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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Moving from Reactive to Creative

Early blossoms of flowering quince

According to psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, "our future is now closely tied to human creativity"[1]  I'd like to share the vital difference between being creative and being reactive.


Being Reactive

We react a perceived threat with fight, flight or freeze.

In emergencies this reaction serves us well. We jump out of the way of a speeding car.

But when stress becomes chronic, we get stuck in being reactive. Our attention narrows, our immune systems and digestive systems shut down, cortisol flows through our bodies, leading to increased inflammation and the risk of serious disease. Chronic stress shuts down our higher brain centers—blocking our ability to create, to see new possibilities.[2] We become anxious and defensive. We worry, we ruminate, but we do not create.


Being Creative—means moving from surviving to thriving.

Research in positive psychology shows us that positive emotions such as love, joy, and awe can broaden and build our personal resources, helping us live more creatively.


University of North Carolina researcher Barbara Fredrickson has found that positive emotions and personal connections strengthen our immune systems, broaden our perspective, and build our personal resources.[3] New York University researcher Jonathan Haidt has found that experiencing a sense of elevation in response to someone we admire connects us to our deepest values and inspires us to moral action.[4]

University of California researcher Dacher Keltner has found that experiencing the sense of awe—amazement and wonder at the beauty and grandeur of nature or a work of art—fills us with inspiration, widening our perspective, building our hope.[5]


We can experience positive emotions in nature, with the people around us, in great works of art, and reflecting on them with gratitude. The point is to have these experiences regularly. Like spiritual vitamins, positive emotions can help us become healthier, happier, and more creative.


So please join me in this brief meditation.


  • Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and slowly release it.
  • Again breathing in, and slowly breathing out.
  • Once more breathing in, and slowly breathing out.
  • Now take a moment to think of one thing you do that fills you with joy, that moves you from surviving to thriving.
  • Just one experience that comes to mind.
  • Is it connecting with someone you love? Feeling inspired by someone you admire? Feeling a sense of awe experiencing the beauty of nature?
  • Take a long deep breath as you recall that experience now.

Then gently open your eyes.


I invite you to focus on that experience often

Whether actually enjoying it or reflecting on it with gratitude, this experience can inspire you to be even more creative in the days to come.


I wish you joy on the path.


[1] Csikszentmihaly, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: Harper & Row, p. 6.

[2] LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

[3]Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press; Fredrickson, B. & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13, 172-175. 


[4] Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.). Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived (pp. 275-289). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association; Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.

[5] Keltner, D. (2023). Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. NewYork, NY: Penguin Press.


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