Goofing Off at Work Boosts Creativity

So much for the angst-ridden artist; being happy boosts creativity!

Bring back the scooters and air hockey: A new study suggests the early dot-coms may have been onto something with their work-hard play-hard approach.

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science has found that being in a good mood boosts creative thinking. And, say the study’s authors, doing things at work that put us in a good mood shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a waste of time.

“Positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking,” explains Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario and one of the study’s authors. Watching silly videos, for instance, may be one way to help us perform better.

To test their theory, researchers split 87 volunteers into three groups and manipulated their moods by exposing them to a sad, neutral or happy video and music clips. Happy videos, pulled off of YouTube, included a laughing baby and a clip from Whose Line Is It Anyway? Sad videos involved news reports on an earthquake and a child with cancer. Volunteers were then asked to analyze and classify images according to complex visual patterns. According to researchers, this type of task requires careful consideration and flexible problem solving. They found that people in the happy group far outperformed those in the neutral or sad categories.

“If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, being in a positive mood can help you to do that," says Nadler. Music, she says, is an easy way to lift your spirits.

Playing with gorilla mascots may be another. Early on in my career, I worked for one of those Internet startups. The company employed wacky business strategies like drum circles, free beer Fridays and, yes, the occasional gorilla mascot whose sole purpose was to goof off and cheer people up. Like everyone else who prophesized the dot-com bubble burst, I was dumbfounded that our CEO -- and the rest of the dot-com visionaries -- would think this was a good way to spend company money. But even if these businesses were spending more cash than they could ever earn back, it turns out that their methods to keep employees happy may not have been so crazy after all. Though this time around, I think I could probably do without the hyperactive gorilla.

What puts you in a good mood at work? Chime in below.

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