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Do Life Challenges Make Us More Creative?

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

This request might not sound like much fun, but give it a try – I’ll bet it will be worth it. Think back to a time in your life when you faced a significant challenge. Perhaps it was a great loss, such as the death of a loved one. Maybe it was a divorce or other relationship that unraveled. Or it could be a significant health challenge that blindsided you. Whatever it is, you consider it one of the greatest trials of your life.

I know it might be difficult to think about this kind of event, but I’m not going to have you rehash it for all of its pain and grief. Instead, I want you to think about how you coped and prevailed. Did you problem solve your way into a solution? Did you reach out to others for support and encouragement? Did you seek spiritual solace and strength?

I’m asking this because I recently read about a study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. In the study, the researchers were intrigued by anecdotal evidence that creative individuals were able to transform negative experiences into inspiration for their work and ways of being. In other words, these folks felt that their life challenges actually boosted their creativity.

If this was true, perhaps we could learn more about how this effect really works to help others cope with life challenges. The researchers explored this idea by administering questionnaires to participants that measured their perceived “posttraumatic growth” and their perceived levels of creativity.

The idea was supported. The results revealed that self-perceived challenges were associated with self-perceived boosts in creativity, particularly in the realm of interpersonal relationships and in seeing new possibilities for one’s life. In short, the participants felt that their life challenges forced them to become more creative, and that this was an unforeseen positive aspect of the trial.

Keep in mind that the researchers measured the participants’ perceptions of their own life challenges and changes in creativity – no objective measures were used to try to determine how stressful a life event actually was or how creative the person actually became.

While this may seem like sloppy science, I think this is okay. Why? Because this is about coping with a significant challenge and coming out more creative on the other side, which implies that the person is healthier and more resilient. Does it really matter how others judge the severity of the life challenge or whether the person is more or less creative? I don’t think so. What matters is that the individual believes that he or she has become more creative and resourceful by going through the challenge. If that can be accomplished, the person is well on his or her way to wellness.


Forgeard, M. J. C. (2013). Perceiving benefits after adversity: The relationship between self-reported posttraumatic growth and creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 245-264.

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