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The secret to happiness

By December 12, 2017Uncategorized

Quilled brain by Sarah Yakawonis 

With some activities, I get a voice telling me it’s a waste of time. Usually this voice comes up loudly in the first 5 minutes of making art. Somehow, it doesn’t come up much when I watch tv. Unlike watching tv, I feel better when I do it anyway, and after 5 minutes the voice is usually silent. After 5 minutes I’m groovin’ on dopamine.

“…The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can be enjoyable… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” – Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience

Quilled anatomy by Lisa Nilsson

When you draw, dopamine is produced in the brainstem and released in your brain’s cortex region, the part that we use to create ideas, make decisions, and plan our actions. 

“…we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves. Freedom and ownership are part and parcel of the neurochemistry of the arts.” – James E. Zull, professor of biology and author of The Art of Changing the Brain


From the Business Insider 

1. Making art may reduce stress and anxiety.

In one recent study in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, levels of the hormone cortisol — which is associated with stress — were reduced in participants’ saliva, regardless of their prior art skills.

Another small studyfound that spending 30 minutes creating art, especially free-form painting, was associated with reduced anxiety levels in first-year college students preparing for their final exams. Art classes also reduced stress and anxiety in people caring for ailing family members.

While the calming effect of art-making is not universal and larger studies are needed, for many stressed out people, it may be just the ticket. “After about five minutes, I felt less anxious,” said one participant in the Art Therapy study. “Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

2. Creating visual art improves connections in the brain.

Art’s benefits have been observed at a neural level, too.

One 2014 study published in the the journal PLOS ONE found that making visual art can improve connections throughout the brain known as the default mode network.

This system is associated with the brain’s state during wakeful rest, like daydreaming, but it’s also active when we’re focusing on internal thoughts or future plans.

Scientists have previously observed that when people say they are especially “moved” by a piece of art, those feelings are linked to activity in the default mode network. While this research is in the earliest stages, it might suggest that the art people connect with deeply — likely including the art that they create — might be the result of “a certain ‘harmony’ between the external world and our internal representation of the self,” the researchers explain.

And the PLOS ONE study concluded that making art was much more powerful than simply looking at it.

3. Art-making can help us get over sadness.

Distracting yourself from sadness by making art can work even better than venting about the problems.

In one study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, participants were shown the (heartbreaking) documentary “The Laramie Project” to elicit laboratory sadness.

Once appropriately sad, one group was tasked with creating art relevant to the film, another making unrelated art, and a third was asked to just sit quietly.

The researchers found that distracting yourself by making unrelated art was far more effective than either venting your feelings through art or just sitting in your sadness. (Other forms of distraction might have this effect too.)

4. Mindless sketching can help us focus.

Cognitive benefits don’t come only from purposeful, serious art.

Oddly enough, doodling can help us pay better attention when we’re listening to something boring — and remember it later. It helps us focus and keeps our minds from wandering, reports The Atlantic.

One study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that, when aided by doodling, participants were able to recall 29% more information on a surprise memory test than those armed only with their determination.

It might not hold true for all tasks though — a study from the journal Cognitive Research Report found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, doodling can impair visual memory.

So stick to the margin doodles and napkin notes in lectures without too many diagrams.

5. Turning our problems into narratives can help us work through them.

This isn’t for just visual art — thinking and writing about our problems as a creative narrative (as in diary entries) can help put them into perspective.

A study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggested that framing our issues as a story can help make them more manageable. Participants were asked to spend 15 minutes each day for a four day period confidentially writing about something. The control group wrote about something nonemotional (often the details of the lab), while the experiment group was asked to write about the most traumatic experience of their life.

Understandly, the experimental group became much more emotional during the sessions, but reported that the experience was valuable — 98% of the group said they’d return if given the chance.

Organizing our issues as a narrative seems to bring some order to the chaos that is our problems. As the study puts it, “this gives individuals a sense of predictability and control over their lives.”


6. Playing music is associated with cognitive gains.

For decades, researchers have foundthat musical training and making music seems to be something of a brain booster. It’s associated with better language ability, better academic performance, and improved memory, especially in children who practice regularly.

And playing an instrument or singing a song is good for adults too.

“Active music making in a social context has the potential to enhance quality of life, well-being and physical and mental health in older people,” researchers concluded in one study, which found these benefits were particular to music-making, and not just the result of a fun group activity.


7. Making art can help you achieve “flow.”

7. Making art can help you achieve "flow."

Jayanta Shaw/Reuters

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined “flow” as being “in the zone,” totally absorbed by and enjoying the task at hand. “A good life,” he has argued, is one in which this state is not so elusive.

While flow can come from all kinds of activities, art is one of the classic flow experiences, where the art-maker is not motivated by some end goal, but is fully engaged in the process itself. Csikszentmihalyi’s interest in what we now call “flow” in fact began when he was trying to understand the single-minded focus of a painter. He consistently observed, as the cognitive scientist John Sherry wrote later, that “the doing of the art was inherently pleasurable.”

And it’s not just the professionals. One study on flow in teenage students found that — of all the subjects in high school — they were most engaged in and motivated by their art classes, which also had the strongest positive effect on their moods.

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