World Gets Happier, Schools Kill Creativity

Are you happier today than yesterday? Do you think the world has gotten happier? Do you think happiness and creativity are linked? Our we more creative or less? Let’s find out.

Once again, my good friend sent me a link today about a recent study indicating that people have been getting happier over the last two decades. Results of the study reveal the following claims:

  • Happiness increased in 40 countries in the last 17 years
  • Happiness decreased in 12 countries during the same period
  • Measures of happiness aren’t stable; in fact they rocketed
  • Wealthier countries enjoy more happiness than poor countries
  • Baby boomers appear to be relatively the most miserable generationd

What conclusion did the researchers make about what drives happiness upward around the world? Essentially, they determined that our freedom of choice about lifestyle enhances our chances at happier lives. That’s intuitive. So is the idea that wealth contributes more happiness positively, while poverty promotes misery.


Scientists have worked hard for years to put happiness under the rigorous scope of rational inquiry. Perhaps the most successful and famous is University of Chicago professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (Cheek-sent-mee-hi-y) work on Flow Theory. Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits has a great post about Flow which you can read here after the jump.

In summary Flow is a state of optimal psychological condition in which you feel at one with the drive of life, immersed in the activities that you engage with and increasingly get better at doing. And Flow improves as you take on more challenges.

But perhaps the most important finding of Dr. Csíkszentmihályi’s work is the importance of creativity. Because creativity, like happiness, is an ongoing process, it’s something that only you can drive. It requires you to be involved. Although it may seem that our most creative moments occur spontaneously, they do not happen outside of ourselves. Creativity is and intrinsic expression of our connection with the extrinsic world around us.

Temporary happiness can be achieved through external surrogates (money, sex, power). But because everything is impermanent, that kind of happiness always fades. The kind of happiness, however, that requires the same kind of effort as creativity lasts. It’s always dynamic, ongoing, shifting, improving as you improve.

Happiness happens (look at the root word there). But it also happens to leave us. Happiness only stays as long as we recognize the we are in a relationship with a state of mind and the rest of the world. For us to be truly happy, we need to put effort into it. We need something else, because happiness isn’t enough by itself. Happenstance is not dependable.


So: what does creativity have to do with happiness? Creativity is the fuel that drives happy minds. It awakens us. It ramifies our lives with novel vistas. It demolishes prejudices and advances the soul’s journey into the difficult truths of life.

Creativity is an intelligence. But we use a narrow appreciation for intelligence. Sir Rob Ken Robinson offers remarkable insight into the fundamental intelligence that defines creativity. You can view the video embedded here or just read my summary of his comments.

He points out that intelligence has three characteristics:

  1. It’s diverse
  2. It’s kinetic
  3. It’s dynamic

He discusses the global educational system and how schools have traditionally botched a lot of our collective and individual creativity. I think he has a very strong point. Our schools tend to overvalue academic studies at the expense of encouraging our natural tendency towards creativity. The traditional rank order of what’s valued in schools around the world is typically this:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Humanities
  3. Arts

Being great at math and science are fundamentally important. They can in fact help shape careers that engender a comfortable standard of living. And that’s what we are seeing increasingly in the modern world: more wealth.

But in the long run, if we aren’t engaged in creative activities, we expose ourselves to happenstance, not happiness. There’s a difference.

If we want to be truly happy, we are going to have to immerse ourselves in the hard work of facing the difficult things in life. Getting through the Dips in life is 20% science and 80% creativity. The same is true of most of our problems. The more aware we are of the power of creativity in our lives, the happier we will be.

Our search for something beyond ourselves IS happiness. The sadness we feel is a message to look into places we fear to tread.

And it’s an endless search, the search for meaning.


I’m happy that there are researchers around interested enough in global happiness. But I’m not all sold on the idea that true happiness is actually increasing in the world.

Rather, I think that what we are seeing are the marginal returns that come from lifting people out of poverty into lifestyles that meet basic needs, like shelter and clothing and food. But marginal returns eventually start to diminish. Going from $20,000 a year to $100,000 will make most people happier. But going from $100,000 to $120,000 won’t make as much of a difference. (You’ll owe more in taxes, so maybe your government’s happiness will increase.)

So I do think Sir Robinson is spot-on about creativity. World happiness will truly increase as more of us are encouraged and engaged in creative activities. And that requires a totally revamped educational system.

What about yourself. Are you happier today than yesterday? When you think of your happiest moments do they involve creativity? When life gets hard and miserable, can you get creative? Try it, do what you love, love what you do.

Believe in the search for something greater than yourself. In the process you’ll fall into happiness. And that lasts a lot longer than when happiness falls onto you.

Link to Yahoo! News: World Gets Happier

Sir Ken Robinson at TED


  1. Yup, it is a state of mind. And you're right many people are happy because of what happens. That's why I think it's important to work on it, since bad stuff happens too, and if we're not ready for it, well, things flip.

  2. I've always viewed happiness as a relative state of mind. Most individuals are happy because of what was happening to them, unfortunately.

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