How Sagmeister uses happiness to boost creativity

Sagmeister and Walsh. Image by Henry Hargreaves

Sagmeister's pursuit of happiness has been a well documented 6 year long journey, culminating in the Happy show and the more recent the release of The Happy Film.

The Happy Film - Trailer from Sagmeister & Walsh on Vimeo.

Both explores Sagmeister's approach to happiness, and his experimental attempts to enhance his own happiness through the use of cognitive therapy, mediation and mood-altering pharmaceuticals.

It got me thinking… how, as designers, can we maintain our own happiness?

To paraphrase Sagmeister’s words about both happiness and the show:

If you were to give advice on happiness is there one thing you'd suggest?

“Write down 3 things that worked for you each evening, things you might be thankful for. I started an iCal calendar that contains this and I just spend 5 minutes each night doing it. This is an exercise from Marty Seligman, the founder of positive psychology.” - Sagmeister

Is happiness an artificial or natural state?

The Happy Show explored the narrative between a natural, self-directed happiness and an artificially adapted happiness. Documenting the artificial through the use of pharmaceuticals and the natural through cognitive therapy. Sagmeister puts great emphasis on training the mind, the same way that you train a body to maintain perfect health. Through therapy and meditation, being mindful allows you to approach creativity in new and interesting ways.

Psychology of Happiness Sagmeister Walsh

How can you maintain your happiness?

Sagmeister lists exercise as a key tool in keeping a healthy and creative mind. Whilst a large number of studies show exercising outside has a greater effect on your mental health than just jumping on a treadmill at the gym1. Sagmeister himself said that doing 15 minutes of running has a greater impact on his well-being than 30 minutes of meditation.

How can you harness positive psychology to increase creativity?

A negative mood results in tunnel vision, making you focus on just the things you are anxious about - everything else falls out of this focus and doesn't matter.
Dr Anderson2, assistant professor of psychology at University of Toronto.

Positivity has great benefits to the creative process, with countless theories pointing that positive emotions increases openness3 4 – one of which being the Broaden and Build theory by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson5. As its name suggests, when approaching creative tasks like problem-solving the ability to absorb more information and try more ideas has great benefits. Negativity, on the other hand prepares us for a specific action, initiating the fight or flight state. This narrows our field of view to be less invested and effective in the creative process.

Read more about Sagmeister's approach to happiness on Sagmeister & Walsh.


Image credits: Sagmeister and Walsh

Form for thought - A blog about by Dura design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.