For such a popular and often-discussed topic, creativity sure can be tough to define. After all, part of the joy of creativity is that it really depends on how you personally interact with the creative parts of your existence.
Freakonomics tackled this particular topic, talking to a number of people who work in the study of creativity. Quote:
Teresa Amabile starts with a basic definition that’s accepted within the field of psychology. We identify creativity as essentially novelty that works. It has to be somehow feasible, workable, valuable, appropriate to a goal. And it gets a little a squidgy when we’re talking about the arts. What does “appropriate” or “valuable” mean in the arts? But I think even there, pure novelty just for the sake of novelty isn’t really going to do it. It has to be somehow expressive of something that the artist was trying to convey or evocative of a response that the artist was trying to evoke.
In other words, creativity is doing something different or new, and doing so in a way that’s intended to express something — pretty much anything.
Whatever your particular form of creative expression, there’s lots of research backing up that it’s a good idea to engage with that creativity. As a 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health found, quote:
In all 4 areas of creative artistic expression reviewed here, there are clear indications that artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health. Despite methodological and other limitations, the studies included in our review appear to indicate that creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances. It is not unreasonable to assume that future studies involving better methodology and more consistent assessment of outcomes will demonstrate the ability of creative engagement to improve psychological and physical well-being and quality of life. As can be seen from our analysis, it is likely that creative engagement contributes to many aspects of physiological and psychological conditions typically associated with improved health status.
There are also plenty of articles and studies out there linking creativity to economic output, but frankly that’s something I consider secondary — creative expression purely for creative expression’s sake doesn’t have to be turned into economic benefit to be considered useful.