Happiness Is… Research Note #5

Studying positive psychology doesn’t make me a happy person.

It doesn’t make me a grateful person. Like Thanksgiving Day, it can only remind me to practice gratitude.

It doesn’t make me immune to negative emotions. I’ve learned strategies for coping with adversity, but I still have to enact them.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

When my sewing machine stopped working two nights ago, the uncertainty of how I’d remain productive during this residency got the better of me. I was under-slept and anxious, and when the machine came back from the repair shop with the presser foot unable to stay in the upright position, I’d had it, and lost my cool.

Thankfully, Montalvo just happens to have a sewing machine to lend me. It didn’t occur to me to even ask. (There it is, fellow artists: Have courage! It doesn’t hurt to ask!)

And when I went back to the shop, the repairman fixed the problem on the spot.

Now I’ve got two working sewing machines and am able to get back to work! For that—really, for art, which provides so many opportunities for flow and purpose—I’m grateful.

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.