The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands

How Meaningful Hand Use Enhances Well-being

Hand-drawn Mandala
Created by Chloe's Own Two Hands
The Creativity Cure
Purposeful hand use enhances well-being in a technologically saturated culture

Research has shown that creating or tending things by hand enhances mental health and makes us happy.  Dr. Kelly Lambert (www.kellylambertlab.com) explored the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood.  She found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride.  Making things promotes psychological well-being. Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair or create things we feel vital and effective. It isn’t as much about reaching one’s potential as doing something interesting–less about ambition and more about living. When we are dissolved in a deeply absorbing task we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state.

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Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor.  Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Peak moments occur as one putters, ponders and daydreams. One can be tickled, moved or transformed by a thought or idea along the way as well as by the endpoint.

Consider how you felt the last time you made something by hand.  Whether it was a cake, a home improvement project, a garden, or a scrapbook, it was absorbing and satisfying, right? Maybe you even had a moment or more of euphoria.

Creating something with your hands fosters pride and satisfaction, but also provides psychological benefits. Because it can uncover and channel inner stirrings, wounds smart less and growth ensues. When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood. As you sift, shape, move and address your project your inner being moves too. As one of my clients said, “It isn’t so much what you can do, but what you do do.” The process itself provides value.  If we can treasure doing as much as having done we provide new avenues for success, self-esteem or self-repair.

Creativity is a powerful tool for altering the inner life because making things or transforming inner states into outer productions fosters solace and satisfaction, even if the stimulus arose from an injury. Wordsworth described poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.”   Take it out of your mind, through your hand and into the world. Fragmentation and tumult turn into focused drive. Order arises out of disorder. And because it is your own order–organic and not imposed–it provides a special peace or feeling of resolution.  As another client said to me after she finished typing a novella that stemmed from a troubling event, “I got rid of the story.” This is a form of sublimation or turning the raw into the refined. You may or may not be conscious of what perturbs you, but creative action with your hands, mind and body can turn undermining forces into usable energies.

 Thus, creative action can function as a natural antidepressant. In the words of D.W. Winnicott psychoanalyst, pediatrician and creativity expert, “It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.” 

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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