Get Grumpy for Real Change: Dissatisfaction and Creativity

This morning when I got out of bed, my feet hit the floor and a rapid series of thoughts flowed through my head: “What shall I do today, how shall I arrange it, and what will be the outcome?” Coffee had not yet graced my lips, nor had food, but I was already contemplating the greater value of this day to the overall fabric of my life.

This is partly a function of not having a 9-to-5 job which would demand my focus, prompt attendance, and blind obedience. I don’t even really have school tasks with set deadlines – just a couple final drafts of the thesis and a defense, and I could be done with the University of Waterloo forever. I hope that the reader will sympathize with this state before persecuting me of anything so base as laziness.

I would say that I’ve always taken great pleasure in pouring great attention and heart into what I’m doing, and whether or not this entails a significant amount of time and effort is ancillary to the benefits that I derive by engaging with that activity. However, more recently it has come to my attention that I also – and this will be a surprise to no one who knows me – have a bit of a competitive streak and like to be rewarded or noticed for what I’m doing.

So I began to think that perhaps I’m putting a tad too much pressure on every single day of my life as a turning point, a juncture, or a revelation. This day will likely be as uneventful as all the other 355 days which comprise my year. I have to struggle, however, to overcome the pressure that I feel to always be putting my nose to the grindstone and sacrificing personal pleasure for getting ahead in the so-called rat race. I want to be noticed, and yet I don’t like feeling pressured by society to appear perfect. Sometimes it’s nice to relax in a sweater and jeans, read a novel, and shoot the shit all day.

Rather contrary to the expectation I outlined above, I did have a bit of a related epiphany today. Nothing so very moving or great as in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, but still significant.

I think that my dissatisfaction with myself, and my desire to be better and grow as a person while being rewarded or noticed, has frequently encouraged me to take steps that would have been inconceivably scary without that driving impetus. My dissatisfaction with the world and my relationship to it has stimulated deep reflections and meditations on potential solutions, underlying causes, and systematic inefficiencies.

I do not want to use ‘dissatisfaction’ in a negative light; here I think that it’s intensely positive, as it keeps the enrapturing and stultifying waves of complacency at bay. It doesn’t mean that I complain about everything and anything. Rather, to me it is a tool that helps to peel back the layers and layers of normalcy which prevent key, critical questions from being asked. It’s the bullshit detector that I use when people make value statements within flawed leaps of logic.

So why would anyone want to be dissatisfied? Doesn’t that make for a rather unpleasant life? Isn’t it better to be constantly happy, or at least striving for constant happiness?

My answer is a firm and resounding “no”. When you’re a discerning dissatisfied person, you pick and choose what areas of your life you will focus your dissatisfaction on. You do not wake up hating your life and wishing you were dead; in fact, you wake up invigorated because you’re going to use that dissatisfaction to motivate you in something you’re passionate about. Happiness is a brief and transient mental state; dissatisfaction is a firm course of emotional energy that can heighten your creativity.

To prove my point further, I Googled dissatisfaction and creativity and came across this article. Characteristic #7 of creative people:

Creative people are perennially dissatisfied.

Creative people are acutely aware of their dissatisfactions and unfulfilled desires. However, this awareness does not frustrate them. As a matter of fact, they use this awareness as a stimulus to realize their dreams.

I found, in a brief search, few psychological studies on the topic of creativity and dissatisfaction. However, the term “creative dissatisfaction” seems to be floating around on the internet and is used in both religious and business contexts. Clearly, it’s a bit of a topic of discussion but one not frequently raised (perhaps because there are negative stigmas surrounding the word ‘dissatisfaction’).

I would challenge you as the reader to consider how you use dissatisfaction constructively to motivate yourself, change the world around you, or ask insightful critical questions. Then, also think about how dissatisfaction can lead to the unwanted emotional state of discontent – which can breed apathy, rage, and resistance.

Lastly, consider Tweeting me or sending me an email (legault.maria [at] gmail.com) to contribute to the conversation. I welcome any and all constructive opinions!

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