic, and excited the next day.” They also tended to score themselves more highly on the “flourishing scale”; together, the researchers concluded, the results suggest that “finding ways to encourage everyday creative activities, not just master works of art, could lead directly to increased well-being.”

“Not just master works of art” may be the key phrase here. It’s great if you’re already a talented painter, or a prolific writer, or someone who spends their free time composing songs; if not, though, the bar for creativity is still low enough to be accessible to pretty much everyone. Daydreaming, for example, has been shown to help enhance creativity; by this study’s definition, daydreaming is already a creative pursuit in and of itself. Even a punny joke could fit the bill for a “novel or original idea” — so long as you’re not afraid to pave the road to well-being with a few eye rolls.