It's a well-known fact that some of the greatest artists and writers of our time have been incredibly sad or struggled with serious depression — Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Cobain, to name a few. But just because many creative minds have been sad doesn't mean you have to be sad to have a creative mind, as shown by a new study that discusses the creative perks of feeling happy-sad. What's "happy-sad?" It's a state of being where you have both positive and negative emotions about a topic, person, or an event — or just life in general. Nervous-excited also fits into this category, which is something many of us feel when we're starting a new job or going off to college for the first time.
Christina Ting Fong of the University of Washington conducted the research, which was published in The Academy of Management Journal. Fong divided her pool of participants up into groups and asked them to write about one of three things: A time when they were happy, a time when they were sad, or a time when they experienced mixed emotions. Then, she had them take a test that psychologists use to measure creativity. Called the Remote Associates Test (RAT), the test asks participants to look at three words and find the fourth word that links them (for example, the words "cottage," "swiss," and "cake" can all be linked with the word "cheese"). Fong found that those who had written about mixed emotions did better on the test and theorized that this was because when you're feeling mixed emotions, the lack of clarity and slight confusion may force you to look at the world with a different perspective than you would have if you were just happy or just sad. More research needs to be done before we can determine whether being happy-sad really does boost creativity — but these initial findings are encouraging.
Most people have experienced this happy-sad phenomena. Some common events to fuel this feeling include:
1. Moving Out for the First Time
For example, when you're headed off to college. I'll miss ya, mom and dad but I'm ready to party all night without worrying about a curfew, so...
2. Graduating College
I'm finally finished! No more homework! But I'll miss my friends... and I have to pay back loans... hmmm. Actually, can I stay in college forever?
3. Finishing a Great Book or Television Series
I was so happy to know what happened to Harry Potter, but also so sad that I wouldn't get to read more about what happened to Harry Potter.
4. Breaking It Off with a Partner
RIP, old memories, but hello, new ones.
5. The End of the Day on Your Birthday
You had a great day that was all about you, but now it's all over and won't happen again for a full year. Also, you're older now so that's (generally) a bit of bummer.
So next time you feel happy-sad, hone in on those mixed emotions and make some art! Who knows, you might be the next (slightly more positive) Sylvia Plath.
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