Let’s face it, we all just want to feel better. Even if we can’t really put our finger on what “better” means, if given an option between better, the same, or worse, we would all pick better.
And why not?
Feeling better doesn’t even have to indicate that we are miserable with the status quo, it just means that we want to avoid feeling bad, avoid suffering, and maybe get a little boost of dopamine here and there.
That sounds pretty reasonable.
But like everything else, there are more efficient ways of feeling better and less efficient (and even sometimes counterproductive) ways of feeling better.
Creating vs. consuming. Let’s look at these options.
Many times, we default to consuming as a way of feeling better or even numbing out negative emotions.
Consuming what, you ask?
Food or drink is the obvious answer, but there are many things that we consume in an effort to get a little rush of dopamine, a little break from whatever it is that is stressing us out.
We consume social media.
We consume via shopping.
We consume via alcohol, or other mind-altering substances.
We consume via procrastination, getting involved in something other than what we want to be doing.
We consume via digital games.
We consume via online news.
We consume chocolate, popcorn, or happy hour.
We consume via Netflix.
Now I am not here to criminalize these things. After all, they do make us feel better in the short term, and sometimes that may be helpful. And sometimes these things are used just for enjoyment and not to avoid feeling bad.
But I think we all can recognize the underlying truth that sometimes consuming these things can be at direct odds with other things that we want in our lives. Eating chocolate may be great in the moment but can lead to fatigue an hour later. Digital gaming can be relaxing until we find ourselves rushing around to try and get our other responsibilities done. Netflix can be great unless the “one more episode” robbed us of our valuable sleep.
Rather than dwell on finding the happy medium in all this today, let’s explore an alternative to consuming, creating.
Creating something is literally the opposite of consuming something. If we look at the definitions, consuming is to absorb the energy from, use up, buy, take up altogether. Conversely, creating is to bring something into existence, cause something to happen, produce out of nothing.
So how do we use creativity to feel better, and does it even work?
The good news is that science is on our side. Creativity has been shown to be a predictor of good coping (it’s not just fun.) Creativity forces us to think outside the box, and this “divergent thinking” has been shown to have a positive relationship with our ability to reappraise our situations in a positive way.
Yup, we can craft our way to happiness.
Now don’t freak out, I can hear some of you saying that you aren’t the creative type. But I want to call bullshit on that.
We all have it in us to be creative, it may just look different for different people. I would like to go even one step further and propose that all nurses are creative. You walk into a room, not knowing what you are going to find, and have to put together a picture out of incomplete information, subjective reports and objective assessments. From that, you have to figure out how to care for that patient. If that isn’t creative, I don’t know what is.
The benefit to using creativity rather than consumption as a coping mechanism is that there is a net positive gain. There isn’t a downside. And the research shows us time and time again that when we focus on creative activity, our well being improves.
And this isn’t just our general sense of wellbeing, divergent thinking can decrease the probability of feeling resignation and hopelessness.
Count me in.
So how can we practice creating instead of consuming?
There are probably endless possibilities, but here are some that I came up with.
Bake something and try switching out an ingredient (yum)
Make up a dance to your favorite song from high school
Re-organize a cabinet or drawer
Move the decorations in your house to different places
Write a blog :)
…Or a haiku
Color, or paint, or scrapbook, or sculpt, or knit
Put together a photo collage
Try one of the 10,000 pins that you saved on pinterest
A quick doodle on the side of whatever you are writing on today.
Maybe none of these are the exact right answer for you, maybe your first creative task is to figure out what creative thing you like to do.
Maybe you take a big piece of paper and write down every idea you could possibly think of.
The good news is that you can’t choose wrong. Creativity has a positive impact.
End of story.
What do you have to lose by trying something? More importantly, what do you have to gain?
P.S. I couldn’t resist adding some references. I had to remind myself that this is a blog and not a research paper. The 3 I picked (from my visit down the rabbit hole) just show that this research has been going on for a long time and is continuing to be important. You can create the life you want- reach out if you need me to help you with it. I would love nothing more.
Alfonso-Benlliure V, Meléndez Moral JC. Creativity as a “vaccine” for depressed mood: coping and divergent thinking in young adults. An. psicol.2022;38(2):209-18. Available from: https://revistas.um.es/analesps/article/view/481761
Falat M. Creativity as a predictor of "good" coping? Studia Psychologica; Bratislava. 2000;42(4)317.
Grossman FG. Creativity as a means of coping with anxiety. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 1981;8(3-4), 185–192. https://doi.org/10.1016/0197-4556(81)90030-7