People Create Health: Effective Health Promotion is a Creative Process

Main Article Content

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.

Article Details

Regular Articles
Author Biography

C. Robert Cloninger, Sansone Family Center for Well-Being at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA

Prof Cloninger is Wallace and Lucille Renard Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology and Genetics, and Director of the Sansone Family Center for Well-Being at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He is also Scientific Director of the Anthropedia InstituteDr. Cloninger received his B.A. with High Honors and Special Honors in Philosophy, Psychology, and Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, 1966.  He received his M.D. from Washington University in 1970 and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Umea, Sweden in 1983.  He has published 10 books and more than 400 articles in psychiatry, psychology, and genetics.   His recent books include the Origins of Cooperation and Altruism by Springer, Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being by Oxford University Press, and Personality and Psychopathology by American Psychiatric Press.  Among his many awards, Dr. Cloninger has received the American Psychiatric Association’s Adolf Meyer Award (1993) and Judd Marmor Award (2009), and lifetime achievement awards from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2000) and the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics (2003).  He is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the APA, a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.  The Institute of Scientific Information ranks him among the most highly cited psychiatrists and psychologists in the world. His personality inventories have been used in more than 4000 peer-reviewed publications.


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