Stop Trying So Hard – Hacks Might Be Happier Than Artists

Being an artist is hard, giving up that dream might make you happiera

We’ve all got a dream, whether it’s a documentary project, a band, a farm or a career as an oil painter. Every barista has a grand plan, a project they’re saving up for, or the vague idea of a life beyond the 9-5. But, they might find that if (and that’s a big if) they do break free from the desk or counter job and pursue that dream, they won’t be any happier. In fact, they might be worse off.

The Financial Times explains:

t’s usually best to let these fantasies stay fantasies. For most people, being a hack – doing routine work for money – is the happiest, simplest and probably even the most authentic way to live. The hack’s life is fairly easy. Your work just has to be good enough. You don’t have to put your soul into it and aim for perfection. You know how to do the job, you hand it in and they pay you. Art is harder.

The Happiness Project ruminates on this question. They argue that perhaps we just hear about the sad parts of artists’ lives. They write:

As for art in particular: a deep love of art, whether creating it or appreciating it, does bring a kind of melancholy – the yearning for perfection, the desire to swallow it up, the despair of achieving your vision, the painful beauty of masterworks. But that melancholy is also set in a context of beauty, discernment, and joy.

Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life seems to find the median of these two outlooks when asked what advice he would have for aspiring creative people. When you first set off on your artistic venture, he says, your skills will fall short of your ambition, which is obviously frustrating. He says that only by persevering through these early stages will your artistic endeavors become more rewarding.

At Psychology Today, they argue that art can be just as repetitive and satisfying as the office work that FT says we should all strive for.

Repetitive satisfying art making may actually mediate depression and anxiety by stimulating the “accumbens-striatial-cortical” connection in the brain. It is perhaps connected to what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named “flow,” an experience of complete concentration and absorption. Because flow is close to other mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga, it may offer many of the same positive, attention-focused benefits through deep engagement in an art process.

So, are artists really happier? Maybe successful ones are, and those who don’t make it we don’t hear about. But not every barista can be a screen writer, and the road is full of challenges. Maybe hacking it is simply good enough.

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