You don’t make me happy.”

“You deserve to be happy.”

“Happy Birthday” “Happy Hour”

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

We spend a lot of time pursuing happy. So, today, when I got this note from a reader, “Rick I love your site. I’m 55 and wondering about happiness and if it’s even worth bothering to chase anymore.” I had to think about where happiness fits into this whole creativity thing.

The best I can come up with is this. Happy is a feeling we get when our needs our fulfilled. A thirsty man is happy when you give him water, a lonely person is happy when she finds someone to love, an artist is happy when he creates. Once our needs are met, we move on to the pursuit of different happiness. Maslow put it like this:

The chart shows that our needs are met (or not) beginning at the bottom. First, we need food and shelter, then we need to not get eaten by the saber tooth tiger, then we need people to be with, next a sense of belonging, a sense of our own worth and finally a chance to “actualize” or meet our potential as humans. We can only move up the pyramid as we fill each need.

This Hierarchy of Needs is an important thing to remember when you write about the stuff I write about. When I start to talk about esoteric things like “Releasing your creative beast” or “Make your soul happy” I am trying to address needs at the top of the pyramid (and for some, we can only get around to this stuff by mid-life). Well, if you are just out of a job, in a horrible relationship or generally feeling bad about yourself or where your life is, you think I am pitching a bunch of crap. You have more important things to address than drawing on a napkin. You need food, shelter, someone who loves you and a lot more things before you can “make your soul happy.”

To me, happiness is when I am fully engaged. When I am so absorbed in a task that time flies without me feeling tired or enthused, I am happy. This feeling can come when cooking, writing, reading, loving or anything else that engages me. My happiness, of course, isn’t yours.

The point is, getting to a point of awareness, of actualization, comes when you have your most basic needs covered. The reader who jumps into an otherwise innocuous Facebook discussion by talking about her relationship problem or her health issues is telling us that she is hurting because her needs aren’t being met. Hope is what she needs, because she has none, she is asking us to throw her a lifeline.

Where does creativity enter all of this? I believe that creating raises you up to the highest level, if only for a while. There are plenty of moody, starving and crazy artists who find genius when they create, who touch God when they create. Art therapy cures addiction, journaling helps you sort out your feelings and picking up a guitar and banging out a few chords transports you. Mother Teresa certainly skipped to the top of the pyramid, she skipped over the food and shelter thing all together by taking care of others, by creating with love.

I think of creativity as a short cut to the top of the pyramid, I think creativity is applied imagination, a form of love. Creating lets us realize our potential, to actualize, to connect with divinity. If nothing else is going right, try singing the blues, writing your way out or getting fully involved in something that engages your soul.

For a while, you just might understand the happiness thing.


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