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Are you a creative type, or do you tend to focus your energies on consuming? All of us of course naturally do both, and each form of functioning can be understood as essential to the other.
If we want to live a creative life, we must at least consume enough to meet our basic material needs. At the same time, we cannot consume very much without enabling creativity – on our part and especially that of people generally.
In my book, The Seven Keys of Natural Life, I discuss the importance of creative human life in some depth. And though creativity and consumption are both natural, and naturally circular, we have good reason to believe that creativity-focused life – or high creation/low consumption lifestyles – are superior overall.
All Of Us Live On A ‘Consumption-Creation’ Continuum
This is because creativity-oriented life tends to be more natural, satisfying, beneficial, intelligent, and sustainable than living patterns marked by high consumption levels, even ones with significant amounts of creativity. Put another way, life that is principally creative, especially when aligned with or focused on crucial natural needs, often produces greater personal and social health, or natural adaptivity, than other patterns of modern living.
I would like to acquaint you with these crucial ideas, and the discussion that follows will: 1) define consumption and creativity, 2) discuss their respective natural merits and limitations, and 3) make the case for personal and collective functioning that is highly creative and also attentively limits excessive – distracting, inhibiting, unhelpful, irrational, and unsustainable – consumption.
Consumption Versus Creation
You already may have a good idea what the words consumption and creation mean, and the very different forms of natural functioning they describe. Both involve the use of resources, but in dissimilar and even opposing ways. Consumption, in its essence, is the using of resources – from raw materials to finished goods and services, and even intangibles such as security and time – as they are presented or available to us.
By contrast, creation entails the use of resources in new or inventive ways – or the production of new value with them in the terminology of economists – resulting in the generation of transformed, more efficient, or more effective resources, goods, or conditions compared with earlier ones. (In this definition, resource use that does not increase value is technically not creation, regardless of our aim or intention.) Since both consumption and creation involve the use of resources, we might be tempted to think of them as equivalent in important regards, but this would overlook essential differences in each mode of natural functioning.
To understand these differences, we might start by considering that creation, of its nature or by definition, engenders new value in the world. As such, it offers superior material outcomes for any given set of resources or conditions. While this added value may be small in any instance, compounded over time and across many acts of value creation, the result can be enormous and transformative. A simple example of this is a series of decisions to creatively invest rather than spend or consume money – if sustained, a marked shift in our wealth and freedom can result.
But a deeper understanding of the greater natural value of creation over consumption comes from considering creativity’s potential impact on health or natural adaptivity (our ability to thrive and survive over time in an evolving world, and thus amidst naturally varying and gradually increasing health challenges). Here, a basic and far-reaching difference between consumption and creation can be seen.
After all, while health or adaptivity requires some amount of resources, to ensure viability and the implements of adaptation, health can be seen more fundamentally as resourcefulness, or the ability to do more with less, rather than as resource-use, or the naturally primitive ability to make less from more. Across living nature, and modern life, it is principally creativity, rather than consumption, that enables the progressive and sustainable realization of ever-greater adaptive power, or health, from environmental resources.
To assess this important idea and enduring natural principle, you might take a moment to consider how much natural activity, or modern economic endeavor, is superfluous to the promotion of true species, or even individual-level, advances in quality of functioning. While simpler species may not be able to circumvent or surmount this natural inefficiency, modern people almost certainly can, with enormous implications for our individual and overall well-being, quality of life, sustainability, and progressivity – or again, our attainable levels of natural health.
In practical and contemporary terms – and employing the three-variable HPI metric (happiness*longevity/consumption) that I use in The Seven Keys as an approximate measure of modern adaptive health – creative and adequately pragmatic life today can allow us to: 1) become happier (or more naturally engaged in life), 2) remain so longer (that is, live longer and more prudently ), and 3) use fewer resources (or live more resourcefully, effectively, and sustainably) than consumption-focused lifestyles.
As an indicator of this, modern nations with the highest HPI scores are also among the most inventive ones as well, especially in areas that preserve social well-being (see New Economics Foundation HPI Scores). Indeed, many of these nations would score even higher without the presence of extractive economic and political institutions supplying resources to high-consumption areas of the world.
Consumption & Creation In Context
At a personal level, it’s not hard to see how an excessive focus on consumption, and even high rates of consumption in themselves, might curtail creativity, adaptivity, sustainability, quality of life, and thus natural health – for oneself and as this pattern of life becomes a social norm.
As discussed in The Seven Keys, some of the clear and reliable effects of excessive consumption include:
- Irrational feelings of scarcity and insecurity amid objective abundance
- Reduced attentiveness, curiosity, and intrinsic enjoyment of life
- Habituation and the need for increasing resources to maintain happiness
- Norming of consumption and reduced future investment (hedonic treadmilling)
- Greater required wealth levels for social currency and basic well-being
- Reduced incentives for and an undervaluing of creativity and innovation
- Increased stress and distraction, reducing our capacity to create
Given this broad and crucial set of potential effects, I would encourage you to consider your own life, and consumption levels and goals, and how they may invoke some or all of these natural dynamics in and around you.
As highlighted before, while creative life may be a wiser, more efficient, more satisfying, and naturally healthier way to use resources, it still involves resources and can potentially suffer from a number of natural drawbacks, especially when pursued in an extreme, maximalist, inattentive, insufficiently informed, or denaturalized way. These creativity-related issues, many of which correspond to the consumption effects above, include:
- Indifference to enabling resources and adaptive health needs
- Process preoccupation, with inadequate extrinsic goals and accountability
- Unresolved creative gaps, leading to frustration and reduced output
- Social and value insensitivity, under-serving both our self and social group
- Inadequate wealth and resources to permit progressive creativity and value
- Reduced incentives for and a de-norming of revitalizing consumption
- Increased stress and distraction, reducing our capacity to create
Again, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on this list of considerations, and how your current creative activities and goals might be or become subject to some or all of them.
With these two sets of ideas about consumption and creation in mind, I would like to introduce the following graphical model of how consumption and creativity are naturally related. The model is a simplification, since potential states of high consumption and high creativity are not included (a two-dimensional chart would allow this). But my approach it consistent with the idea that high states of consumption, in themselves, are often inimical to creativity and especially to natural resourcefulness, adaptation, and health.
Before concluding our discussion, I would encourage you to locate your current dominant or average functioning on the 1-10 continuum, remembering that a score of 10 ultimately may be less adaptive, or less creative or valuable, than positions somewhat to the left of this extreme in the continuum – ones still marked by high creativity but with adequate, enabling, enriching, socializing, or revitalizing consumption levels.
Beginning today, I would encourage you to become and remain attentive to both the degree and quality of consumption and creativity in your life and surroundings. Each form of using resources can contribute to health and quality of life, and each are subject to natural limitations and can cause reduced natural health and progressivity when taken to excess.
I would also like to leave you with the idea that our personal consumption and creation choices never occur in a vacuum and are always influenced by the consumption and creation choices of others, and the social norms and context they form in total.
Thus, while we may indeed markedly improve our personal health and quality of life through more attentive consumption and creation choices, these personal health effects normally can be greatly increased through social policies that seek to optimize such individual choices over time and across people – and thus amid natural change and the natural challenge to become progressively healthier in time.
Health & best wishes,
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