Love and Relationships

[Science Solitaire] Want to be more creative? Start by going beyond ‘Happy Birthday!’

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] Want to be more creative? Start by going beyond ‘Happy Birthday!’
If you think you are not creative enough or you think you have lost it, what could you do to jumpstart it?

I have banned “Happy birthdays” at work. I don’t mean that birthday celebrations are no longer allowed. I mean that in our lean organization of 23, no one can greet a birthday celebrant by simply texting “Happy Birthday!” In a group like ours that would not work at all if it were not creative, no one gets off that easy.

If any of us in our organization intend to only greet the celebrant (unless you will show your creativity another way), the lowest expectation is to give it some more thought other than the two words (regardless of the number of exclamation points). This is because I think any human being who is alive now in the 21st century and made it to another year deserves more than a historically pre-worded and predictive “Happy birthday” text since doing that probably requires the same amount of brain power (or even less) as when you are chewing gum. 

Creativity is the ability to make new stuff – from old things (materials or ideas) or forging a new way to think or do stuff.  It is at the heart of being human since we humans would not have reached the 21st century with all the profits and perils that accompany our modern lives if the ones who came before us were not creative. Creativity was what helped us adapt to changing conditions, and it also gave rise to new conditions for life. So, to be human is to create.

But do not start doubting your humanness just because you have not created an opus that would rival Mozart’s or Einsteins. Creativity is a way of thinking and doing things differently, and, I think, of being. This means it exists and can be recruited in everything we do. So, if you are trying to make do with available ingredients in your house for a meal, refashioning your old clothes to fit you now or current trends, writing poetry or prose instead of platitudes for speeches, finding another adjective other than “happy” to prefix “birthday” when you greet a friend, those all belong to that expanse of spacetime called “creation.” 

It is also essential that we clarify the concept of creativity as just inhabiting the ideation part of creation. In order for creativity to matter, it has to extend to workability. Thus, it has to be worked out within the givens – the resources that can be gathered for it, the time constraints, as well as the other humans who will help make it happen. Creativity will not lead to its natural product – creation – if it will stay as a brew of supremely interesting ideas in one’s head. They have to stand the scrutiny of day and the dimension of the world or life where it wants to serve or exist.

But for the ideation phase, divergent thinking – the ability to be able to link seemingly unrelated things and arrive at an insight – seems to play a big role. This is a quick test to verbal divergent thinking if you want to test yourself. It has been proven that divergent thinking inhabits the works of jazz musicians, poets, and visual artists. When they studied the brain processes of these people while working, they found that they actually recruited brain regions not normally recruited together. 

But if you think you are not creative enough or you think you have lost it, what could you do to jumpstart it?

Walk. At least for the part where you want new ideas. Don’t sit at your desk and think that if you leave to take a walk, you will miss the ideas when they come and visit. A Stanford experiment found that taking a walk increases your creativity for new ideas by as much as 60%. 

Work up a good mood. Apparently, being in a good mood gets your anterior cingulate cortex – the one that can identify beautiful, bizarre thoughts – to be more active. The opposite is true, though – that a bad mood makes you more analytical, nitpicking on everything that does not strongly fit regular perception. But of course, we cannot always force ourselves to be in a good mood, and some individual differences in dopamine levels may play a role in this.

Personally, I think being interested in many things, even if you are not going to be an expert in all of them, fans creative dust. Even just learning more about all kinds of stuff seems to open doors to more and more doors that, at some point, eventually connect with the doors I am currently directly faced with. The ability and willingness to listen to all kinds of people and their stories are also ways to expand your palate for creative thinking. 

So start with the human in your life who matters to you – the one who is going to have their birthday next. We don’t know how many birthdays anyone is going to have. They have had millions of moments, and at least one of them connected with yours. Birth that moment where you can greet her or him in a way that will reflect some measure of brain processing beyond an autonomic yawn. 

Create new moments of celebrating even with just another word they have not heard you utter in the many birthdays you greeted them. It has better chances of landing in their spirit and even more chances that it will make you feel you have rewired your own spacetime of creativity. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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