One of the best parts about creativity is that we can use it to cope during difficult times. We can channel our pain into all sorts of creative pursuits — such as writing, drawing, dancing, sewing, singing, painting and taking pictures.
We can become more curious about our world, which leads us to become more curious about our lives, as Lee Crutchley writes in his new book How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook.
“The more questions you ask yourself, the more eager you become to discover the answers and the more open you are to the world, the more you will make of it.”
In How to Be Happy Crutchley, an illustrator and designer, shares a slew of creative ways to feel better. The exercises are based on Crutchley’s research, personal experiences and science.
Last year, he reveals in the book, he got really sad. “It was the kind of really sad that is quickly replaced by emptiness, numbness, and an overwhelming sense that everything is doomed and hopeless.”
He further notes:
I spent a lot of time thinking during that period, and I managed to figure out one of the reasons I was feeling so sad, so often. I know this might sound weird, but I realized it was partly because I was trying so very hard to Be HAPPY. The more I tried to be happy, the harder it became, and the harder it became, the sadder I felt.
I don’t remember exactly how or when it happened, but one day I decided to completely give up on trying to be happy. It clearly wasn’t working. I decided I would try to be a bit less sad instead, which felt so much more achievable.
In fact, the working title for the book was “Have You Tried Being Less Sad?” Crutchley believes that this is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves when we’re struggling with sadness.
Below are seven other things you can do when you’re struggling with sadness or anxiety from How to Be Happy (with one being an image from the book from Crutchley’s website).
- Take a photo of something you notice for the first time. This might be everything from a “fleck of color in a friend’s eyes” to “a secret doorway.” Do this for the rest of the week.
- Create a “collage of worries” on one page. Create a “collage of calm” on another page.
- Live today like you’re new to this planet. That is, be curious about everything. “Constantly ask yourself ‘Why.'” For instance, “Why is your coffee brown?” and “Why do newspapers exist?”
- What is one thing you keep dwelling on? Write this thing on a card. (For instance, it might be “I constantly feel like I’m not enough.”) Buy a balloon. Attach your card to the string, and let it go.
- If you were each of these things, what would you be: a color; food; drink; book; movie; song; piece of clothing; vehicle; illness; cartoon character; social network; weather; city; superhero; super-villain; planet. In other words, if you were a color, what color would you be? If you were a food, what food would you be? And so on …
- List 10 negative thoughts, such as “I hate being alone,” on one page. On the opposite page, give these thoughts a more positive spin, such as “I’d like to meet new people.”
When you’re overwhelmed, it can help to reconnect to your creativity. Because in the process of creating, there is a calm, a joy and a sense of play that we can return to. That we can savor.
When we tap into our creativity, we also open our minds. We start entertaining ideas. Instead of negative, black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, we see a rainbow of colors, of options.
When we reconnect to our creativity, we start taking action. And, as Crutchley writes, “The most important thing about feeling less sad is that you actually have to put in some effort, no matter how small.”
What’s a small step you can take right now to healthfully navigate your sadness or anxiety, whether it’s trying one of the above exercises or taking a short walk, or taking several slow breaths, or practicing something else entirely?
This week I’ll also be sharing other creative suggestions for navigating sadness and anxiety. (Update: Here’s that post with 15 more suggestions.)