Return to site

Dr. Kevin Dalby Examines Creativity and Happiness – Different Sides of the Same Coin

Originally published on

Creativity promotes happiness and vice versa said by Psychologists. Many adults believe they’re not creative but acknowledge that they probably were as children. Experts say most people can rekindle that childlike creativity and so derive happiness from even mundane activities. Here, UT-Austin Professor Kevin Dalby takes a closer look.

A quote attributed to Pablo Picasso says, “every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” The pressures and responsibilities of adulthood often suppress the joy of creativity. Navigating the obstacles of gaining an education, providing for a family, and raising children leaves precious little time to develop and maintain a creative outlet.

The mental health benefits of creativity are multifaceted. Creativity can help reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. It can also help trauma survivors process their experiences. Studies have found that creative writing helps people regulate their negative emotions. Drawing and painting help people express feelings and relate experiences they find too difficult to speak about. Children and youth with ADHD can benefit from origami to help them feel calm and relaxed.

Engaging in a creative outlet improves mental health and elicits a physical response to promote happiness. When people create a positive result, such as reaching a goal or completing a project, their brains are flooded with dopamine. A hit of this feel-good chemical motivates them to engage in the behavior more often to feel pleasure.

An activity that produces pleasure and contentment while increasing confidence and satisfaction is a creative outlet that provides mental and physical health benefits. These activities vary from person to person, but common positive, creative outlets include:

  • Creative writing
  • Photography
  • Creating and performing music
  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Crafting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Cooking

A list of creative endeavors that help people feel happy could be nearly endless. An excellent creative outlet should be more than just fun. Each individual would be well served to consider what activities they enjoy and allow themselves to create something. For example, golfing can be fun and relaxing, but very little, if anything, exists after the game. Sports provide a myriad of benefits, but when it comes to realizing the full benefits of creativity, an activity that adds to the total of what exists is most beneficial.

For busy adults finding an artistic outlet can be challenging. Often building a mutualistic symbiotic relationship between work and pleasure is the answer. Many people are happy, love their work, and yet could not cite any creative outlet they engage in. These people have already learned to be imaginative in their work. If the workday is a struggle, seems endless, and is not fulfilling, look for opportunities to be creative.

Finding new and better ways to solve work-related problems, construct new computer code, build a house, and produce an improved spreadsheet are all creative outlets that enhance happiness. If adult life pressures do not leave any time for creative pursuits, people can still achieve satisfaction by finding ways to creatively go about workday tasks. This is what children do. From building a tower to coloring a picture to playing make-believe, children engage in creative outlets regularly. We are happiest when we are creating something of value.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a UT-Austin medicinal chemistry professor. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.