Does the bad stuff spark creativity? Should we be looking for experience over contentment? Is happy boring?
After binge-watching GIRLS for the last few days and hearing the show’s anti-heroine, Hannah Horvath, explain to a fellow character that she’s “never wanted to be happy”, I started to think about the idea of struggle in a different way.
The bad stuff we go through, while traumatic at the time, leads to lessons learned, a deeper sense of character and stories to tell. For those of us who like to write from experience, the bad stuff sure does offer up an expanse of potential material.
Not only have I learned a lot from the comparatively minimal trials I’ve experienced, but some of my favourite and best stories to tell are tales of woe. The kind of stories I repeat, over and over, to any willing audience I can find, in my always honourable attempt to be both self-deprecating and the centre of attention.
I usually get a big laugh when I recall the day I got dumped and received a formal warning at work for not offering someone a cup of tea, and then almost crashed my car on the way home because I was sobbing so violently whilst simultaneously singing along to the Demi Lavato classic, Skyscraper. It was very dramatic and not at all funny at the time – I was in a deep state of inner turmoil and self-pity and kind of felt like I was in a film – but now, I think it’s fucking hilarious.
Similarly, when I was 17 years old and crippled with OCD, I did some pretty weird stuff, the kind of stuff that only really gets airtime in satirical comedy sketches. And I've used that - I’ve written a lot about OCD and my experiences, my first published article was about the illness, and so, in a way, I’m grateful for the opportunities it provided me with.
Almost all the big comedians have, or have had, some form of mental illness. Stephen Fry suffers from bipolar disorder, Miranda Hart and Spike Milligan from depression, as well as David Walliams, Paul Merton and Robin Williams. A study by Oxford University researchers found that there is a link between mental illness and creativity and that the creative elements needed for humour are similar to traits seen in people with psychosis.
Despite her youthful ignorance, Hannah Horvath, known in real life as Lena Dunham, seems to have hit the nail on the head somewhat. Suffering is authentic and raw, while happiness is more fickle. It is openly and easily expressed, which doesn’t lend itself to character development or creativity.
The idea of not wanting to be happy is an alien one, and it doesn’t sit particularly comfortably. Perhaps though, if only subconsciously, we want the journey more than the end goal. And if not, maybe that's what is best for us. Creatively speaking, anyway.
Of course it's all about balance - everything is about balance. Whether it's how much carbohydrate, protein and vegetables you eat or how much time you spend alone vs social-butterflying. We need the bad to appreciate (or even comprehend) the good, that is undeniable, but to return to my earlier queston, "is happy boring?", my conclusion is yes, but only to the question in its most simplistic form. Negative experiences keep us wanting, discontent and hopefully moving forward. I always want to be moving forward, being inspired and creating. I don't think it is a case of wanting bad things to happen, it is rather a case of wanting to experience as much as possible, and to do that one must enter the world, fully and fearlessly, and get hurt and damaged in the process. You can't be creative without that. It is arguably impossible.
So Hannah-from-GIRLS, I agree, we should go and experience life, devoid of fear. Let's do that. And then write about it.