Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 27, 2014

ED VASICEK: Nuture, don't snicker at, imaginative ideas

Studies link creativity to human longevity

Kokomo Tribune

---- — My wife was helping in the church camp kitchen. Some flies managed to meander in, but none of the volunteers could locate a fly swatter. So my wife took a plastic hamburger flipper, taped folded newspaper to enhance it, and created an effective exterminating weapon. While one fellow snickered at her feat, I was impressed. I love creativity.

In America, because of our “rugged individualism,” we have frequently nurtured creativity — in contrast to some cultures. Where societies are highly controlled — and where anyone different is punished — creativity is stifled. And the world loses when this is the case.

A recent article from the BBC shows how Muslim extremists are threatening the education of women in Nigeria, kidnapping the female students: “... [P]arents of 230 girls had reported them missing but 40 had managed to escape ... Islamist group Boko Haram is suspected to be behind the kidnapping but has not issued any statement ... Some 1,500 people are believed to have been killed in attacks blamed on Boko Haram this year alone ... The group, whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden’, is fighting to establish Islamic law in Nigeria. It often targets educational establishments.”

But creativity and mental exercise are good for all, even on an individual level. Studies show that active minds make for happier and healthier people. Although the Internet is a mixed blessing, it can be a portal to creativity and mental exercise. Think of the many homebound folks, for example, who can somewhat escape their limitations through the Internet. When I visit the nursing homes, I sometimes see residents surfing the Internet.

The Good News Network recently documented that Internet use can reduce depression among America’s elderly: “It’s estimated that as many as 10 million older Americans suffer from depression, often brought on by feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, new research — a project that followed the lives of thousands of retired older Americans for six years — found that Internet use among the elderly can reduce the chances of depression by more than 30 percent.”

Mental activity is important to slowing or avoiding dementia. Time Magazine tells us: “The key to staying sharp in old age is to exercise your brain throughout life. Now the latest research shows that such activity may actually slow cognitive decline and, if you do develop dementia, shorten the time you spend living with it ... brain autopsies ... found that 14% of the variability in mental decline could be attributed to the amount of intellectual activity in which people participated, both early and late in life.”

Working crossword puzzles, reading, taking classes, study, developing creative and artistic abilities make a big difference — especially over a lifetime.

While intellectual stimulation is important, creativity seems to be king of the hill, according to Psychology Today. A study led by Spiro Turiano concluded, “creativity predicted mortality risk above and beyond age, education, smoking, and health status ...” Who would have thought creativity would be such an important factor in longevity?

The study suggested, “promoting creativity throughout the life course, and especially at older ages, may delay the cognitive and physical health declines associated with normative aging.”

The study of creativity is anything but uniform. One point does seem obvious, however: Creativity is tied to imagination and the generation of new ideas — or variations upon old ones.

When my wife adapted a hamburger flipper to make a fly swatter, she was not inventing anything new but using her imagination to transform one familiar object creatively into another. This type of creativity is not the same type of creativity displayed by whomever developed the first fly swatter, nor is it the same creativity displayed by the person who first rolled up a newspaper to do the job. And whoever conceived of the electric bug zapper perhaps displayed an even more radical form of creativity, thinking further outside the box. But the one thing they all had in common is imagination. To succeed in making their idea reality, they embraced a willingness to get the job done, even if others mocked or snickered. Let’s make it a point to nurture — not laugh at — creative ideas. Even our own.

Ed Vasciek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune.