“I wrote sixty-three songs this year. They’re all about Joe, and I’m going to play every single one of them tonight.”
She then launches into several terrible, but passionate songs about the man who broke her heart. I bet at least half of you have this moment now stuck in your head (but if you don’t want an earworm burrowing into your skull for the rest of the night, don’t click the link. You’ve been warned.)
Lots of creative-types will tell you their creativity is at it’s best when they experience sadness. The more melancholy they are, the more they create and the higher the quality of their output. There are lots of really talented writers, painters, musicians out there known not only for the heights of their creativity but for their depths of despair as well. Think Hemingway, Picasso and Plath, just to name a few. A few small studies seem to show that unhappy people create more artistically interesting projects.
Then there are those creatives who work best when they are happy and fulfilled. Some studies show that when people have to creatively figure out the solution to a complex problem, the people who feel happier find a solution faster and get more satisfaction out of solving the problem in the first place.
So which is it? Are people more creative when they are happy or sad? Is it pleasure or pain that helps us reach our creative potential? My guess is that it’s both.
Generally speaking, I’m much more productive, creatively and otherwise, when I am happy. And, I also know, I’ve been amazed at some of the ideas I’ve generated when I have been devastated.
I think, maybe, what it’s really all about is that when life jars us out of complacency in either direction, we stop and pay attention. We see and experience things differently at the height of our joy and the depths of our despair. The view is different from when we hang out somewhere in the middle. It’s like driving a different way home. You’re much more likely to notice your surroundings than when you drive the same route you have for the past five years.
If you’re a person who usually creates when life has pounded on you, try seeing what happens the next time you’re beside yourself with joy. If you create in moments of intense joy, remind yourself in those inevitable moments of pain there is something to draw from there too.
I think Neil Gaiman says it well in his young adult novel, The Graveyard Book :
“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
This is day 20 in the 30-day National Blog Posting Month Challenge. Thanks for stopping by.