I came across an interesting article in the online guardian.co.uk lifestyle section the other day. The article written by Oliver Burkeman and titled “Working with your hands: the secret to happiness” , asks why we are generally happier working with creative and practical tasks. This question in one form or another has been the topic of many discussions I’ve had over the years with both friends and random strangers.
Many of my friends and myself for that matter, like our jobs. We wanted to study the topic, worked hard to get a job in our chosen field, and in todays economic climate in Ireland, most of us are working even harder to keep that job. Surely after all that hard work and effort to get where we are, we should feel happy, content and fulfilled?
This however seems not always to be the case. Almost everyone, who have ever felt the joy of creating something and being happy with the result agrees with me. There are many closet (and some not so closet) crafters out there. We spend our break planning the next craft project and discussing the ongoing one. When we finally get home it feels like the necessities of running a normal life and maintaining a house (if not to sparkling perfection, at least to a standard where people do not think they’ve walked into a recycling centre, and even at that, there are days…) feels like it’s really getting in the way of perfect happiness.
This would be that small intimate area where it’s just you and your PROJECT. The area is set up the way you want it. Your brushes are right there, the teapot positioned just so, and your materials radiates promise. At that moment it does not matter what else is wrong with the world, right there and then, everything is alright.
Even in failing there is enjoyment. Yes hours of labour are gone, but you can learn from the mishap. You know where it’s gone wrong and you will have a good idea what you need to do to fix it. It’s not abstract, convoluted or dependant on anyone else. Its your mistake, your problem and you will solve it, thus putting you in charge of the outcome. True you might not be in complete control of the medium you are using, or the techniques, but your approach and what you will do is. Of how many things in our life can we make this claim?
In comparison to this many of us are now in jobs that, while worthwhile and interesting are the type of positions where you are but one small part contributing to the larger picture. Your efforts and actions do have a concrete result but it is so far removed that it cannot be easily perceived and comprehended in relation to your own efforts.
This is one of the reasons crafts as a hobby and career might be increasingly popular. We long to have a job where we can look at the result of our labors, and if we are lucky, see the enjoyment it brings to others. We want to be able to say “I did that” and be proud of what we have done. When you are in charge of your own project it does not matter whether or not you are following the same policy as your last project. No one will object if you implement new untried methods at a moments notice. There is no boss standing over you to implement his (or hers) ideas on what you are doing. You can spend as little or as long as you want on producing the wanted result.
Often the hours will fly by without notice, the tea will go cold and the fire will die down unnoticed you are so engrossed in your work. You just want to do one more thing before you wrap it up. When finally the surrounding world intrudes into your consciousness again you look up bleary eyed and shocked at the time, but very happy. The result of this? It will lie in front of you and bring a smile to your face as you look at it.
Oliver Burkeman in the aforementioned guardian article sums up the feeling. The article concludes, “I’d been deeply absorbed, I was happily tired and, if the stone I’d been working on had been destined for some real-life monument or building, I’d have been able to say: look, there, that’s what I did, and it’s going to last”.