Art & Development

Jonathan Haidt on the uses of adversity

In The Happiness Hypothesis (New York: Basic Books, 2006), psychology professor Jonathan Haidt explores the uses of adversity. His points seem to validate my issues with pundits’ declarations that the recession would be beneficial for artists (elaborated in “Portrait of an Artist, Wily and Engaged” on Art Practical). Haidt explains:

People need adversity, setbacks, and perhaps even trauma to reach the highest level of strength, fulfillment, and personal development

However, we oughtn’t

celebrate suffering, prescribe it for everyone, or minimize the moral imperative to reduce it where we can.

Based on numerous studies, Haidt concludes that some conditions for the uses of adversity can be inferred:

For adversity to be maximally beneficial, it should happen at the right time (young adulthood), to the right people (those with the social and psychological resources to rise to the challenges and find benefits) and to the right degree (not so severe as to cause PTSD).

To refine my position by way of paraphrasing Haidt, it’s inappropriate to celebrate the adversities that artists endure during recessions, especially considering the artists who lack the social and psychological resources, or find the adversities too severe, to continue practicing art.


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