Personal Happiness and Creative Output

For many years now, I’ve believed that my personal happiness is tied to the quality and quantity of my creative output.

I’ve held this belief without being aware of it until recently. Nonetheless, it has had a profound negative effect on how I approach my work and hobbies.

According to this belief, I can have anything I want in life—a loving partner, good mental health, a big group of supportive friends, a fulfilling job—if only I can consistently produce software, blog posts, fiction, or music at a high enough quality.

Conversely, the reason I have bad dates, fall prey to anxiety, or lose touch with my friends is because I’m not doing enough good creative work.

Yes, I know how farcical it sounds when written out like that, but so many of the harmful convictions we hold sound like that when they’re written down in plain English.

I only discovered these feelings while trying to puzzle out why every hobby I have stresses me out instead of helping me relax. I’ve tied my self-worth to my creative output to such a degree that every flaw in my work feels like a flaw in myself. Taking a break from the work feels like I’m giving up on a glorious future that’s just within my reach.

This is clearly a bad place to be, but how did I get here?

I feel that my early success with programming has led to the association I’ve formed between work and personal happiness.

I started taking software development seriously right around time the tech industry in India was starting to grow at a breakneck pace. My programming skills helped me find work that paid well, and the money I made helped me gain financial independence at an early age. Financial independence led to personal independence, which helped me build a life I had only dreamed of when I was younger.

At some subconscious level, this early success made my brain form an association between work and personal happiness. The correlation was clear as day: being good at programming improved my personal life. But we all know what they say about correlations, right?

I have to keep reminding myself that the reason my personal life improved was because I made a conscious effort to improve it, not because I got better at writing code. It wasn’t my code that made new friends, went on dates, exercised, ate healthier, went to therapy, and sought out new experiences. It was me. Even if I’d been a terrible programmer—or picked a different career path altogether—it’s possible that I would’ve ended up in a similar situation that I’m in today.

Being good at my work definitely allowed me freedoms that I otherwise might not have had, but it wasn’t the only thing that helped me become the person I am today. More importantly, just because it happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again.

If I keep thinking of creative work as my one and only path to personal happiness, I’ll end up taking all the joy out of my job and hobbies. Even worse, if I choose to only focus on my creative output at the expense of everything else, I’ll avoid doing the work that actually helps me grow as a person. Writing more blog posts won’t help me run a 5k; learning Haskell won’t help me go on more dates.

It’s easy to write all of this out, but changing what I’ve believed for fifteen years will take a lot of effort. Confronting this subconscious belief was half the battle. Now that I know, I can begin to change how I approach my life and work.


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