How Wonder and Creativity Create Contentment (With Chip Dodd)

How Wonder and Creativity Create Contentment (With Chip Dodd)

This month we're talking about contentment. Today we're going to talk about how wonder and creativity create contentment. The daily grind gives us tunnel vision. Sometimes, that just keeps us in survival mode. In turn, survival mode squelches our opportunities for adventure and creativity and wonder. With so much on our plates as single parents and problems to solve, we might think that things like adventure, creativity, awe, and wonder are luxuries and that it's wise to give up those luxuries. Is this true?

We interviewed Dr. Chip Dodd who is an author, a speaker, and a counselor. He holds a PhD in counseling and is the author of many books including Parenting With Heart.

We're talking today about being stuck in the daily grind of survival and how this makes it hard for us to have a sense of adventure, creativity, and wonder.

There can be misconceptions about what imagination and creativity really are. Can you define imagination and creativity?

Bottom line, imagination is picturing your life fully lived, with you being fulfilled because of what you do, and other people appreciating it. That's what full imagination is, before it's contaminated with imagining horror. When you imagine your life lived to the fullest, creativity is how you picture that happening. “If I could become a fireman, then I would be the one who climbed the ladder the highest, and I would save people, and I would get a medal.” Creativity is the picture you drew. It’s how you go about putting that energy into wanting to belong and matter, be safe and cared about. Little children are experts at imagining—creating scenarios and pictures of what it would look like because it's not suppressed.

There's a Harvard study that studied genius in the lifetime of kids. And they basically found that we lose it.

 This was a longitudinal study that looked at kindergarteners and assessed them with the IQ for genius—how intelligent they were and how creative they were with their intelligence. And it was a high percentage, like 80-90 percent of the children in kindergarten would rank as geniuses. Four years later they did it again and it was 75 percent. And then four years later (basically, I'm using the numbers arbitrarily), but the longer the child was alive, the less intelligent and less creative they became. And so something happened between kindergarten and later on in life. Over a period of time, they lost that which was natural to them. It ended up with approximately four percent ranked as a genius. And they define genius in the study to be “using creativity to solve problems” which is imagining that the problem can be solved. It's not given up; you haven't foreclosed on it. When you’re still young or hopeful, you haven’t fallen into using the phrase, “It is what it is.” “It is what it is” means “I’ve given up on applying creativity and imagination to this problem.” Little kids are always saying, “How come?” “Why?” That's creativity, imagination—looking at a problem and not going, “It is what it is.”
How do we lose it?

 We leave kindergarten and we move from ABCs to one, two, threes. We go from feelings to formulas. And feelings are articulated from us knowing the ABCs of how we're made, and putting those letters together so we can communicate to another human: you're made the same way, right? And they go, “Yeah,” and then we get together and solve the problem of not being alone. This ride at Disney World says, “It's a world of laughter and a world of tears, a world of hope and a world of fears. There's so much that we share. It's time we're aware. It's a small world after all.” That’s ABC's. We get so involved in the one, two, threes of survival, we forget to rest, replenish, recreate. We forget to remember what life was made to be about.  The suppression of genius is the suppression of creativity and imagination, and we lose the six basic inborn freedoms because people around us teach us that they're dangerous and not worth having.
There are six freedoms, the freedom to see what I see and face it. And then when you see something, you're going to have feelings. If you see a car wreck or a man walking on a tightrope or a dog howling at the moon, we see something. We feel something. And then when we feel something, we need something. From needing to share or needing comfort or needing security or needing guidance. So, you see, you feel, you need. And then because we're human, we see, we feel, we need, and then we want to share what we see, feel, and need. And we trust that someone outside of us, including God, cares about what we have to say. And then that leads to us imagining ourselves fully alive, a life in full, because I've got something to say and share; I've got something to do and give. And because we're human and we're created to find fulfillment and relationship, life fully alive is me sharing all God made me with you, who's doing the same. Can you see how it's better already?
No matter how busy you are, you have five minutes every day to stop, drop, remember, rest, replenish—from looking at a leaf to being amazed at the way the wind sounds when it goes through a cottonwood tree. Reminders of being little, reminders of when we used to dream. We thought life would be a certain way.
And doing marriage counseling, a lot of times couples get marriage counseling because there's trouble. And a lot of times I'll ask (usually the female partner), “What did you once desire?”  And it's like, “Don't ask me that. Don't start there.” “Well, how come?” “Because that's where I gave up my imagination. That's where I let go of my creativity. That's where the hurt lies because there was a dream and we're sitting at a broken dream. So don't ask me to dream. I just want to get through this, not hope again.”
That is a terrifying place to be for someone who's been so deeply wounded by that dream desire not coming to fruition. We risked at one point dreaming about the creativity of it all. It's really hard to do that again.
To go back to when you were a genius is very scary. I was talking with someone about hope. She was a very real victim of abuse who'd become drug addicted. I owned a treatment center and I said, “I know hope is horrifying and I'm asking you to risk it again.” And she said, “I want to hit you in the face so hard right now and run out of here.” And I'm like, “I know. And I know the door's right there and you can get to it easily, but I know it's scary.” And then she just broke: “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you for reintroducing me to me.” Sometime later, she ended up having incredible recovery, 84 days in treatment. She sent me a picture of a door in the universe. It was a dark universe, and the door was cracked open and light was piercing into that darkness. And she sent a note that said, “Thank you for reintroducing me.” To her own genius, her own creativity and her own image bearing of God, the Creator she couldn't get away from. We end up hating ourselves and hating anyone who is expressing that life to the full.
We feel like adventure, wonder, creativity are luxuries that we can't afford. Wonder, creativity, and adventure are actually sacred things; they're not luxury things. They're not an add-on. They are the essence that return us going back to the way we were intended. It’s like a factory reset. We run away from the sacred and think we're making sacrifices by not living. Isn’t that something?
The older I get, the more I see how entitlement has no place. And it certainly is the antithesis of contentment. We are all grafted in and woven into something God is doing that is so much bigger than us. Once you step into wonder, awe, imagination, you can't help but feel. When we stop (which we didn’t think we could do time wise) and pay attention, we're taken back to kindergarten and the ABCs of wonder.
I know there's violence. I know there's tragedy. I know there's horror. I know that there is cruelty and savagery beyond what we can even comprehend. And yet if we don't stop and find each other in the midst of that, the horror takes over and the imagination is squashed.
How are wonder and gratitude connected?
You can't help but wonder, “Is the universe a cold, lifeless, apathetic place or is there someone guiding us?” And once you start looking at the ants, the leaves and the butterflies, you can't help but wonder, “Is this being that operates it good?” And when you actually ask and discover there's a person out there that actually wants your good, then you end up having gratitude. Gratitude comes from external sources. You can't self-create gratitude. Gratitude comes from seeing and believing that something's good outside of you, and you can have it: God and others.
You can’t let yourself wonder without gratitude. As we walk out of damaged relationships where someone has wounded us, our tendency is to try to reason and reconcile before we move to a place of wonder. And while I think it's good to reflect and analyze our part in the relational demise, sometimes we get stuck in reasoning and reconciling the bad, and that keeps us from wondering or risking. “Well, if I do this again, this is what happened before.” That’s what trauma is. Trauma is controlling the future so the past never repeats itself, and so therefore I've got to keep hope at bay because hope makes you take risks. We actually keep life in the negative by blocking wonder. People who have experienced desperation and despair in life, that's trauma. And once you decide there's nowhere to go with it, you're stuck. How do we unstick? Go back to Kindergarten: I see. I feel, I need, I talk, I trust, and I imagine. That takes us back into the adventure, the risk. And to me, solo parenting groups are about taking a risk with other people who get it—to again wonder about the possibility of being able to trust the universe and who runs it.
One of your books The Needs of the Heart says: “True fun involves being fully human and not being conscious about it.” How do we even get there?
By stopping and doing something you've been wondering about, wanting to do, or thinking you didn't have time to do. Children are born not knowing what a clock is. There’s Kronos, which is the clock ticking, it’s time itself. And there's Kairos, which is experiencing time because you’re in it. So, the clock doesn't run you, but time fulfills you because you're fully involved in time. So, taking breaks and stopping and experiencing your life in the positive; in the wanting; in the risking, in planting something; in making something. Stopping and resting helps remotivate, and rekindle. Rest and creativity and fun. It's called recreation. Real recreation is recreating. So, what are you not doing that you'd like to do? Want to see if you could do it? Take a risk with what you're not doing. Go do that. Whether it's a minute or 10 hours or three days. Go.
Knowing that the genius is kindergarten, and it starts dwindling, how can we as parents help our kids not lose their sense of creativity, wonder and adventure?
That is such a great question and Parenting with Heart really reflects on this: We can't give what we don't have. And that's the simplest way to say that. The way we help our children is by going back and getting it for ourselves. They see us asking questions and wondering things ourselves. They see us seeing, feeling, and needing. They hear us talk about what's going on inside of us. They hear us tell the truth.

Hi, this is Ethan, a single dad. How do I handle answering my child when they ask repeatedly why their mom and I got divorced?
I feel this because this is something I get asked on the regular from my child. One thing my counselor told me, “There’s a question behind the question.” He's trying to answer something that has no answer. There's a deep-rooted sorrow, loss, grief that comes with that question. It doesn't matter how I answer it, it's not information that he's seeking really. The last time, I asked him a question back and said, “Are you feeling some sadness? Are you feeling sad about the fact that your dad and I aren't together?” And he was like, “Yes, I am.” And we just kind of talked about it in that way. It wasn't so much of me trying to just answer straight up why? Because, I honestly thought in the moment, “Should I tell him his dad's an alcoholic and that's why we got divorced? He's 10 now. Is that a thing?” I chose not to because I didn't know the answer to that. And so, the direction I went was asking him about where he was.
My girls asked quite a bit, and I don't know that I handled it right. But it does depend on your child and their age. I would typically just say, “Well, I'll tell you what, it didn't have to do with you at all. There are things that happen in adult relationships that are really hard to understand until you're an adult. And I'll also tell you that we tried and there were things that we couldn't work out. It's okay to have feelings about that.” But I chose to never go down the way of telling them their mom X, Y, or Z because you've got to remember, it's a delicate balance. They are attaching their identity and how they see themselves with their mom, regardless of how you feel. That identity is attached to them forever. So, if you start labeling, you’re in a sense doing that to your child. Fast forward 10 years: it's very clear to my daughters what happened now. When they asked, they were an appropriate age (late teens, almost adults). “Was Mom X?” or “Did this happen?”
I would answer honestly then because they had the capacity—they had encountered enough betrayal or hurt in their own lives to see dynamics of relationships are complicated. I will say this too: the other thing he asked me was, “Whose decision was it to get a divorce? Whose choice?” And in our relationship, first it was me, then we tried to work it out, and then it was him. I don't remember if I told him that, but I told him basically it was both our decision because at that point, I don't need to put the hurt or blame on him in that regard. You know what I mean? Blame is not constructive at all, really. It doesn't help them feel better and it doesn't help you feel better necessarily. Maybe in the moment, but I think blame is something very scary that we need to stay away from.

 The Needs of the Heart by Dr. Chip Dodd
Parenting With Heart by Dr. Chip Dodd

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