I do not consider myself a happy person. This is partially because of my ongoing relationship with depression and anxiety. While I have created a lifestyle that supports my mental health, I’m wary of any extreme emotional states — including happiness.
Lately, however, I’ve become aware of a deeper narrative that’s attached to my ability to be happy in the work that I do. As a long-time creative who has spent 11+ years as a freelancer/contractor, I always assumed that struggle was the trade-off for doing what I loved.
At least part of this is due to the overarching capitalist and cultural narrative that — as productive members of society — we can have money or happiness but not both. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s taken me this long to see that lie for what it is.
In the book Rehearsing With Gods, Bread & Puppet Theater creator Peter Schumann says, “Happiness is not important.” Despite this, the “Circus of the Basic Human Needs” — a performance created by Bread & Puppet — did an in-depth exploration of what human happiness is.
One of the points from the piece that later made its way into the 2002 calendar read, “We need ALL GOOD THINGS: FOOD, SLEEP, HEALTH. We need ECSTACY, and MOUNTAINS, and FRIVOLITIES THAT FIT OUR FRUGALITY.”
This lends itself to Bread & Puppet’s Why Cheap Art? Manifesto, something I come back to frequently as a reminder of the necessity of art. Not as a luxury but as something that is an essential part of the human experience.
After years of mental and emotional struggle, a decade-and-a-half-long eating disorder, an episode of burnout that landed me in the hospital and under the knife, starting over constantly in every facet of my life, and otherwise working myself ragged, not being happy in the work that I do no longer feels like an option.
My current financial situation has me feeling like I’ll be working the rest of my life and so there is a desire to make that possibility as enjoyable as possible. More than that, doing work that makes me happy feels like an act of rebellion in a world that profits off people’s unhappiness.
Embracing happiness in the work that I do — and choosing work that makes me happy — means letting go of the lament that I were able to do more socially sensible work and be happy with that. Unfortunately, any time I’ve tried to do this, I’ve quickly become the most horrible version of myself.
So, happy work it is. Happy work I can support myself off of financially. And, most importantly, happy work that allows me to guide others towards the creative work that will allow them to be happier too.
Tell me, how does happiness factor into the work that you do?