Do we hold the secret of happiness in our own two hands?

hands

Photo by Drew Hays via Unsplash

Creating something with your hands fosters pride and satisfaction, but it also allows you to physically express the things that spring up in your mind, in the moment.”

Carrie Barron & Alton Barron, The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness With Your Own Two Hands

I’ve been reading The Creativity Cure by Carrie and Alton Barron recently – she is a pyschoanalyst and he is a hand surgeon – and the central ideas of the book are that creativity is the antidote to depression and that we all need to work with our hands more. They are advocates of writing in longhand and I’ve beeen mulling over the difference between handwriting and typing. I do think that there’s something more satisfying about the tactile process of holding a pen and writing on paper. Obviously, it’s not an efficient way to write your magnum opus (that would be Scrivener), but there’s a lot to be said for getting your first ideas down physically onto paper, and for journalling, that most intimate kind of writing, to be by hand, into a notebook.

The Barrons quote psychiatrist Andrew Brink as saying that creativity is “the original anti-depressant,” and psychoanalyst and paediatrician D.W. Winnicott as saying that it is creativity “more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.” As they go on to say:

The more you reshape something outside yourself, the more you reshape your inside. But the converse is also true: transforming what is inside – instincts, conflicts, feelings, aesthetics, and knowledge – into something outside can heal the self. Psychoanalysts Janine Chassegeut-Smirgel and Jean Sanville, who have studied creativity, have cited the role of creative acts in self-repair. Tending, repairing, making and reshaping help us express and work through inner conflicts, though we may not even recognise or verbalize what is occurring… Using your hands… facilitates self-reliance, psychological movement, creative activity, and happiness.”

The twin driving forces of their ‘Creativity Cure’ come from two kinds of journal writing, one reflecting on past experiences and behaviour and one attempting to shift to a consciously positive perspective, plus a focus on working with your hands every day. They write:

If you take no other message from this book, take this: use your hands. Make, create, repair, cook, perform rote tasks, play an instrument. Your hands are very important for your happiness. We are affected by a cultural malaise that results from the overuse of computers and smartphones, and we have to make conscientious efforts to compensate. We have to be calculating about living naturally. Even if it means taking the long road or having a less polished product, go for it. Do it yourself if you can. This is about mental health. Keep your hands engaged.”

I thought that was an interesting thing to say – “We have to be calculating about living naturally.” It’s an effort to make things by hand rather than getting them ready made – and more broadly it takes effort and intentionality to live creatively. We have to go out of our way to carve out time for creating in our lives, no one is going to do it for us. But their book also highlights one of the huge reasons to do so, this connection between creativity and happiness, the idea that creating something is a natural anti-depressant.

How can you find time to create something over the next few days? Can you carve out ten minutes? Half an hour? And what about using your hands? Apparently even emptying the dishwasher counts, but true happiness might require baking…

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