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One Last Hurrah

Focuses on the changes in the periodical 'Psychology Today.' Expansion of the coverage of the periodical; Creativity of the periodical.

In a world obsessed with finding happiness, there are some remarkably underexplored channels. Take, for example, creativity. That a profound sense of satisfaction -- deeper, more character-building than happiness -- resides in creativity is a truth painfully evident to me and my ilk (writers, editors). We tangle with the muse regularly, often against outrageous deadlines, yet tend to be a remarkably satisfied lot, despite living a tenth as luxuriously as, say, investment bankers.

The prevailing myth, however, is that we were somehow born to do what we do, that creativity is the property of a very few. Well Robert Epstein, Ph.D., begs to differ. (Hey, I think I liked it better the old way; I want to be special.)

At Harvard, where he picked his way around the pigeon droppings in the famed lab of B. F. Skinner, and in his work since, Epstein has subjected to the scrutiny of science the process of creativity. Everyone, he finds, has equal creative potential. He outlines four essential skills for capturing your own.

Not that it's easy. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. -- otherwise known as the "flow" guy -- has spent his entire career looking at creativity Most intensively, he has studied by questionnaire and personal interview 91 men and women who would qualify for a creativity Hall of Fame. They are musicians and artists and Nobel-winning scientists.

While we have tapped him to talk about the personality characteristics of highly creative people, Csikszentmihalyi is adamant that we understand one thing -- creativity is more difficult and strange" than we think. Forget the light-bulb icon. A lot of preparation -- years of study -- and then a lot of sweat go into it. A great deal of persistence.

But the process turns out to be rewarding, all his interviewees agreed. And damned if there isn't a tangible trace -- the scientific finding, the aria -- that stands as a certain amount of proof that "I was here. I made a difference. I mattered." With the possible exception of parenthood, is there a deeper source of joy?

I'd like to think I can say the same about myself. For the past several years, I've had a dream job -- being the editor of Psychology Today, helping to make a magazine out of what start out as wisps of thought. I had the rare privilege of helping reinvent it for the 1990s.

I'll be happy to let my biases show here. It has been my personal goal as editor to expand coverage of psychology on both ends: Inward, into the molecules of the mind, where we still have so much to learn about ourselves (but not so much, I suspect, to warrant denouncing the importance of experience). And outward, beyond intra-psychic issues, to connect the individual and the social. After all, the bonds between people, the need for community are as much a part of our psyche as our need for self-respect.

I'm loosening my tether to the magazine to become Editor at Large. That will give me more freedom to do what I'm now itching to do -- delve more deeply into some subjects. One book is already in the works. Two more are germinating.

Psychology Today, of course, will go on. With a talented staff of editors headed up by Owen Lipstein, the magazine will continue to report on your favorite subject: the intricacies and oddities of human behavior.

Like the lens through which it looks and the world it monitors, Psychology Today has evolved since it began in the 1960s. I hope I've made a difference.