Thursday, May 17, 2012

Creative Success and Financial Success: Very Fickle Friends

For a writer, creative success and financial success are very fickle friends.

Many well-known writers didn't make enough of a living while they were alive, including one of my heroes (gulp, bad sign), Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan. Now, he would be a millionaire. He died very poor at the end of the 1930's. Then there's Edgar Rice Burroughs at the other end of the spectrum, who was incredibly rich. Some talented writers, especially ones that are "ahead of their time," never make a decent living or are recognized for their gift. Most never become very wealthy. This is a bitter truth of life (or our culture). You have to decide what's more important: being creatively successful and actually contributing something valuable to the body of literary work, or, being financially successful with it. They often don't go together. Some who are vastly talented are not rewarded financially, and many who are rewarded financially are not vastly talented.

Being a fan of authors like Leiber and Howard (also Bradbury, who has been lucky enough to be recognized for his work, and Philip K. Dick, who was partially recognized, but again, would be a millionaire now), I've come to accept that even if I write at their level, and I hope I will be there in the next couple of years (I believe I have the talent), I may never see the proper financial reward. I'm here for a purpose and it's not to make money or be famous. Those things might be nice. Maybe they wouldn't. A decent living is my only desire in that area. Beyond a certain income point (about $40-$50K/year according to studies), happiness does not increase.

My joy and meaning in life come from the work, getting up each day and being able to write. My joy comes from following in the footsteps of great writers that made my life and the lives of millions of others, deeper, richer and more joyful. When I'm on my deathbed, that will give me peace. All the money in the world, without that, will not.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happiness Is Not Always the Appropriate Response to Life

I have a friend who's going through a rough time. Her friends are making her feel even worse by saying that she's "choosing" to feel unhappy. They're pushing the idea that "a person chooses to be happy or unhappy" down her throat. I guess that's what friends are for.

Okay. In a sense we are responsible for our own happiness. That idea empowers us and prevents us from blaming other people for our feelings. But that doesn't mean we're always in control of how we feel. Nobody is, not even the greatest Zen masters. We're human beings driven by unconscious impulses, despite how rational we like to believe that we are. (As evidence, in biological scientific terms, the human body transmits 11 million bits of information per second (bps) to the brain, but our conscious mind can only process up to 50 bps (Information Theory, Britannica Online)).

But there's another important issue here. Happiness is not always the appropriate response to your life's situation (any more than it is always the appropriate response to the situations of others). Sometimes, unhappiness is a very appropriate response to what's happening in your life. Being unhappy can motivate you to make changes that can lead to growth as an individual and create more meaning in your own life and contribute more meaning to the world. Happiness can do that too. Anger can do that. Sadness can do that. Emotions are not bad or good, they are responses to internal and external stimuli. What we do with the emotions is what is important.

Americans are obsessed with being happy. If you're not happy, people act like you're a loser or you have a mental illness. Happiness has become a competition. There's so much pressure to be happy that it makes people miserable. That expectation to be happy all the time is a lot of pressure. A better goal might be to be accepting of the way you feel and to have the confidence to know that you can move beyond those feelings or channel them in a creative or constructive way. Another better goal might be equanimity. Equanimity is a state of mental or emotional stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment.

If you let go of the need to be happy all the time, and don't let others peer pressure you into feeling that way, you might find that happiness comes a bit easier when it comes and you won't be so worried that you'll "lose it." And when you're unhappy, you can accept that state without being miserable about the fact that you're unhappy, and hopefully find ways to work out of that state, or, be accepting and at peace as you wait for it to pass. Because it will pass. As will all your other emotions. They come and go, and they're all a part of being human.

And even if you are unhappy most of the time (as some great people in history were), you can still lead a meaningful life and be a loving person. And I think that's more important than being happy.