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People Create Health: Effective Health Promotion is a Creative Process

C. Robert Cloninger, Kevin M. Cloninger


Effective health promotion involves the creative cultivation of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. Efforts at health promotion produce weak and inconsistent benefits when it does not engage people to express their own goals and values. Likewise, health promotion has been ineffective when it relies only on instruction about facts regarding a healthy lifestyle, or focuses on reduction of disease rather than the cultivation of well-being. Meta-analysis of longitudinal studies and experimental interventions shows that improvements in subjective well-being lead to short-term and long-term reductions in medical morbidity and mortality, as well as to healthier functioning and longevity. However, these effects are inconsistent and weak (correlations of about 0.15). The most consistent and strong predictor of both subjective well-being and objective health status in longitudinal studies is a creative personality profile characterized by being highly self-directed, cooperative, and self-transcendent. There is a synergy among these personality traits that enhances all aspects of the health and happiness of people. Experimental interventions to cultivate this natural creative potential of people are now just beginning, but available exploratory research has shown that creativity can be enhanced and the changes are associated with widespread and profound benefits, including greater physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. In addition to benefits mediated by choice of diet, physical activity, and health care utilization, the effect of a creative personality on health may be partly mediated by effects on the regulation of heart rate variability. Creativity promotes autonomic balance with parasympathetic dominance leading to a calm alert state that promotes an awakening of plasticities and intelligences that stress inhibits. We suggest that health, happiness, and meaning can be cultivated by a complex adaptive process that enhances healthy functioning, plasticity and self-transcendent values. Health promotion is likely to have only weak and consistent benefits unless it is person-centered and thereby helps people to learn to live more creatively.


Treatment, health promotion, creativity, well-being, happiness, psychological resilience, personality, person-centered medicine, human development.

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