Sure, creativity is something worth cultivating for its own sake, but the side effects are also pretty great: Doing small-scale creative projects like knitting or cooking, for example, has been shown to increase your overall sense of well-being, and having a creative side hobby can help you feel more satisfied at your day job.
And a study published earlier this week in the Journal of Creative Behavior added another perk to the list: Creativity can be like an existential security blanket, helping those who possess it to get over their fears of their own mortality. The more creative you are, it seems, the less concerned you are about death.
For the study, a team of researchers from the University of Kent in the U.K. recruited 108 students to fill out a questionnaire that assessed their creativity according to two criteria: creative achievement, defined by past accomplishments in areas like art, music, or inventing; and creative goals, which asked volunteers about their ideal future selves to determine the degree to which they had “creativity as a central part of [their] cultural worldview.” Half of the volunteers also filled out a separate survey about their attitudes toward death, a task whose purpose was to make them think about themselves one day dying.
Afterward, the researchers had their subjects complete a series of word puzzles to measure their anxiety about death. Each puzzle was a fill-in-the-blank that could be made into a death-related word or a neutral one: for example, SK_ _ L could be filled in as “skill,” or, for someone with a higher “accessibility of death thoughts,” to use the authors’ phrasing, it could be filled in as “skull.”
The findings here are complicated but interesting: For people who prized creativity, having more creative accomplishments under their belts meant they were relatively chill about that whole death thing, even after they’d been forced to imagine themselves passing away.
To put it more simply: If you feel your purpose in life is to make something that will outlive you, it doesn’t matter as much that your body’s only temporary; indirectly, some part of you will still be sticking around. “The current findings support the notion that creative achievement may be an avenue for symbolic immortality, particularly among individuals who value creativity,” the researchers wrote. We’re all going to die one day, a fact that’s easier to swallow if you plan on leaving something behind.