When a pianist plays, he becomes totally involved in playing the piano.
When a basketball player practices his shot, he becomes totally involved in the shooting.
They are engaged. They lose track of time, space, and life’s ups and downs. They are at peace. They are caught up in their creative moments. They are, as the old saying goes, in the flow. Creative engagement of this kind is one of the most accessible paths to happiness.
Plunging into creative pursuits can also be your ticket to a healthier life. Research has indicated that people who are creatively engaged have lower skin temperatures, lower heart rates and lower blood pressure. Having lower vital signs are one of the keys to lower stress, better health and living a longer life.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book a few years back called Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (HarperCollins, 1996). In his book he used the word “flow,” to describe the mental state in which a person is fully engaged in creativity. His study of 90 of the world’s most creative people found that such people become so absorbed that they are in a world of their own.
This state of happiness is notable for the following characteristics: complete involvement; a sense of well being and sometimes even ecstasy; inner clarity; growing self-confidence; a blossoming serenity; a taste of timelessness; and an inward sense of accomplishment. This inward state of “flow” doesn’t depend on others or what is happening in the world. Perhaps that’s why the state is enduring.
You may be thinking, “Well, creative engagement sounds fine for artists, musicians and basketball players, but what if you’re not that creative?” What if you’ve never excelled at anything in your life? In fact creative engagement can be utilized by anyone. It doesn’t require talent or a creative inclination of any kind. It does require passion and dedication. You’re not doing this to be a star. You’re doing this for yourself, so the goal is simply to actualize whatever creativity you have inside you. And you might have than you realize.
Below are some guidelines for achieving a creative engagement.
Be interested. Look around for something that truly engages you. It could be anything from painting to sky diving to stamp collecting to model airplane building to ballroom dancing. It could be reading every book ever written about the Civil War. It could be making statues out of toothpicks. The key is to find something that not only interests you but also something you will enjoy. Enjoyment is the key.
Be committed. Once you find your interest, set aside time to do it regularly. The more you can do it, the more intense and rewarding the activity will become. Do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. That’s when it really becomes engaging. Once it becomes a pleasurable habit, it will become its own reward. You will be an important part of your life, a form of meditation while not meditating.
Be open. Allow your energy to flow. Allow yourself to be curious. Allow things to develop in whatever way they will. Think of it as an adventure. This attitude will foster passion and enhance your commitment to the pursuit. When you are truly open, you are truly alive.
Be you. This may well be the most important part of creative engagement. It may just lead you to finding out who you really are. Many of us tend to lose ourselves in endless distractions that are intended to help us avoid the pain of living. Many of us avoid being ourselves. When we engage in a creative pursuit, suddenly it becomes a pleasure to be discover ourselves and be ourselves.
Creative engagement is not the only path to contentment, nor is it the most important path. Having quality relationships with other people may be the number one way to find contentment. Working at a job you like is also important. But creative engagement is something that not only breeds contentment but also opens the door of self-understanding.
Please note, however, that there is a difference between being creatively engaged and being self-absorbed An obsessive-compulsive is compelled to be engaged and is therefore not in a state of happiness. A narcissist is involved in himself or herself and thereby overvalues his own undertakings while devaluing the undertakings of others.
An impulsive individual engages out of a need for self-indulgence.
Creative engagement is engagement for its immediate joy, and is not associated with any judgments or conceits. It is what it is.