Happiness and Creativity

The benefits of a “happy” work force are far reaching; they range from increased productivity to diminished interpersonal conflict and significant increases in overall health. Every person has a different idea of what happiness is and how to achieve it but there are a few underlying commonalities. In the paper “Happiness and creativity: going with the flow” the author makes a point that is echoed in my experience as a supervisor and highlighted in the excerpts below.

“For many people, happiness comes from creating new things and making discoveries. Enhancing one’s creativity may therefore also enhance well-being.

Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do. It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them; rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing.

Interviews with engineers and chemists, writers and musicians, historians and architects, sociologists and physicists confirm that they all do what they do primarily because it’s fun. Yet many others in the same occupations don’t enjoy what they do. So we have to assume that it is not what these people do that counts, but how they do it.

Being an engineer or a carpenter is not in itself enjoyable, but if one does these things a certain way, then they become intrinsically rewarding. What is the secret of transforming activities so that they are rewarding in and of themselves?”

An overwhelming lack of creative opportunity has been my biggest complaint in the fire service; we tend to be so rooted in tradition and policy that it can very difficult to squeak in a new idea no matter how much sense it makes. At every level of supervision it needs to be our goal to achieve our objectives by empowering our subordinates and encouraging them to find their own way to the endpoint even if it requires a little self examination. It turns out we are designed that way.

“By random mutations, some individuals must have developed a nervous system in which the discovery of novelty stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. Just as some individuals derive a keener pleasure from sex and others from food, so some must have been born who derived a keener pleasure from learning something new. It is possible that children who were more curious ran more risks in the world. But it is also probable that those human groups that learned to appreciate their curious offspring also protected and rewarded them.

If this is true, we are the descendants of ancestors who recognized the importance of novelty, protected those individuals who enjoyed being creative, and learned from them. Because they had among them individuals who enjoyed exploring and inventing, they were better prepared to face the unpredictable conditions that threatened their survival. We also share an ability to enjoy almost anything we do, provided we can discover or design something new into the doing of it. This is why creativity, no matter where it takes place, is so pleasurable”.

There are so many things that we cannot change overnight that we tend to become frustrated and choose to change nothing. A healthy balance needs to be struck between contentment and creativity so that we can all feel a sense of purpose and not be frustrated by biting off more than we can chew.

“All of us are torn between these two opposite sets of instructions programmed into the brain: the effort imperative on one side and the claims of creativity on the other. In most individuals, entropy seems to be stronger, and they enjoy comfort more than the challenge of discovery. A few are more responsive to the rewards of discovery. Unless enough people are motivated by the enjoyment that comes from confronting challenges, there is no evolution of culture, no progress in thought or feeling. So it is important to understand better what enjoyment consists of and how creativity can produce it.

Certain people devote many hours a week to their avocations, without any rewards of money or fame. Why do they keep doing it? It is clear from talking to them that what keeps them motivated is the quality of the experience they feel at the time. This feeling often involves painful, risky, or difficult efforts that stretch the person’s capacity, as well as an element of novelty and discovery.”

As supervisors it is our job to delegate responsibility with an equal dose of authority and provide feedback related more to the end result than the process. The fire service is comprised of people from all walks of life with experience in all matter of things. The lazy supervisor will pay no attention to those attributes and assign tasks or work assignments based on a host of other criteria; while sometimes necessary, this is one of the biggest morale crushers I have ever seen.

“In interviews, people repeatedly mention certain key elements in their impressions of this enjoyable experience:

* There are clear goals every step of the way. In contrast to everyday life on the job or at home, where often there are contradictory demands and our purpose is unsure, in flow we always know what needs to be done. A musician always knows which notes to play next. When a job is enjoyable, it also has clear goals: The surgeon is aware how the incision should proceed moment by moment.”

Hopefully the take away from this post is that actively or passively crushing people’s creative potential is a bad idea. There are enough things in the fire service that are rigid and must be adhered to without deviation; don’t miss an opportunity to encourage your people to come up with a new way to wash the rig or test the hose. Try to balance skill and complexity when assigning tasks even if it means a little more effort on your part. Read the whole paper HERE.

3 Responses to Happiness and Creativity

  1. Drew says:

    And then you work in a unit rooted in Forestry.

  2. Justin says:

    I can speak from firsthand experience that the people you work with can make all the difference. Yes the job plays a huge part in it, but once you’re there your coworkers and supervisors play an enormous role of your happiness. It is a moral and self-confidences booster when they support and encourage your creative ideas. Positive leadership can and will keep you motivated which in return will contribute to your productivity and attitude.

  3. Ryan says:

    I don’t feel happy in that picture. Do I get royalties for this? Have your people call my people.

    This is an excellent article though and a great example of what I feel is a changing culture in the workforce. No matter what industry you’re in.

    One of my best years of work was working under Adam at Vina. I think everyone looked forward to coming to work everyday that season. Well except one guy.

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