Happy = more creative?

Does optimism make you more creative? Does happiness do the same? Or Is there a limit at which point it hinders you?

These were the questions which researcher Arménio Rego and a team of colleagues tried to answer.

Creativity is often defined in the workplace as coming up with both novel and useful ideas, while optimism is an expectation on positive things happening in the future. So, the question is, how are these two concepts related?

In this study, around 595 portuguese retail workers from different sectors were given questionnaires on their optimism and on their moods and emotions, often referred to as their positive and negative affect. Their creativity was assessed by their supervisors in a separate questionnaire.

The results were clear: in general, the more optimistic employees were judged to be more creative. In this case, the effect was seen both directly and through the person´s happiness. It is almost intuitively clear that optimists are happier, and this good mood shows to be a clear influence in their problem solving.

However, there is an exception to this. In addition to their general optimism, the study also focused on the so-called positivity ratio, which is the balance between positive affect and negative. When this was included in the analysis, it became clear that people who were only positive, without occasional negative moods were often uncreative.

This can be explained by a “Polyanna” effect, where an ultra-happy person starts to become unrealistic, which might stop their solutions to be useful.

Reference: Arménio Rego, Filipa Sousa, Carla Marques & Miguel Pina e Cunha (2012) Optimism predicting employees’ creativity: The mediating role of positive affect and the positivity ratio, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 21:2, 244-270, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2010.550679

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