Why Inspiration Matters—Plus, One Woman’s Super-Inspiring Story


In case you haven’t heard, the Boston Marathon is today! And while I wish the best to all of the runners out there, I’ll be thinking about one in particular this morning: Heather Abbott, one of the survivors of the bombings last year. Heather’s left foot was seriously injured in the second explosion, and she ended up having that leg amputated below her knee. But she’s made it her mission to learn how to do everything she could do before the accident—and she’ll be running the last half mile of today’s race.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Heather last week, and one of the (many) interesting things about interviewing her was hearing her explain what it’s like to have people tell her that they inspire her:

“They say it, and I feel like I don’t really know what they mean,” she says.

In fact, it wasn’t until she saw Amy Purdy (a double amputee) performing on Dancing with the Stars that she started to realize why her story was so inspiring to others:

I was like, ‘This is what they mean.’ That’s how I felt—it gives you hope.”

The whole experience got me thinking—why do we experience inspiration anyway? A happiness expert I interviewed for a previous story suggested watching an inspiring video or reading an inspiring story as a way to boost your mood, but I was curious what other research exists on the subject. Turns out, Harvard Business Review’s blog published a great story about why inspiration matters back in 2011. Here are some of the major perks of being a person who’s easily inspired—or scores high on something called the Inspiration Scale—as outlined by the article:

Creativity: “Patent-holding inventors report being inspired more frequently and intensely than non-patent holders, and the higher the frequency of inspiration, the higher the number of patents held. Being in a state of inspiration also predicts the creativity of writing samples across scientific writing, poetry, and fiction (as judged by a panel of fellow students) independent of SAT verbal scores, Openness to Experience, positive affect, specific behaviors (e.g., deleting prior sentences), and aspects of the product quality (e.g., technical merit). Inspired writers are more efficient and productive, and spend less time pausing and more time writing.”

Accomplishment:In a recent study conducted by Marina Milyavskaya and her colleagues, college students were asked to report three goals they intended to accomplish throughout the course of the semester. They then reported on their progress three times a month. Those who scored higher on the Inspiration Scale displayed increased goal progress, and their progress was a result of setting more inspired goals. Therefore, people who were generally more inspired in their daily lives also tended to set inspired goals, which were then more likely to be successfully attained.”

Happiness:In another study, those who were exposed to Michael Jordan’s greatness experienced higher levels of positive affect, and this increase in positive affect was completely explained by their score on the Inspiration Scale. This inspiration was not transitory though, predicting positive well-being (e.g., positive affect, life satisfaction) three months later! Inspiration was more strongly related to future than to present satisfaction.”

Pretty convincing, huh? But it begs the question—how can you become more inspired? Turns out, people who frequently experience inspiration tend to share three major qualities: They’re open to new experiences, have a strong drive to master their work, and are generally internally motivated (meaning they’re usually not super competitive). So working hard at your craft (whatever that may be) and letting yourself be open to inspiration are definitely key—but so is exposing yourself to inspirational material in the first place. Sounds like a good reason to read my full story about Heather on WomensHealthMag.com if you ask me.


Photo courtesy of Heather Abbot


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