The Surprising Connection Between Gratitude and Creativity

A week or so ago, I thought writing on gratitude and creativity would be easy. You know, Thanksgiving is almost here. Before there were hectic flights home and elaborate Turduckens, Thanksgiving was about giving thanks (Shocking, I know.) Gratitude, all the positive things we hear about saying thanks, relates to happiness and overall well-being.

How do gratitude and creativity relate? Turns out more than even I thought.

The creative benefits of gratitude

While I’ve seen a lot of work on the scientific findings linking gratitude and happiness, I hadn’t seen as much on its benefits to creativity. Here are just some of the ways gratitude can impact your creative game.

Breaking the box

Gratitude, as many know, can actually make us happier. We focus on the good things in our lives, and suddenly life seems better. That bit of happiness can actually make us better at creative problem solving.

This helps creative people of all stripes. Suddenly, you’re seeing new avenues for the plot of a story. Perhaps you find a different chord progression for the bridge of your song. Taking a few moments to be thankful could be your trick for overcoming creative blocks, or at least seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Get out of your own head

Most of the inspiration in my life happens around me. Sometimes, it’s a quote I hear (I have a whole list I want to work with). Other times, it’s an image outside I need to capture. While my own emotional landscape is important, when I get stuck in my own head, I rarely can get out long enough to get anything down.

Gratitude helps us shift out of ourselves and back into the relational world. Suddenly, you’re remembering the awesome people in your life. Or, you’re just grateful to have working eyes to see the bright winter sun. Whatever you’re grateful for, most of it feels beyond the ego. That can be a great help in noticing details and letting inspiration work in its most natural way.

Better recall of details

There’s been a correlation found between positive emotions and remembering peripheral details of events. You don’t have to be working on a memoir for this to be relevant. Creating great stories or setting a scene includes peripheral details. A great film isn’t just actors and the right shots: it’s about the details such as historically accurate clothing.

If you’re stressed, upset, or worried, you may not be as focused on remembering those details. You’ll be more inside your own head rather than recall what the audience needs for the work to feel real.

Who are you thanking anyway?

angel

Gratitude often is said to someone. It could be sarcastically (Thanks Captain Obvious, I do realize the cheese is oozing out of my sandwich.) Or, you could be honestly grateful at a kind gesture, whether it’s the perfect cat card from a friend (your friend sends you the perfect card) or a surprise early holiday present waiting for you on your bed.

So who do you thank when it’s your own work? Where is the source of your own creativity? Is it just ourselves, patting ourselves on the back? I like to think it’s a little more complicated.

I prefer the idea Elizabeth Gilbert talks about, the idea of a muse outside ourselves. Whether you think the source of your inspiration is God, nature, or something else, it takes a lot of the pressure off you. I become grateful to being able to channel or see it. Each character has a unique voice in my head. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to tell their story.

When I give thanks I become grateful: for the opportunity, for the ability to create. It’s not just me patting myself on the back. It’s me remembering that my process is bigger than myself.

Making gratitude a part of your life

The nice thing with gratitude is just small changes in your work or day can lead to very large rewards. Here are a few ways you can incorporate gratitude into your day.

1. Write a gratitude list

In the morning, I like to write a list of things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it can be as silly as my fleece blanket, so soft against my skin. Other times, it’s morning light. Hell, some mornings it’s just the fact that I can go back to sleep later that day (thank god for naps!)

Trying to write 3-5 things each day your grateful for can dramatically change your day. It helps me create an attitude focused on all I have, instead of all I don’t.

2. Say thanks before or after a meal

cuppa

Unless you fast frequently, you eat at least 1-2 meals a day (or if you’re a hobbit like me, closer to 4-5). I don’t always do this well, but I like to say thanks before or after a meal. One great Buddhist meditation is trying to think of all the people who worked to bring me my food or drink.

So an example: I bought a soy latte this morning. I’d envision then the coffee plant and all the people who worked to grow and get the coffee beans to me. I envision the Starbucks employees who do logistics and send it to the local store, even the employees who make the latte. I’d also think about the soy milk: all the work in growing the soy beans and creating the milk to make my coffee creamy and dairy free.

Suddenly I’m not just drinking a cup of coffee, I’m connected to thousands of people around the world. This often blows my mind before 10 am.

3. Thank someone

There are a lot of people who do things for you everyday. Whether it’s the mailman, the garbage collectors, or just someone who rings up your lunch order. Take time to look at least one person in the eye and say thanks for their work.

it doesn’t have to be sappy or uncomfortably long. Make sure you actually notice their eye color though, so it’s long enough that you really looked at them.

Do you have a gratitude practice? Share yours below!

2 Comments

  1. I always, always say “Thank you, have a great day” to people. I know in America is more common (or at least it was where I was) but in Spain is not that common or people don’t mean it, you know? But I can tell it makes the difference because many people really smile in return and that just makes all worth it.

    You are right when you say that a world of gratitude is better. I am practicing that right now, trying to be more thoughtful just because I think that is the right way. When you give, you always get more back.

    I think I am goign to start making lists. I never thought about that but it seems really interesting. Thank you, Katie!

    1. That’s awesome! Gratitude can totally improve a social dynamic: it shows you appreciate the hard work people do. Sometimes we all forget, but making a point can really cement connections. Let me know how it goes Alba!

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