The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

On Creativity, Happiness and Moving Your Body in Natural Settings

How outdoor exercise frees the mind and lifts the mood

Made by Chloe Barron's Hand
Movement in natural settings enhances creative capacity and elevates mood.

What does exercise have to do with creativity and happiness?  Where does nature fit in? Research suggests that exercise lifts mood. Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey says, “Working up a sweat could very well be one of the most potent, underused prescriptions we have.” Movement – at least three times per week for thirty minutes triggers mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that it can compete with antidepressants. Other research has shown that nature  (as opposed to concrete) elicits imaginative, fulfilling play in children.  Combining nature and movement enhances your chances for creative thoughts and happy moments.

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Whether you choose a dirt path or an elliptical with an outdoor view, movement bolsters creativity as well as contentment.  Gail McMeekin, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women found that one secret was exercise. Spontaneous, undirected thinking is creative and occurs more readily when you move. Separated from the to-dos on your desk, and striding through a natural setting allows meaningful subjects to arise in your mind.   Deeper feelings, novel ideas, sought after solutions or “aha” moments (a term psychologist Dr. Mark Jung Beeman uses for a flash of insight) can pop up on a walk.  Time to reflect as you amble can make a big difference in your wellbeing.   Many great writers walked their books. Thoreau spoke of people who  “understood the art of Walking –who had a genius for sauntering.”

The active body gives rise to an observant, receiving, creative mind.

Move through the woods, in an outdoor mall, up an avenue or around a botanical garden. Identify the pace and setting that stimulates your thoughts and alters your mood. Is there a place you like to exercise that distracts you, inspires you or makes you forget soul-sinking details?  Where good thoughts, motivating memories or happy feelings surface? Even if you cannot make it to your ideal place, see what your very own environment has to offer.  My neighbor Susannah finds that a saunter down her sloping hill and into her garden invigorates her senses, stirs her imagination and provides solace.  Don’t be afraid to silence your device and daydream as you stroll. The deeper you go inside your very own mind the more you can find.

Movement, especially out of doors, can lift your mood, bolster your creativity and even change your path.  It might make you think differently. It could motivate you to take small steps to change your habits or big steps to change your life. Walking is good medicine.

Thoreau also said that, “every walk is a sort of crusade.” 

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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