Creative thinking with Edward de Bono

Are you happy?

If you answered yes, it’s most likely because your mind knows how to be happy. According to creative thinking genius, Edward de Bono, happiness is a thinking habit that can be learnt. Diana Timmins explains.

What is your attitude towards happiness? Really think about your answer, and also take note of your reaction to the question. Your attitude towards happiness may ultimately impact how much happiness you actually have in your life. Let me explain: our conventional methods of thinking can limit us, and impede our relationships with others and the concept of happiness as a whole. We are programmed to think happiness should be our prevalent state of being, but ironically at the same time we believe the happiness that comes from emotional maturation comes mainly from pain and hardships. These programmed thought processes can affect the success we achieve in our professional and personal lives.

But what can we do to change our attitudes towards happiness and success? Luckily, the world-famous pioneer of creative thinking and founder of the UK Cognitive Research Trust, Dr Edward de Bono, has created programs that allow us to do just that.

De Bono is best-known for his work on creativity, coining the phrase ‘lateral thinking’, and his bestselling book Six Thinking Hats, a title that explores creative thinking tools. He says happiness is a thinking ‘habit’ that can be learned.

“Poor thinking is the key in world issues,” he says. “The way you look at the world will strongly affect everything. Happiness is a deliberate ‘habit’, not just a ‘feeling’ when everything is perfect.”

Every goal we set for ourselves, we usually do so with an end goal of obtaining ‘perfection’, which we believe will lead to happiness. The pursuit of this ‘perfection’ or happiness is not the problem as such, de Bono explains, as much as the avenues we explore to get there. Often we seek out happiness through external or material means, commonly our clothes and jewellery, cars and homes, or the shape of various body parts. But does this truly lead to happiness? Of course not; most of us have learnt that these external means of attaining happiness are only temporary fixes. True happiness must come from the inside.

What many of us don’t know is there is a natural switch sitting within our minds that can easily be flicked to create a major transformation.

The power of perception

We all receive stimuli through our senses. How we interpret that information is called our ‘perception’. The way we’re brought up, the way we’re educated, and a range of other elements impact our perception. At school and university, we become so focused on debating, critiquing a situation or a person, that our ability to see peripherally becomes blurry and we lose sight of the ‘big picture’.

“Generally educators focus on the ‘right’ answers,” de Bono says. “We need to explore and consider possibilities, particularly in perceptive thinking.”

For women, big issues of perception can often include body image, and judgement of themselves and others. How often have you asked the question, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ In a sense we no longer trust our own perceptions so we seek out answers elsewhere. We no longer look into the mirror, but instead to the pattern that image previously created in our brains and allow that to determine our mood, as distorted as that view may be. What we forget is our instant response can be changed so that we can see the real picture. All it requires is that we change the pattern of our thinking to find some new pathways.

“All patterns are asymmetric,” de Bono says. “We move along the track, but there are sidetracks too. Our thinking takes a standard route beginning from our usual starting point. If we start at a random point, we come across other paths.”

W can all move off the beaten track onto greener pastures by broadening our minds and harnessing our creativity. American poet Robert Frost conveys this theory beautifully by his wise words in The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference”.

Constructive creativity

By dusting off our brain’s right hemisphere, our creative thinking can be utilised in harmony with the logical left hemisphere’s to manifest the type of happiness we didn’t think possible. It can happen quite spontaneously, like a painter stepping away from the canvas and wondering how the masterpiece before them had been created in a moment where time seemed suspended.

“Being creative is important in a number of ways, in particular being able to look at anxieties and things differently,” de Bono says. “It’s not just being different for the sake of being different. Creativity is what allows you to do things, and doing things makes you happy.”

We can so easily become limited by our own beliefs, or ‘black and white’ thinking. Wouldn’t painting our lives with every colour of the rainbow make for a more interesting, inspiring and fulfilling life? A little splash or green here and a dab of yellow there could beat the blues, colour the black and white patches, and bring clarity to the shades of grey in personal and professional lives.

Professional thinking caps

Our professional and personal lives are closely interrelated. A bad day in the office can bring dark thunderous clouds into the home, particularly when we don’t feel heard or appreciated by bosses or colleagues.

Heated debates in the boardroom and ‘look after #1’ slogans can propel workers into an unhappy state, and before too long argument is adopted as a way of thinking. To find a way to overcome this, de Bono devised his Six Thinking Hats program. In this technique, different thinking processes are represented by different, metaphorical ‘hats’. For instance, the ‘white hat’ deals with information at hand, asking questions like, ‘what do we know, and what is missing?’ The ‘red hat’ deals with emotions, feelings and intuition; an important part of the thinking process often neglected. The Six Thinking Hats process is often used by professional groups and businesses.

The Six Thinking Hats allows everyone in the group to reach solutions systematically. Luckily, the process also works for our personal lives and our attitudes towards happiness. Attaining happiness is a matter of trying on different thinking ‘hats’ and changing our attitudes.

“The important thing about happiness is that you have to make an effort,” de Bono says.

Which hat should I wear?

The Six Thinking Hats process is a powerful technique that can help you think more creatively, and help you change your attitude towards happiness. It helps you to think better, and make better decisions, by forcing you to move out of your usual thinking habits. For example, if you’re a rationally-minded person, perhaps it’s time to weigh that up with thinking that focuses on emotions, feelings and intuition. Perhaps you always tend to look on the bright side, or perhaps you’re a pessimist. The important thing is to ‘try on’ some new thinking approaches for size.

First of all, imagine you’ve put on a white hat. In de Bono’s process, this hat deals with the data available, and looks at the facts logically. Try to fill in gaps in your knowledge. Next, put on your red hat, and think with your intuition and inner knowledge. Put on your black hat, and look at the situation like a pessimist, noticing all the negatives; then put on your yellow hat and think like an optimist, noticing all the positives. With your green hat on, think like an artist and imagine creative solutions. Finally, don your blue hat for organised, processed thinking.

So how does this apply to happiness? This is a great creative thinking process, and it’s also wonderful for decision making. But it’s also going to open your mind to the concepts of parallel thinking, and help you learn to consider all the ways of looking at a situation, not just the negatives, or the cut-and-dry truth. NH

More information on Edward de Bono available at and

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