A principle in life that has transformed my well-being is one that has become increasingly hard to protect, prioritize, and pursue: choose to make more than you consume.
A few years ago, I realized that consuming had taken up a very large portion of my day. I would watch hours of television every night, justifying to myself that I needed it to decompress from a busy day. I would read so many articles every day to alleviate my pervasive sense of general boredom, but all that led to was even more inertia. The lightbulb moment for me came one day as I watched my friends scrolling through their Instagram feeds mindlessly in the middle of our conversations. I realized that we lived in a world where consumption was too easy, would take up all of the space we had, and that this bent towards absorbing the worlds of others was hurting us, our relationships, and our impact.
Unfortunately, this is not a one and done realization. Recently, Alex and I have been talking about how we felt so frustrated with the experience of using Twitter: the endless scroll of negativity, people complaining, people yelling at other people, with no productive impact or behavior change whatsoever. And then I realized: I had fallen into the trap once again of being a consumer. I could stop engaging with Twitter anytime I wanted, but it was easier not to. It was easier to just keep pressing the little icon and mindlessly soothing myself and avoiding where I could be spending my time.
For me, consuming too much makes me feel drained. It makes me feel sad, frustrated, and paralyzed. It makes me feel like I am wasting my life, but also that there’s no other choice, so why not just go back for a little bit more? Perhaps it’s different for some of you. But on the days when I consume less, and when I create a life centered around making more, I am so much happier, feeling it deep in my bones in a way that invigorates me and inspires me.
Consumption is wonderful when it’s done mindfully and with purpose. I’ve been so inspired by some of the things I’ve seen, read, and observed on social media or the internet. But how many hours did it take for me to sift through the other stuff to get there? (A scary question.)
Our world is set up to capture our attention, to suck us back in to the consumption machine. It tricks us into giving it our attention, and then, to keep it for as long as possible. (Don’t believe me? Head to your Screen Time on your iPhone and take a look at how much time you spend there.)
The research on consumption and well-being is pretty damning. Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that while watching television, most people are actually mildly depressed. People who use social media passively (i.e. the endless scroll) experience worse well-being. (Most people who derive great fulfillment from social media get it because they’re not just consuming!) Further, because our brains are primed to focus on the negative, we pull out the worst part of everything we see – whether that’s terrifying breaking news or someone who invokes jealousy or frustration within us – which becomes the focus of our consumption experience.
To me, the opposite of consumption is making. And my proposal this week to all of you is to consider how you can take just a little bit of consumption time and turn it towards making time.
By making, I mean doing anything that involves you creating something that didn’t exist before. My grandma is an incredible craft artist who makes beautiful quilts and knits and sews every day. She’s being a maker. Someone teaching themselves to cook is being a maker. Someone getting into fitness is being a maker. Someone out playing with their child is being a maker.
Creativity is associated with feeling more positive emotion, and people who practice creative hobbies are far more likely to report that they feel happy and energized when they are engaged in their daily activities. Some studies have even found a causal relationship: if you engage in creative activities on a Monday, then on the Tuesday you’ll report increased positive emotion and flourishing.
Here’s the other thing: you don’t have to commodify your making activity, either. It doesn’t have to become a business, or a side hustle, or something that you ever share with anyone. It can just be for you!
If you’re constantly consuming other people’s experiences, thoughts, memories, and ideas, it’s hard to know your true north. It’s hard to know what you want to make. Our heads are full of other people right now: take the time to figure out what’s going on inside of yours and figure out how to bring it to life, and I guarantee you’ll find more happiness and well-being.
This post was previously published on The New Happy and is republished here with permission from the author.
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