The 4 Kinds of Happiness [A small guide for artists and creators]

When looking at the Creative World today, it feels like Life just threw her entire bag of shiny, sparkling marbles all over the schoolyard and everyone is zig-zagging, head-butting each other, to catch the biggest and shiniest ones. And no matter how big of a pile we manage to collect, we’ll always find someone with a bigger one.

I stumbled upon an article today, written by David Brooks, a columnist at local rag The New York Times; When Life Asks for Everything. The very first paragraph struck a chord with me, mentioning The Four Kinds of Happiness.

The lowest kind of happiness is material pleasure, having nice food and clothing and a nice house. Then there is achievement, the pleasure we get from earned and recognized success. Third, there is generativity, the pleasure we get from giving back to others. Finally, the highest kind of happiness is moral joy, the glowing satisfaction we get when we have surrendered ourselves to some noble cause or unconditional love.

Those of you that have followed me for a while, knows that I’ve had quite a few ups and downs the last few years. From laying in bed crying, hugging my dog, without the slightest idea how to ever be able to stand up again, feeling so filled with exploding happiness that it’s hard to reach down to the ground over which I’m floating. In those happy moments – which is nowadays the heaviest of the scale pans – I reflect a lot of happiness and content. And how to create with pleasure.

I have never believed in the romanticised image of the Starving Artist. When the misery and suffering are nourishing the creativity and then – and only then – will great art be squeezed into the light. Nah, I just don’t buy it.

But again, as always, I can only speak for myself. For my creativity to come out from under the pile of safety blankets it’s otherwise hiding under, I need to have my basic needs covered. I need to know that I will have enough money to cover food and expenses, I need to have people that I trust around me and so on.

The Internet today is the artists best friend and absolutely worst enemy. As soon as I am not cautious, I start comparing myself to others, instead of myself. Why would I do that? We come from completely different backgrounds, with different preconditions and life goals!

Back to the article and the theory of the 4 Kinds of Happiness.

Where does it fit into our lives as artists and creators?

Even if I realized years back (not saying I live as I learn though…) that possessions rarely equals happiness, there are some things that ACTUALLY make your life better. The Pleasure of Possessions kicks in when you have a good enough bed that will offer you a good nights sleep. An old desk that will not only give you a place to create but also inspire you with its history. Or buying a new – and slightly expensive – set of pens that you know will last for a long time. The Things that have a deeper purpose for You than just being a big marble to show-off to others, it will make you happier.

The Pleasure of Achievement includes earning success. One of the most dangerous words in the dictionary. There are two kinds of success. The first that can only exist as long as it’s fed with the praise and acknowledgment from others. This exact point is where most artists and creators manage to climb on the for steps of happiness. Most of the time they give up even before getting here.

The second kind of success doesn’t change whether it’s known just by you, or by the entire planet. Where you have crafted your picture of success from YOU and what you want, rather than looking at what others are doing and jealously copy-pasting that. A marvelous feature of this happiness level is that Envy is too lazy to climb that far. He will stay behind, in a corner, snacking on sugary fast food.

When you have the few Things that are truly necessary to live and let go of envy and rivalry you have nothing holding you back from helping others to live a better and more fulfilled life. The Pleasure of Generativity – to give back – comes from creating art that not only makes other humans laugh or understand more about our World, but creating art that is bursting with your own true personality. Helping others – it can be the smallest piece of inspiration – makes our body temperature increase (figuratively, I have no evidence what so ever that it ACTUALLY gives us fever…)

I have a new favorite café – from which I am writing this. The walls of the place are jam-packed with framed pictures in all sizes with various South American motifs. The air is filled with Latin American pop-hits about love good enough in any movie with Antonio Banderas from the 90’s. And I have never seen a more colorful motley crew as in this place. Everyone has character.

I recently started experimenting with both oil painting and a more cartoony way of drawing. The latter was after meeting a kick-ass artist from Gothenburg, a 3-hour drive from where I live.

I love his style and he inspired me to start drawing people I encounter and I’ve found that the best place to find people to draw is this very café.

A day after sending the reference picture and my first attempt to make a caricature, he replied again and told me he was so inspired by the picture of the heavy guy with huge earphones, hunching over a tiny mixing console, that he decided to make his own version of him.

Of course, it was way “better” than mine. A few years ago, my stomach would’ve started to fill up with envy and hopelessness. Not today. Because being able to inspire others, is above being successful on the happiness scale. I don’t compare my art today with others, I compare it my art yesteryear. And the fact that we managed to create a small circular motion of inspiration between the two of us, felt great!

The Pleasure of Moral Joy is closely connected with this. When you do not put yourself first. When you create for someone else and using your talent to make the world a better place. Volunteering for an NGO, transforming grey walls with colorful murals in a hospital or teaching refugee kids how to tell their story through movies. Things that will give you enough contentment without even sharing it online.

These words are only my thoughts. It is not the one and only right way. But I hope it can inspire you as it inspired me!

Do yourself a favor. Find a blank piece of paper or a new page in your notebook. Write down the Four Kinds of Happiness on the left side. Then make to columns to the right. Fill the first one with all (if any) ways that you find happiness in each of the four ways. In the next column, write down all the ways you could find happiness in those four.

You should do this for yourself, but nothing would inspire me than if you would share it with me!

Here’s the latest post:

Jens Lennartsson
Written by
Jens Lennartsson

I want more people to create and become more fulfilled persons. I’m an artist and storyteller, living in Sweden. Most comfortable in my 1973 Mercedes camper van.

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