Emotion, Creativity, and Healthy-Mindedness:

                                                             Are They Compatible?


                 James R. Averill               and                        Elma P. Nunley            

     University of Massachusetts                           ACT Counseling Center

     Amherst, Massachusetts                                Odessa, Texas             


"When a person has an inborn genius for certain emotions, his life differs strangely from that of ordinary people, for none of their usual deterrents check him" (James, 1902/1961, p. 215).

Genius implies, almost by definition, creativity. Emotions, however, are often viewed as the antithesis of creativity C as biologically primitive, almost reflexive responses C whereas creativity is regarded as among the highest of the Ahigher@ thought process. How, then, can a person be an emotional genius? And, how might his or her life differ from that of ordinary people? In particular, is creativity in the domain of emotion C indeed, in any domain C compatible with James=s description of healthy mindedness? The healthy‑minded person, according to James, has Aa constitutional incapacity for prolonged suffering " (p.114). In the view of less benighted individuals, whom James labeled Asick souls, @healthy-mindedness may seem Aunspeakably blind and shallow@(p. 140). Empirical research suggests that creativity, particularly among writers and artists (as opposed to scientists) is more often associated with the sick-souled than with the healthy-minded. But the healthy minded need not be blind and shallow, not if we interpret healthy mindedness as doing well (meeting challenges, overcoming adversity (in a word C eudaemonia) rather than simply as feeling good (in current psychological parlance, Asubjective well being@ C Averill & More, 2000). In this presentation we review briefly James=s other theory of emotion in light of current research, that is, Aother@ than the famous James-Lange theory (Averill, 1992); we illustrate how the criteria for creativity (effectiveness, novelty, and authenticity) can apply to emotional responses (Averill, 2005); finally, we explore the ways emotional creativity is compatible with healthy mindedness (Averill, 2002) and how it is not (Averill & Nunley, in preparation).




Averill, J. R. (1992). William James's other theory of emotion. In M. E. Donnelly (Ed.), Reinterpreting the legacy of William James (221-229). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Averill, J. R. (2002). Emotional creativity: Toward Aspiritualizing the passions.@  In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 172-185). New York: Oxford University Press.


Averill, J. R. (2005). Emotions as mediators and as products of creative activity. In J. Kaufman & J. Baer (Eds.), Creativity across domains: Faces of the muse (pp. 225-243). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Averill, J. R., & More, T. A. (2000). Happiness.  In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.) (2000), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed) (pp. 663-676). New York: Guilford Publications


Averill, J. R., & Nunley, E. (In preparation).  Neurosis: The dark side of emotional creativity.


James, W. (1961). Varieties of religious experience. New York: Collier Books.  (Original work published 1902)