Creativity vs. Consumption

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0

By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer

The other day, Matt wrote about the difference between expertise and credentials. Expertise, he points out, comes from the process of being engaged over long stretches in a particular pursuit, and it’s enhanced dramatically when that pursuit is self-directed and borne of one’s own inclinations and predispositions. It brought to mind an insight I’ve come to over the last couple of years: purpose and satisfaction comes more from creation than consumption. Relatedly, community and intimacy comes from co-creation more than co-consumption. If you’re not happy with your life, incorporating more creation relative to consumption can help you re-balance.

I cribbed this idea from Charles Eisenstein, philosopher and author.  Some of you may know him from The Yoga of Eating or Transformational Weight Loss. I like him a lot and think he’s a great thinker. In recent years, he’s taken to writing about the gift economy, a counter-model to the exchange or cash economy. Great stuff for those aiming to live outside of the matrix, and understand patterns that might better suit humans needs.

That’s an aside: appropos is this idea that we actually feel better when we can express our creative tendencies. And creation is a broad term in my mind; there’s lots under that umbrella.  You need not be an artist in a traditional sense, a writer or painter or musician. You could be a tinkerer who likes to fix things, someone who likes to code or play with computer operating systems. You could be someone who rakes leaves and keeps a garden, someone who edits work, or  someone who just likes to cook tasty food. The point is: after we do something creative, we can see our impact, see more order or intentionality after us than before us.

I have a friend who had a rough couple of years. Some time in, wanting to dig himself out, he decided to start volunteering at the zoo, helping with the education program, introducing kids to some of the animals and hosting teach-in parties. Turns out, he’s really good at it, and eventually he landed himself paid work there. Part of what helped with the depression was being outside his regular environment and contributing. He had the chance to engage with people and share his time and insight. That sort of thing feels good.

Some of you know my story: I spent several years in various pursuits (farming, innkeeping, white collar work, temping, etc.), and had long bouts of intermittent time off. After college and some time in the work world paying off school debt, aggressively taking it easy was exactly what I wanted. Like that Office Space scene: “I did absolutely nothing and it was everything that I thought it could be.”

All day for weeks and months, I watched YouTube clips and TV shows on DVD (like The Wire, probably the best series ever). I had lots of food and RRARFed basically.  It was great. It also only went so far. Eventually, I wanted more. I started to find internal rather than external motivation to be active and to work. Supposedly, in the Buddha’s youth, he indulged in all manner of worldly desires. After, he was no longer in their thrall, and went on to pursue enlightenment. We don’t have to be Buddha, but the point is, a lot of the ‘unhealthy’ tendencies and patterns wear themselves down on their own if we give them the chance to run their course.

Lots of folks are unhappy with the recent emphasis here on “junk food” and eating whatever we want. But I think this provides a good analogy: we often need to get through that detox period of eating based on outside motivators, whether they’re commercial cues or orthorexic dogma of varying stripes. Eventually, the novelty of pounding ice cream and Mexican Coke wears off, and we start craving foods that are legitimately nourishing for our specific bodies. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” The difference is: afterward, you eat “healthy food” even when you know you don’t have to, and you no longer have to convince yourself it’s good for you, or that you *really* want it, all the while secretly wishing you could go on a chocolate chip cookie bender.

Like one person wrote in this week about her 5-year old…

“Hey Matt, just wanted to give you an update on my 5 yr old son.  We let him eat whatever he wants and as much or little as he wants like you recommended to us and the first two days all he did was eat candy, but like you predicted he is now over it and because we don’t ration it to him, he could take it or leave it.  He wanted Mcdonalds for three days in a row.  I enjoyed that truth be told! But since then he has gradually increased in appetite and I’m just making him whatever the hell he wants (I try to make it nutritious as possible but if its too “healthy” he won’t eat much) and he has only had one dizzy spell which was so mild he barely noticed it so I’m assuming his sugar levels are getting better.  He’s finally starting to put on a little weight, sleeping like a champ, 11hrs! And the most impressive change has been his temp.  He went from 96.8 to a stable 99.1!  We’ve been eating a lot more “junk” and all our temps are doing better and we all seem to be pooping better!”  -KS

Anyway, to bring it back to the starting theme, especially considering that the winter blues set in for lots of people around this time: if you’re feeling down, consider how much of your activity is consumption oriented, and how much is creation-oriented. Consumption is great for winding down, but you can wind down too low. Shift the balance as needed, just as you would salt/carb: fluid ratio, Eat for Heat style. Rather than a movie with friends, how about a board game, or cards or charades? Rather than a restaurant meal, how about a potluck, or a cook-in at whoever’s house has the most accommodating kitchen? Rather than a day shopping, maybe have a work party and clean up trails at the park. Have a sewing party or a jam session. Whatever it is, incorporating authorship reliably combats ennui. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel; even just tweaking some of the activities you’re likely already doing can help you re-balance and feel better. Have fun with that!

38 Comments

  1. Thank you. Great post! It’s true. Initially I was feeding some almost overwhelming cravings for sweets. But yesterday a neighbor delivered two TUBS of homemade Christmas candy and cookies to our home and I found myself completely disinterested in it! Get those temperatures UP and, amazingly, your body suddenly knows how to think for itself.

    Reply
    • No doubt Julie- it’s revelation when you see the tastiest food that used to drive you crazy eliciting a shrug and an “eh.”

      Reply
  2. This is just an excellent post! I have nothing to add other than thank you for writing this – “The difference is: afterward, you eat “healthy food” even when you know you don’t have to, and you no longer have to convince yourself it’s good for you”. This seems so balanced and sane.

    Reply
    • Glad you dug it- thanks Ingrid.

      Reply
  3. Awesome post rob, there needs to be more stuff like this.

    Reply
    • Thanks Zach- I’ve tended to focus on the inner game part of health. A lot of that stuff is hard or impossible to quantify, so it’s tougher to pin down and understand the impact of. But I think it’s important and can offer an organizing framework for further self-refinement as time goes on.

      Reply
      • “Inner Game”? Have you become a PUA?! :)

        Reply
        • Haha- no, but it was a deliberately provocative use of the term. I hear it among athletes too.

          Reply
  4. I also appreciate what you’re saying about not judging ourselves and our cravings – whether they be potato chips or 6 hours/day of MindCraft (as my 14 yo son is aiming for…). The idea that these impulses – however objectionable – may be leading us to where we need to be is very freeing.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone here at 180 degrees!

    Reply
  5. Very nice post. It’s important to remember WHO creates the world. People create the world, not corporations. If enough people were to re-orient themselves to this kind of thinking, the whole system would crumble. We wouldn’t need to storm the Winter Palace. The system would just crumble on its own. For further articulation of this idea, study the concept of Exodus put forth by Michael Hardt and the Italian philosopher Antonio Negri (if you google Negri’s name and mine, you will find that I have translated some of this latter’s works into English…shameless plug :) Exodus means not direct confrontation with the system, not direct transformation of the system, but FLIGHT from the system.

    You might question why I should introduce politics into a “personal decision”, but when you choose the above “lifestyle” -even if you think it’s just personal exploration-you are becoming political….certainly more radically political than if you vote for a Democrat or Republican, because you are rejecting enslavement to commodity production….at least temporarily.

    Reply
    • But corporations *are* people.

      Reply
      • Hahahaha!!!! Right!!!!! I forgot about the legalization of that position :)

        Reply
        • Actually I was only half joking. A corporation is really just a pool of talent and creativity. Consumers are consuming the fruits of other people’s creativity. That isn’t the bad part. The bad part is the 90% of it is CRAP. Clothing, houses, food, toys, cars, art, music, etc etc all have been degraded and cheapened over the course of the last ??? something years. Nothing is made with the same quality it once was and it scares me.

          Why are we settling for worse and worser with every passing year?

          Reply
    • Thanks Thomas- I know only a little about Negri, but will explore a bit.

      And you’re right about the political undertones. I don’t make it explicit, but it does inform my take on things. I mention the matrix, which is a term Chief likes to use to describe the dysfunctional culture at large. I think that, while it’s not an all or nothing proposition, disentangling ourselves in many little ways from a consumer culture that we largely didn’t create, is an essential part of regaining health.

      The impact of agency on our well being is marked, and can take many forms. Part of why creativity is helpful may be that there tends to be more opportunities for agency in those pursuits than in consumptive ones.

      Reply
    • Most people in the system are not finding the joy and self-expression they would truly love. Why aren’t more people choosing exodus? Is it because it’s harder than it sounds?

      Reply
      • That’s a great question Aaron. I have ideas but don’t know the answer.

        Anyone care to wager guesses?

        Reply
        • Probably because most people are caught in a real matrix of sorts. A consumer and money driven life where outside forces dictate how they live their lives. Most are so disconnected with themselves and the world that they wouldnt even know how to begin deplugging.

          Stupidity, greed and laziness play a large role as well.

          Reply
          • 1) It’s risky, especially if you aren’t 20 anymore AND you’ve got a family.
            2) Most of us have been brainwashed into believing it does offer a high quality life.
            3) The Trap- here’s what happened to me. I thought that I would work hard for a certain period of time and then drop out, but have a certain amount of money. Didn’t work out. I got sick (literally had to go on disability for a while).
            4) Social ostracism. I dropped out for a while and was quite poor during that time. Consequences: wasn’t getting laid and people treated me like the scum of the earth. Look, if you choose this path, you are going to have the force of society beating you down. You will be treated by some as a LOSER. Lesson learned: if you are going to try this path, make sure that you have a social network of people who are doing it too and will support you.

          • I think #4 is the biggest. I feel social ostracized enough for little things like being fairly anti-pharmaceutical (not even in an extreme way) and eating salt and butter! I can’t even imagine what dropping off the grid would entail socially. I hate all of the BS, too, but will admit I definitely ignore/put up with it to stay socially connected.

  6. This is a great post, very timely for me, so thank you. I hope to see more discussions of the “inner game” around here.

    Reply
    • Awesome Tierney- glad to hear it. Will do my best to contribute on that front.

      Reply
  7. Wow, Charles Eisenstein mentioned! I’m a fan of his book “Ascent of Humanity”, it’s a very nice read.

    Reply
  8. What if you’re not necessarily feeling down but nothing gives you pleasure anymore (anhedonia)?

    I’m definitely not happy at all but I’m not exactly wallowing in the depths of depression either (and I’ve been there before and I know what it feels like). It’s just that nothing gives me pleasure anymore. I used to have so much passion and interest that I could work on things for hours and forget about needing to eat or sleep. Now everything feels like a chore and it’s ruining my life. Everything is so excruciatingly tedious and frustrating that I can’t concentrate anymore and it’s preventing me from completing my degree and it’s sabotaged my ability to hold down a job. I’ve been pursuing a degree in computer science (which interested me since childhood) that I’ve long since lost any passion for. I’d do something else except I’d just be in the same boat.

    I feel I’m slowly turning into Gollum and I can’t stop it.

    Reply
    • Could you just be exhausted from the end of the semester and need a vacation? I went through a similar cycle during a rough semester. I literally had to spend a month reading Harry Potter and hermiting to recharge. I found David Allen’s thinking on Sharpening the Saw to be useful in finding a better balance.

      Reply
    • It kind of sounds like you might need a cookie.

      Reply
      • I only took 3 courses this semester since I can’t handle the full courseload. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. This isn’t some post-semester crash.

        And I’ve probably eaten more cookies in my 26 years than most people have in a lifetime.

        Reply
        • I think if I were you I would finish up that CS degree post-haste and start making money, so that when you find something you like, you have the funds to indulge in it )or go back to school, whatever). I know that seems like the opposite of what Rob is saying but it really isn’t. I often think about how my life would be enhanced if I could take horse riding lessons and music lessons (not to mention things like that for my kids.) Or go back to school to learn a new career. But a lot of those life-enriching experiences take money. Be grateful you are in a field where you will make that money even if you aren’t passionate about the work. It’s far worse to not be passionate about the work and also not making enough!

          Reply
  9. I love this post. It really fits in to what I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve had a tough 5 years or so due to health issues and the word that comes up for me constantly in my dreams is ‘momentum’. But reading Rob’s post, I think creativity could be used interchangeably here. I’ve had major problems with my thyroid and in turn my adrenals and my life ground to a halt. And I’ve come to the realisation that I actually need to start from scratch because I just can’t remember how to live a happy, fulfilling life. It seems like a distant memory. I actually have to create another life for myself, starting with the basics i.e. how do I want a day in my life to look like. I’ve felt really good since this all started appearing to me, and my days have felt more fulfilling. Although, it could be because I’m eating more carbs, especially the honey, caramel and macadamia nut ice-cream fetish I’ve let off the leash. Thanks Rob.

    Reply
    • Awesome Tanya- glad you dug it. ‘Let off the leash’- I like that.

      Reply
  10. My problem is trying to decide what type of life to create. I work for the USDA, hence in a slaughterhouse, and keep see-sawing between taking flight from what I see happening daily to veganism and then deciding that nothing I do really matters in the long run and eating whatever I want (which always includes plenty of butter, eggs, steaks, and ice cream…). The mental strain of believing that I am supporting a system based on ridiculous disregard for other sentient beings (not to mention environmental and human rights problems), but struggling with eating non-animal products like margarine and meat analogs (which taste god-awful) is really wearing me down! Yes, every personal decision we make is political, but trying to live in accordance with what one thinks is right is grueling.

    Reply
    • Carmen, if I might make a suggestion that should be taken with a grain of salt, because I don’t know you, it would be this:

      1) Try to get into contact with what really gives you pleasure. Don’t censor whatever comes up. It sounds like you are a very idealistic person (nothing wrong with that) and that you might sometimes censor your desires because they conflict with some intellectual blueprint you have in your head. Your body has a right to be heard. That doesn’t mean that you always consent to what it asks for, but it deserves to be heard. Once you have heard it, you can think about your ideals. Maybe your body is telling you that it cannot operate under the constraints of your ideals. Or maybe you will decide that your body will have to make some sacrifices. That’s a dialogue you have to have, but all voices have to be heard.

      2) Do something. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. I’ve seen people-especially young people-get frozen in their tracks for years trying to figure it all out perfectly before taking any action. Just accept you’re not going to get it perfect. But it’s better to have accomplished something-even a mistake- than to wake up three years from now stuck in the same groove. You will have to make adjustments along the way, maybe even completely abandon what once seemed like a good idea. There’s no getting round this.

      3) You are right. It can be grueling. You can think, maybe there is too much pain in doing what I want to do. Go to around the 1 minute mark of this famous speech by Mario Savio and hear what he has to say about the machine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcx9BJRadfw I am not sure, but I believe the group Rage Against the Machine take their namesake from this speech. You can say whatever you want, but the moment you walk the talk and start acting in ways that challenge the machine, you will be pounded mercilessly. The machine’s ideology is not centralized (this is what Conspiracy Theorists don’t understand) but is diffuse, and each one of us, to some extent, carries and propagates its memes (Foucault is good on this one). In any case, we are social beings and can’t be expected to carry out the revolt alone. Seek out a community of people-preferably in the “meat” world- who are also trying to live according to their heart. I don’t care where you live. There are people who are trying to do the same. Having said that, I would warn against associating EXCLUSIVELY with people who have the same EXACT agenda as you. You need to find people who will tell you that you are full of shit or that they disagree with you when that is GENUINELY what they feel. Otherwise it’s going to turn into a self-righteous delusional love-fest: “We all [vegan, paleo, rrarfers] and we so better than everybody else.” That’s what is wrong with the Internet. You get these silos of ideology re-enforcement on steroids.

      Reply
  11. Thanks for your considered response, Thomas! My mind and my body have been duking it out for quite some time and I suppose they’ll keep at it until a detente can be reached. It’s so true what you were saying about the insidious nature of the Machine and how small things like awkwardness in social situations or traditions or small sentences in blogs (Eat the food.) trigger an overwhelming desire to chuck the ideals and have some fun. I do need to find a few kindred spirits – I agree with you completely on that. I’m surrounded daily by hunting, fried-chicken- devouring spirits who enjoy nothing more than pointing out that if I’m so concerned about animals, what am I doing working at a slaughterhouse? Tough one to answer!
    This is one “silo” where so many different ideologies and lifestyles bump into each other, though, which is why it’s always worth a visit.

    Reply
  12. “The difference is: afterward, you eat “healthy food” even when you know you don’t have to, and you no longer have to convince yourself it’s good for you, or that you *really* want it, all the while secretly wishing you could go on a chocolate chip cookie bender.”

    Has this ever worked for anyone except for small children, or is it just wishful thinking?

    Reply
    • Yes, it has definitely worked for me. I still eat palatable tasty food, but after more than a couple days eating burgers and fries, or ice cream and candy or whatever, I want rice and beans and veggies and other nutrient dense food.

      Reply
    • Hans, it really does work. Like Rob, I still eat whatever I want, but there are days when cookies, ice cream, burgers, etc really do not sound good (in fact ice cream rarely sounds appealing). I noticed this especially the other day when someone brought in doughtnuts to work, and all of the other nurses (most are always on some kind of diet) were talking about them all day, going back and forth as to whether they should “be bad” and have one. I didn’t eat one, because they honestly didn’t sound good. I can truly say that I never want to go on “benders” ever, and I have a history of very disordered eating. Eating what you want, when you want has helped me immensely. I’ve been doing this since July so it has taken some time but it is so worth it.

      Reply
    • Hans-
      I spent an entire year having a bar of chocolate every day after work. I was obsessed with trying every high-end chocolate I could find and when I had tried them all I stuck to a few favorites. I wondered if it would ever end, this mad craving for chocolate bars EVERY DAY. I decided to just kind of go with it and then there was one day when chocolate didn’t sound good anymore, and it really hasn’t since. In fact my sweet tooth dropped altogether although I still over-indulge if cookies are around.

      BUT it did not work as a weight loss strategy. Now that I “naturally” eat better and choose better foods, I still haven’t dropped any weight.

      Reply
    • Hans, I used to have all kinds of food cravings and restrict/rebound episodes. Since abandoning all restrictions and eating what I want, I definitely crave veggies and meats, or milk, if I have been having candy or cake. I know what foods I feel better eating so I typically eat those, and if they aren’t available I eat what I can or wait. My weight is higher than I would like but I love not being a freak around food.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>