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Creativity vs Consumption

We live in a culture that encourages us to consume far more than we create.

We buy, rather than make, most of the things we want and need. We surround ourselves with passive entertainments instead of inventing or discovering our own.

Subtly or overtly, we’re constantly sold on the notion that if we want to be happy, we must acquire and ingest more — more things, more information, more experiences, more external approval.

But that consumption-centric approach to life tends to harm our well-being. It leaves us vulnerable to runaway cravings, and it restricts our opportunities to express ourselves in more inventive, satisfying ways.

So how can we break free from this dynamic and find a better balance between our creative and consumptive appetites? We explored some central themes:

Creativity Reframed

  • Creativity is often equated with artistic ventures (e.g., painting, writing), but its essence is available in any pursuit in which you are actively making something happen by participating in or producing an experience — as opposed to just passively taking something in.
  • Seen in this light, meditating, mindfully relating to another person, problem-solving, or embarking on conscious behavior change can all be considered creative acts.
  • Although watching TV, playing video games, shopping,  and perusing social media may appeal to our hunger for creative outlets (in part because they trigger similar releases of dopamine and other feel-good brain chemicals), they generally don’t have the same net-positive effect, and often fuel an addictive desire for more.
  • Compulsively seeking attention and approval from others can be another form of consumption — even though it might involve some creative manipulations on the part of the recipient.

Relationship Review

  • There’s an inverse correlation between consumption and creativity: The more we consume, the less inclined we are to create; the less we create, the more inclined we are to consume.
  • Chronic overconsumption (of stuff, food, external stimulation) can result in a case of the blahs — aimlessness, apathy, even low-grade depression.
  • Striving to consume less is one means of triggering our latent creativity. This may be one reason for the rise of trends like minimalism, DIY, and KonMari decluttering.

Evolutionary Mismatch

  • For most of human history, our ancestors created almost constantly: They hunted and gathered what they ate, built their own tools and shelters, and related intimately with other people and the natural world. Today, by comparison, we create very little of what we consume, and we consume vastly more. Research suggests that this unprecedented imbalance is contributing to  physical, mental, and emotional dysfunction.
  • Creative pursuits produce “flow” experiences, and they build what psychologists call self-efficacy — a sense of confidence that we can accomplish whatever we set out to do. This triggers a positive feedback loop that inspires us to create more, and to fully enjoy the rewards of our innate capacity. For this reason, seeking opportunities to flex our creative muscles may be one of the most powerful prescriptions for health and happiness.


Dallas suggests: Identify one or two places where you mindlessly overconsume (TV, food, social media, etc.), and pick a creative replacement activity instead. Some options: Join a discussion-oriented book club; plant an herb or vegetable garden; write in a journal.

Pilar suggests: Swap some screen time (even a half hour) in favor of an activity that improves your personal environment or quality of life.  Look for some small way you can creatively contribute to your own real-life daily experience: Declutter a messy area, for instance, or reorganize and arrange your bedside table to be more beautiful.

Listen and Learn: Check out this and other episodes of The Living Experiment at You can subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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