Creativity: The new solution for midlife crisis

As a culture, we’re so busy grappling for solutions, racing to conclusions and viscerally reacting to what’s on the screen in front of our faces, that we’re bypassing the deeper, interior assets of the human brain.

According to Gallup pollsters, only one-third of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers feel engaged in their work. This has a significant effect on the U.S. economy, as disengaged workers are twice as likely to call in sick or be diagnosed with depression. But in an interesting trend, millions in their forties and fifties are coming to grips with midlife crisis in the digital age by utilizing their creative juices.

As reported by journalist Laura M. Holson, creativity classes and seminars for those in their forties and fifties are a growing trend. Unlike the previous solution for many Baby Boomers, who sought material solutions to their midlife crises with perhaps a sporty new car, or a quick emotional fix in a marital affair, a popular solution now is to find more creativity in life.


Helping to further ignite this trend, neuroscientists are on the forefront of discovering what actually happens in our brains during the creative process.

Psychologists have known for decades that creativity is a successful antidote to anxiety and depression. But those who are not born with natural creative talent are not encouraged by our culture to develop it. From grade school through high school, the curriculum is based primarily on rote memorization, rational thought, getting the one right answer, and fitting in. This is antithetical to the more open-ended intuitive role played by creativity.

Randy Bruckner, a psychologist at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science and two medical colleagues recently published an article, “The Brain’s Default Network,” summarizing decades of brain imaging by neuroscientists world-wide.

They discovered an anatomical portion of the human brain system that is only active when individuals are not focused on completing specific external tasks, such as writing an email. Thus, the name “Default Network”.

The default network activates when we engage in internally focused thought, such as envisioning the future, or considering the perspectives of others. From studying thousands of brain images, neuroscientists can trace electrical charges in specific portions of the brain that use memories and associations as building blocks for mental stimulation, as compared with the portion of the brain which focuses laser-like on specific external goals to be accomplished.

It is now understood that the default network is an adaptive feature of our brain, which uses past experience to generate ‘out of the box’ novel and creative brainstorming.

Neuroscientists often describe this phenomenon as “divergent” thinking. It requires that we disengage from the external world (and the ubiquitous digital screen we have become addicted to) and travel inward, to the default network. In other words, contrary to just about everything we were taught in school, daydreaming and divergent thinking are both a potential boost for creativity and a healthy antidote to stress and anxiety.


David Eagleman and research colleagues in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stanford are studying how modern computer technology is changing the ways our brains access information.

Collaborating with musical composer Anthony Brandt, Eagleman cites creativity and ingenuity as the qualities of the human brain which not only set us apart from other species through evolution, but which offer crucial mental assets even the most advanced computers can’t provide

The three qualities they cite which make divergent thinking a key to human creativity are bending, breaking, and blending. Bending is what jazz musicians do when they improvise unpredictably on a tune they’ve played hundreds of times. Breaking is when you disassemble something into pieces and re-arrange the parts into a different whole, as demonstrated by Picasso and Cubism. Blending is when you combine two or more ideas which aren’t normally thought of as connected, as when the Wright Brothers figured out motorized aviation from working on bicycles and gliders.

Bending, breaking, and blending are qualities the brain can apply to a midlife crisis, regardless of any lack of natural talent for music, art or invention. It just takes some practice.

Here we see the convergence of two trends. Neuroscience’s use of modern techniques such as magnetic resonance microscopy to better understand how the brain generates creativity, and the growing desire to deal with midlife crisis through meaning and creativity. TJ


New research coming out on a regular basis shows that feeling creative and having a sense of purpose are as important to health as diet, exercise, genes and even social networking.

As a result, businesses will become more aware of the economic cost of having workers who are bored and emotionally unfulfilled. Ontrendpreneurs will use this as an opportunity to monetize ways to bring creativity and engagement into the workplace.

As millennials have consistently been polled as preferring worthy experiences over material objects approach their forties, this trend will accelerate. Look for news about organizations such as, which connects middle-aged people with meaningful work.

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