Depression and creativity, a favorite fallacy

Psychological woes such as depression and bi‒polar disorder have been linked with creativity for hundreds of years. Yet research suggests that depression doesn’t improve creativity at all, it actually hinders it.

If depression limits creativity, we can’t help but ask: why is creativity then associated with depression at all?

You can see it in some of the most creative painters, musicians, and actors: their works are stunning and like no other, and yet the creator suffers from long and major episodes of depression.

Shelley Carson, an instructor on creativity and psychology at Harvard University, suggests that it’s not depression that fuels creativity, but rather the upward boost in mood when coming out of depression ‒ the same mood you would feel when receiving a small gift, say a new pair of shoes or clothing.

Shelley explains in her article Depression, Creativity, and a New Pair of Shoes:

Recent research on mood disorders and patterns of creativity suggests that it may not depression itself but recovery from depression that inspires creative work… In other words, creative productivity is linked to upward changes in mood.

She continues to explain how giving yourself a small, unexpected gift might help boost your mood and your creativity along with it. Shelley explains:

If you’re currently suffering from creative block, try the “unexpected gift” strategy. You could either arrange for someone to surprise you with a small unexpected gift…or you could find a small, unexpected gift on your own…By keeping your senses open to unexpected pleasures, you may be able to get your creative juices flowing.

Whether you’re in a creative rut, or you’re feeling depressed, find a way to give yourself a small gift (even if it’s just a day to yourself or a vacation to a neighboring town). And hey, worst case scenario is that your gift doesn’t boost your creativity, but at least you did something nice for yourself.