In an episode of the classic television series The Twilight Zone, a gangster dies and is greeted by a man in white who introduces him to life in the hereafter by giving the guy absolutely everything he wants. Beautiful women, fabulous food, money, whatever. He asks for crap games and he cannot lose. The drop-dead gorgeous women never turn him down. Everything is what he wants, as much as he wants—no limits, no problem. He tells the white-tuxedoed man he is unhappy. The women are too easy, the rigged games numbing. To win every time is a bore. No dynamic tension, no fun. An eternity of this emptiness is not his idea of heaven, he says. The man in white laughs. “What made you think this was heaven?”
Uncertainty is what makes an activity engaging. A hitter running for home in a baseball game is only fun to watch if there are outfielders doing everything they can to get him out. Games in general are structured episodes of great uncertainty that we enter into for the pleasure of the tensions as much as the experience of a "win."
Studies show that the happiness we derive from pleasant events is related to our perception of the degree we have influenced those events. “When good things come out of the blue—to make us ‘pawns of happiness’…our good fortune doesn’t make us very happy,” reports experimental psychologist John Reich. "Based on clinical interviews and self-report measures I've initiated and studied, I believe that happiness is being aware not only of the positive events that occur in your life but also that you yourself are the cause of these events--that you can create them, that you control their occurrence, and that you play a major role in the good things that happen to you," he writes in Psychology Today. "Of course, though to a lesser degree, happiness is also the awareness that you can prevent negative events from happening. This sense of mastery over both the good and bad events in your life contributes to an overall sense of well-being."
Neuroscience explains why:
• Because of its underlying adaptation for learning, the human brain grows and reshapes itself in response to challenge, or withers through lack of use;
• The brain prefers to search and discover patterns for itself through active learning;
• The brain's capacities increase in direct relationship to the number of cells composing it, and the number of connections that exist between them;
• Experience constantly expands or diminishes the number of neuronal connections, and continues to sculpt the brain over the course of life;
• Repeated emotional experiences change the brain

One of the best ways to build up our tolerance for the uncertainty that leads to creative leaps and significant emotional growth is to get involved in an activity that requires giong just beyond our level of competence. Choosing discomfort in the service of a higher goal allows us the freedom to experiment, to be the novice. That combination of known - the structure of the activity and whatever degree of competence we bring to it - and unknowable is what produces new neural pathways and new connections between existing ones. We experience the development of those neural pathways as a "reward" or "aha!" At the same time we cultivate an acceptance and appreciation of uncertainty because of the creative possibilities that lie within it.
Improvisation and creative experiences that have a balance of structure and uncertainty help to develop what Anthony Fields calls "uncertainty scaffolding" in his article "Uncertainty, Innovation and The Alchemy of Fear, "because they allow you to do what you do (a) without ending up a psychotic mess, and (b) giving you access to an often an often untapped reservoir of creativity." Through practices that develop "uncertainty scaffolding" we learn to tolerate the ambiguity and tension that lead to creative breakthroughs. And we can see our world, ourselves and our future through new eyes.

Author's Bio: 

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a writer, performer, trainer and creative arts psychotherapist who designs and facilitates professional and personal development workshops through her company Lifestage, Inc and in association with a number of national Employee Assistance Programs. Her book Possible Futures: Creative Thinking For The Speed of Life and blog Lives In Progress explores the ways technology is changing 21st century relationships and the creative mind set for success in the networked world. Her storytelling-style show Crazytown: my first psychopath was selected for the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the 2012 Chicago and San Francisco Fringe Festival and recently had 2 successful runs at Actors Theatre Workshop in New York. A popular speaker and presenter, she gives a monthly talk on dimensions of Emotional Intelligence at Brookhaven National Labs, works with staff at the New York Public Library on a range of topics, and partners with arts organizations to create arts-based community events. She has been interviewed for articles that appeared in national and local media, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Woman's Day, and The Three Village Times.