Welcome to the results of the Ardington School of Crafts Wellbeing Study 2018 (as featured in Craft & Design Magazine March 2018)
We had over one hundred responses to the study from people aged 25 to over 75. The largest group of study respondents was aged between 55 and 64. Strikingly, there were very few men – just four out of a hundred were male. Why was this? The invitation to take the study was sent to a wide variety of people and aimed to achieve a good spread of age and gender. On social media, it reached an audience that was made up of 37 percent men. Perhaps one reason that we had such a small number of men respond is that not enough men yet realise how important it is to be creative and that, as we will see from the results, creativity has such a strong beneficial impact on health and mental wellbeing-being, evidenced by our respondents in a long list of positive outcomes. The student base here at Ardington School also reflects a much smaller percentage of men than women attending courses.
Our view is that more people, (especially more men!), should take up a creative activity in order that they can benefit from better health and wellbeing, feel less anxiety but a stronger sense of purpose and achievement. The study results show conclusively that people feel much happier, have a stronger sense of purpose and are more relaxed because they are involved in arts and crafts activities. Most interestingly, almost half of the people in the study are now making an income from their crafts. This is becoming more important as we live longer, and need to finance that additional lifespan. Why not earn money by doing something you love and makes you happy?
You can see the full results of the study here, and read the commentary on the findings below.
What types of art and creativity do people enjoy?
The study results showed that most people enjoy more than one art or craft activity, on average almost 3.5 each. The top activities in our study included textiles and needlework (69%), painting, drawing and illustration (37%), and mixed media work (28%). Also, very popular were calligraphy (23%), ceramics, clay and mosaics (23%) as well as paper crafts (25%). Jewellery making and metalwork also scored highly (22%), as did photography (22%) and printmaking (21%). Garden design and glasswork were favoured by around 15% of respondents, and finally willow-work (12%), writing (10%), floral art (8%), stonework and woodwork (4%) and furniture (3%). There may be some gender related preferences in these results, as a deeper review of the individual answers for men shows a preference for painting and printmaking in this group, albeit a small sample.
What types of arts and crafts do people do?
The youngest study respondents (below age 45) showed, in order of preference, a higher uptake of textiles, ceramics and painting, and the oldest age group (over 75) preferred painting, then printmaking, followed by textile work.
How do people feel when they are doing arts and crafts?
The feel-good factors experienced by our study respondents include, overwhelmingly, a strong sense of purpose, achievement and satisfaction (100%), and happiness (100%). In fact, over three quarters (78%) feel a very strong sense of purpose, and almost 2/3 of people (66%) feel very happy when they are doing arts and crafts activities.
The need for a sense of purpose is one the defining characteristics of human beings. Studies  show we crave purpose, and suffer serious psychological difficulties when we don’t have it. Purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life, and having it enhances our self-esteem. The sense of competence and achievement also provide an improved ability to deal with difficulties and challenges that life brings.
The study results also showed a high degree of feeling inspired (96%), learning and using the brain (95%), being energised (90%), and feeling relaxed (87%). Only very few, (7%), felt anxious or nervous, and there was some evidence of frustration at times too (14%). We will return to this point later.
Our study showed that 53% of respondents felt some physical health benefits from doing arts and craft activities too, with one respondent stating that ‘it increases resilience against depression’ and another saying ‘I worked for many years as an Occupational Therapist with people with severe and enduring health issues. We used a wide variety of art and craft activities as part of the treatment programme’.
How do you feel when you are doing arts & crafts?
How important will it be to your own personal sense of wellbeing to maintain creative activity as you get older?
Our results showed that this is a pretty important activity to future wellbeing. In fact, 97% of people want to continue being creative for many years to come and 75% told us that being creative is essential and they can’t imagine life without arts and crafts.
This was a particularly interesting finding, as according to Harvard Medical School research (2017) , pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill are some of the best activities to keep your mind sharp, at any age. The same study endorses using more of your senses, such as touch and smell, often associated with arts and creative activities (don't you love the smell of oil paint, fresh willow or the feel of clay!) as well as repetition and re-study over time - these being integral strategies to protecting and improving memory. Our study also shows that arts and crafts give us a strong sense of purpose and achievement, leading to self-belief, another of the recommended states necessary for improvements to brain health listed in the Harvard Medical School research.
Recently, doubt has been cast on the alternative so-called ‘brain-training’ computer games, as reported by Age UK . In 2016, a leading supplier of these games was fined by the US government Federal Trade Commission for making claims that weren’t supported by evidence and that, in the Commission’s words, 'preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline'. It’s interesting that traditional arts and crafts are therefore standing the test of time, over and above these new approaches.
What else can be improved through creative activity?
Our study respondents believe that being involved in creative activities can help to improve many other things important to wellbeing. There was strong support that being creative keeps the brain active (99%) and improves concentration levels (92%).
In addition, being involved in arts and craft activities can help to improve social connectedness (87%) and the ability to communicate (72%). Substantial evidence  now indicates that individuals lacking social connections are at risk of early death, and indeed statistically, loneliness has now been found to be deadlier than obesity. The same US study shows that loneliness is not just an ‘old-age’ problem either, in fact older adults reported lower rates of loneliness than those who were younger, (43% of those aged 45-49 were lonely compared to 25% of those 70+). In the UK, a 2016 study  by the University of York found that lonely people are around 30 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in Britain. Arts and crafts activities improve social connectedness, so there is a strong argument that they can prolong life.
Almost half of our study respondents (42%) believed that creative activities can help to improve the opportunity for continued employment income. Again, this aspect will become increasingly important in todays’ society, as people are living longer and finding that retirement, as a concept, is becoming ‘retired’ itself. People need more income to sustain longer life expectancy and many will have to continue working to earn this extra income. Evidence  shows that the value expected from pensions has reduced significantly. The most worrying group, as far as good pension levels are concerned, is women. On average, they are likely to receive up to 40% less pension than men, mainly due to career breaks and pay inequality. Women also live longer, and so the position is worsened over time. Being able to earn a continued income from arts and crafts not only makes people happier, but could also be partly or wholly financially sustaining too. Perhaps our study result of 42% will increase over time as more people return to artisan specialisms that are once again becoming so highly valued.
What else improves through creative activity?
Over 2/3rds (68%) of our study respondents provided evidence of these improvements to their lives, and a selection of individual quotes is provided below.
What other activities do people engage in to improve wellbeing?
The study results show that people also participate in other activities to improve their wellbeing. Physical activity and taking care of the body as well as good diet and nutrition were highest on the list of regular activities. The results also show that people enjoy socializing and laughter, and gardening and outdoor pursuits are very popular ways to improve wellbeing.
Giving and helping others is also regularly practiced by our study respondents, and research  published by the NHS suggests that acts of giving and kindness – small and large – are associated with positive mental wellbeing. Giving to others, through volunteering or charitable work, can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, creating positive feelings. The National Council for Volunteering Organisations latest research  shows that that the proportion of young people saying they volunteer has increased by more than half in recent years and is still on an upward trend.
Over half of our study respondents enjoy spas and treatments, at least sometimes, as ways to improve wellbeing. Perhaps we need to add massage and aromatherapy lessons to the Ardington curriculum! Watch this space.
Final comments and follow up
Over 40 of the 100 respondents volunteered to provide follow-up interviews and/or some deeper level of wellbeing study analysis and we will be following all of them up throughout the 2018 Ardington School year. We will report back on any additional findings. It would be interesting, for example, to measure the extent of the feeling of wellbeing levels on a persons’ ‘normal day’ and during a workshop, and to explore exactly what is making a difference.
One final comment made in the study, which cannot be ignored, was ‘I think many people don’t take up creative activities because they are worried they won’t be good enough’. This is interesting, and if true (I have heard people say this myself so I believe it is), is a distressing statement to hear. This is one of the reasons why we try to run such an open and warm environment at Ardington School, so that we can welcome everyone who wants to learn. A school is a place for learning – it’s where you can start on the journey to good enough. It is the DOING of arts and crafts that is good for everyone’s mental and physical health and wellbeing, regardless of ability, and we would encourage more people to try it and enjoy all the wellbeing benefits it can bring.
See the full results of the study here.
Yvonne and Simon Sonsino
Ardington School of Crafts, January 2018
 Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School Chief for the Division of Cognitive Neurology and Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Non-invasive Brain Stimulation, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 2017.
 Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson. Department of Psychology and Department of Counseling Psychology, Brigham Young University. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2015, Vol. 10(2) 227–237.
 Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Observational Studies. Valtorta NK, Kanaan M, Gilbody S, et al. Heart 2016; 102:1009-1016. Heart is an official Journal of the British Cardiovascular Society.
 The New Rules of Living Longer – How to Survive your Longer Life, Yvonne Sonsino, 2015. MSL Publishing. Newrulesoflivinglonger.com