Musicians kind of have a rep for being miserable people -- or, you know, people who are super tuned-into their emotional sides. Well, according to cognitive scientist John Kounios -- author of the upcoming book "The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain" -- that's not exactly the case. Yup, even the most moody of brooding artists has to be happy sometimes -- otherwise s/he would never get anything done.
"Generally, there's a lot of research over many years that shows that people are more creative when they're in a positive mood," Kounios told MTV News. "People are better at solving problems that require creativity; they're better at artistic things."
Kounios points to a specific part of the brain by way of explanation: the the anterior cingulate, which is in the middle front of your gray matter.
The scientist has done research into what happens in the brain when people solve problems either via an "a-ha!" moment or through more methodical reasoning, and found that "other brain areas are involved in these 'a-ha!' moments, but there's only one brain area that is involved in both positive mood and solving problems with an 'a-ha!' moment." You guessed it -- the anterior cingulate.
So how does that chunk of brain work, exactly?
"When you're faced with a task or a problem, there's the obvious answer -- the thing that's right in your face," Kounios explained. "That usually works, but it's not terribly creative. But there's also a not-so-obvious answer -- something that is unusual, that's creative. That can be hard to access in the brain. It's there unconsciously -- but it's not the first thing that comes to mind."
"The anterior cingulate is really active and it's scanning the brain for ideas that conflict with each other," Kounios added. "When it's active it can sense all these non-obvious, unconscious ideas."
So, basically, when you're happy -- you're more likely to come up with creative ideas, rather than obvious ones.
"When you're in a positive mood, what this does is it opens you up to possibilities and alternatives that you would otherwise not be open to," the author said. "When you're in a negative mood, you have tunnel vision -- you only see what's right in front of you. That's one of the ways that positive mood can make one more creative."
By way of explanation, Kounios points to Pharrell Williams' "Happy," which the musician apparently struggled over initially. Skateboard P. was asked to write a song that was, well, happy for the film "Despicable Me 2," but it was only when he actually reflected on what it was like to be happy that he cracked the code.
"It was only until I was tapped out that I had to ask myself the fundamental question: they're asking for a song that's happy," Pharrell told NPR. "They're asking for something where Gru is in a good mood, and that's when I realized that everything I needed was right there. I began to ask myself, 'What does feeling like a good mood feel like?' That's where 'Happy' came from."
So what about all these artists who say they have to be unhappy to write music? I mean, Ed Sheeran once told MTV, "The only times you write songs are when you're like [makes a super sad face]," and Sam Smith basically said he needs another big breakup to write a new record.
Well, Kounios has an explanation for that, as well: "When [creative people] are on an upswing in mood, that's when they get all these ideas," he said. "When they're on a downswing, they don't get ideas so much -- but they refine their ideas. They become obsessed and ruminative and they latch onto one of their ideas."
So, basically, Sam Smith or Ed or whoever could be inspired by a bad experience, stew for a bit, have a moment of happiness, get a major "a-ha!" moment, get an idea for a song, then stew in sadness while working it through.
"They write songs about their miserable experiences -- it gives them something to write about," Kounios said. "But they don't necessarily write when they're at the bottom of their moods. They use those bad experiences as fodder for their songwriting. But when you're really in a bad mood you're dysfunctional."
I guess that explains why even though Taylor Swift's songs are all kind of bummers, she's constantly surrounded by friends and basically seems to be having the best time ever. Also, you know, Sam Smith frolicking in the pool ala Ariel. These artists need happiness in order to be productive.
It's all about balance, guys -- so if you're worrying you're not consistently moody enough to be a real artist, just remember: Science is on your side.