It is not unusual for famous creative people to be deeply committed to their creative game, to take pleasure in creating, but off the work to be morose and hostile. Picasso enjoyed painting, but as soon as he lay down his brushes he turned into a rather unpleasant man. This and countless similar examples are a reminder that having achieved flow in one activity does not necessarily guarantee that it will be carried over to the rest of life.
If we enjoyed work and friendships, and faced every challenge as an opportunity to develop new skills, we would be getting rewards out of living that are outside the realm of ordinary life. Yet even this would be not enough to assure us of creating happily ever after. As long as enjoyment follows piecemeal from activities not linked to one another in a meaningful way, one is still vulnerable to the vagaries of chaos. Even the most successful creative career eventually runs dry. To approach happiness as closely as is humanly possible, a last step in the control of your experience is necessary.
What this involves is turning all life into a unified flow experience. If a creative person sets out to achieve a difficult enough goal, from which all other goals logically follow, and if she invests all energy in developing skills to reach that goal, then actions and feelings will be in harmony, and the separate parts of life will fit together, and each activity will make sense in the presence, as well as in view of the past and of the future.
But isn’t it incredibly naive to expect to live happily forever after? To have a coherent overall life story? After all a lot of people have been busy demonstrating that existence has no purpose, that chance and impersonal forces rule our fate, and that all values are relative and hence arbitrary. It is true that life has no meaning, if by that we mean a supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience, a goal that is valid for every individual. But it does not follow that life cannot be given meaning. Much of what we call culture and civilization consists in efforts people have made, generally against overwhelming odds, to create a sense of purpose for themselves and their descendants. It is one thing to recognize that life is, by itself, meaningless. It is another thing entirely to accept this with resignation.
From your point of view as creative heroine, it does not matter what your ultimate quest story is, provided it is compelling enough to order a lifetime’s worth of passionate energy. The challenge might involve the desire to have the resolution to find a cure for cancer. As long as it provides clear objectives, clear rules for action, and a way to concentrate and become involved, any quest can serve to give meaning to your life.
Story and Happiness
Creating a story which provides meaning involves bringing order to the contents of your mind by integrating one’s actions into a unified flow experience. People who find their lives meaningful usually have a quest story that is challenging enough to take up all their energies, a quest tha can give significance to their lives. We may refer to this process as achieving purpose. To experience flow one must set goals for one’s creative actions. The creative goal in itself is usually not important, what matters is that it focuses your attention and involves in an achievable, enjoyable activiy. In a similar way, some creative people are able to bring the same sharp focus to their passionate energy throughout the entirety of their lives. The unrelated goals of the separate flow activitities merge into an all encompassing set of challenges you do.
There are very different ways to establish this directionality. A unified quest is what gives meaning to life. It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges. We may call this resolution in the pursuit of one’s goals. What counts is not so much whether a person actually achieves what she has set out to do; rather, it matters whether effort has been expended to reach the goal, instead of being diffused or wasted. Few things are sadder than encountering a person who know exactly what she should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it.