Creativity vs. Consumption

We live in a culture that encourages us to consume far more than we create. That’s a dynamic that directly undermines both our health and happiness. Learn why, and how you can achieve a more empowering balance.

Creating — whether preparing a good meal or exchanging witty banter with an old friend — can bring deep satisfaction. Consumption — whether enjoying a fine wine or a riveting Game of Thrones episode — can also be a delightful experience.

But when our creativity- and consumption-based pleasures get out of balance, our health and happiness start to suffer. Giving without receiving can be exhausting, while consuming without producing can feel aimless.

In this week’s episode of The Living Experiment, we explore the dynamic relationship between creativity and consumption, the historic events that have led to our modern-day imbalance, and some strategies for establishing a healthier equilibrium.

“Creativity vs. Consumption” Episode Highlights

  • Defining, in thoughtful terms, the key concepts of consumption (3:05) and creation (3:35)
  • Dallas’s observations of behavior changes in people on the Whole30 program, and how they inspired his interest in the creativity/consumption dynamic (4:40)
  • The virtuous cycle of making positive changes that boost your self-confidence (8:10)
  • An evolutionary mismatch: how our DNA is hardwired for a balance of creativity and consumption very different from how we’re living today (9:50)
  • How Pilar’s personal experience of the consumption/creativity imbalance motivated her to create Experience Life magazine, and the confirming feedback she got from readers (10:35)
  • A historical overview of the shift from creation to consumption (12:40)
  • The Agricultural Revolution, and how it changed our fundamental rhythms of life (14:25)
  • The impact of trade and transactional relationships on the rise of consumerism – “What can I get for myself from you?” (15:05)
  • The Industrial Revolution, and how mechanized production translated to less work for more goods, creating the economic forces that shaped consumer society (15:40)
  • How the overconsumption of stuff has led us to want more of everything and affected our interpersonal relationships (18:00)
  • The evolutionary drivers behind the desire to accumulate things (19:35)
  • The inverse relationship between creation and consumption, and the damage caused by mindless overconsumption (22:15)
  • How changing one small thing, whether nutrition, activity, sleep or mindset, can lead to profound life transformation (23:40)
  • Meditation as a means of combating harmful consumption patterns (24:10)
  • The dopamine loop activated by digital experiences, and how instant gratification creates a need for increasingly amped-up rewards (24:50)
  • Research on how simple, hands on tasks can help counteract addictive tendencies (27:30)
  • Lessons of the “trust-fund rat study” — how rats that didn’t have to work to find their food ended up more sick, fat, and depressed than rats that did (29:40)
  • Upgrading your media consumption (31:45)
  • Dallas’s “More Social Less Media” program – balancing creative social interaction with mindful media intake (33:15)
  • The value of examining our effort to get love and affection from other people (34:40)
  • Why cooking a meal with another person can be a profoundly uplifting experience (36:55)
  • Suggested experiments for the week (38:20)

Identify one or two places where you mindlessly over-consume, and pick a creative replacement activity instead.

  • Examples: Join a book club, plant a vegetable garden, pick up a musical instrument, or write in a journal.
  • “If your goal is ‘reduce consumption,’ be more creative; if your goal is ‘be more creative,’ reduce consumption.”

1) Reduce your in-car media consumption, and instead make a creative effort to drive with exceptional kindness and generosity.

  • Minimize dependence on music, news, texting, and phone-based interactions.
  • Drive with the most awareness and thoughtfulness you can muster; rather than thinking about others as obstacles in your way, be on the lookout for how you can assist and support others during your commute.
  • Examples: Anticipate people who might be trying to merge into your lane, slow down, and wave them in; make up kind and compassionate stories about the iffy behaviors of other drivers.
  • Recognize that you can choose the attitude you want to adopt in any given moment, and how this gives you the opportunity to improve your own and others’ experiences.

2) Swap some screen time in favor of an activity that improves your personal environment or quality of life. 

  • Invest at least part of your habitual media-consumption time (even a half hour) in the service of your own happiness.  Look for some small way you can creatively contribute to own real-life daily experience or sense of wellbeing instead.
  • Examples: Declutter a messy area, reorganize and arrange the bedside table to be more beautiful, vacuum out the silverware drawer, or clear out long-expired spices or supplements. Deal with some small annoyance or toleration you’ve been putting off.

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  • The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute, fact-filled look at the dark side of our production and consumption patterns — and the origins of our consumer economy.
  • Dallas’s blog article, “Porn, Shame, and Doughnuts”, which digs into the psychology and physiology of addictive behaviors and instantly-available stimuli.
  • The Living Experiment episode on “Addiction”, which touches on how simple, creative tasks can help to overcome dependencies.
  • The Trust Fund Rat Study as explained in a Scientific American article by Dr. Kelly Lambert (the study’s author), exploring the link between hands-on pursuits, increased resilience and decreased depression.
  • On Being, a podcast by Peabody-Award-winning journalist Krista Tippett exploring what it means to be human and how we can live our best lives in the 21st century.
  • The Minimalists Podcast — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’s ongoing discussion about living a meaningful life with less stuff.