You experience inspiration, for example, after seeing a particular flower in nature and suddenly getting an idea for a mathematical model; when you see a beautifully colored book cover, which gives you an idea for painting your living room; or when you see a documentary about self-sustaining life in wild nature, which makes you want to live that way.
There are two subtypes of inspiration2: you can be ‘inspired by’ something when you are moved by its intrinsic value (for example, a work of art, a creative idea, a role model), or you can be ‘inspired to’ transmit or extend these valued qualities.
Inspiration requires a ‘spark’ or ‘illumination’ – something that starts a chain of ideas, thoughts, or associations, something that ‘opens a hatch in your mind’, like seeing a possibility or opportunity to improve or create something. However, inspiration does not always have to be goal-oriented or involve a way to advance you.
When you experience this emotion, you feel like working on and/or interacting with the subject of inspiration. It also motivates you to share the new insight with others and encourage them to interact with it. Inspiration can stimulate you to create something that builds on the new insight (e.g., a new way of constructing buildings more sustainably), or to see the world in a different light (also ‘spiritual inspiration’).
Inspiration can be short-lived and intense (the ‘aha-moment’), or it can develop over a longer period of time (e.g., an inspiration for a project). According to Thrash3, inspiration is higher on weekdays and lower during the weekend. The lowest levels occur on Fridays, possibly because that is when people have other things on their minds.
Like awe and elevation, inspiration turns our attention outwards and helps us transcend the self2. Fascination (interest) too resembles inspiration, in that they are both concerned with an appetitive stimulus that you want to further explore. The difference between them is that fascination urges you to learn more about the stimulus, whereas inspiration urges you to do something with it (express or actualize it).
Depending on personality traits, some people are more inclined to experience inspiration than others. Specifically, ‘Openness to Experience’ and ‘Extraversion’ have consistently emerged as significant and robust predictors of trait inspiration. This emotion is also often associated with certain professions and activities, such as art, writing, design, R&D, innovation, etc. However, inspiration can play an important role in everyday activities as well (for example, suddenly thinking of a new way to cook a dish).