3 Modes of Life: Creating, Relating, Consuming

By no means do I pretend to have this all figured out, but it has been central to my thought process for a few years now that there are three main modes of activities in which we engage as humans: 1. Creating 2. Relating 3. Consuming I believe that we are happiest, in the truest sense, when we balance the first two (creating and relating) as is optimal according to our personality, temperament and vocation, and we when keep the third (consuming) tightly disciplined, engaging only as necessary. The problem is that in American culture today, we wrongly place consuming as at the top of the hierarchy as though consuming food, entertainment, pleasure, is what will make us the happiest. But it’s false, which is why we are so often miserable and slightly-confused. At the risk of over -simplifying, here are basic descriptions of each: 1. Creating – activities we would perform for their own sake, activities that demand work and result in growth in excellence of ability or character. This includes the traditional fine arts such as drawing, writing, dancing, etc; but also activities that create an excellence or skill such as athletics, gardening, prayer, mathematics, the trades such as woodworking, the sciences. There are many others. 2. Relating – basically socializing, but on a deeper level. It is those times when we build up the life-giving relationships that make life and the creative activities meaningful and worth doing. It includes conversations with good friends, spending time with your spouse and family, intimacy. I think parenting falls somewhere between relating and creating. 3. Consuming – things we take in such as eating or things done for entertainment: movie watching, browsing the web, buying stuff, etc. In one sense, there is a very necessary level of consuming: we must eat; additionally, relaxation and recreation are goods when balanced with our workloads and duties. But consuming is usually the activity that tempts us to overdo it, and the activity that wreaks havoc on us when we do overdo it. (Ie–We eat way to much junky stuff and gain weight; or we get addicted to reading silly internet articles (like this one) and then find that we do not have the discipline to read an actual novel. Or we buy so much stuff that we don’t know how to get by or mark time without buying stuff.) Doubtless, there are many activities that don’t fit easily into my categories–such as showering–and I’m working on that, but overall, I think they are helpful. I find it a tragedy that we are so focused on consuming–even times when we don’t realize it. It robs our joy and leaves us feeling empty without knowing why. Consider Christmas–Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, come to save us and bring us to eternal life. Presents are super and fun, but most of America celebrates Christmas by buying stuff: gifts, decorations, sweaters, chocolates, toys, lights, lawn ornaments, etc. All that stuff is well and good—until it becomes the focus and the deeper meaning is lost. No amount of miniature porcelain Christmas villages can offer us meaning. Conversely, we can have a meaningful, loving Christmas without tons of money. Often we desire the ability to consume, but then find the experience unfulfilling. What we really needed was meaningful work. We think consuming will make us happy. We think having a huge house will make us happy, but in reality, we are happier when we spend our time and energy caring for the home we have to make it a good place for our family. See my post: Happiness is not about getting what we want. In general, I think people would be happier if more friendships and socializing was organized more around creating and less around consuming. Consider how often we see movies with friends, go shopping or out to eat. Again, nothing wrong with this–until it becomes the focus and we forget how to do anything else. What if we shared poems with friends? Ones we wrote or ones we read. What if we added prayer? Or played music? And this needn’t be elitist. It costs nothing to compose oral poems or to sing. Indeed, for most of human history, that’s how we entertained and related with one another. The difference between listening to a person on TV reading a poem and reading one ourselves is the formative effect the action has on us when we actually perform it. Everything we do, everything that we see, everything that happens to us shapes us. Performing an action–actually swimming or singing–makes us to be a certain way, makes us to be a certain type of person. That’s why memorizing is more valuable that just looking something up. If we have bother to memorize, internalize and perform an action, it is so much deeper, so much more formative and valuable than if we just watch someone else do it at increasingly removed technological distances. That’s why virtue and vice, sin and holiness matter. As Bruce Wayne learns in Batman Begins, “It’s not who I am on the inside that defines me, but what I do.” Our inner dispositions matter, but being a person manifests in the types of actions we perform. We cannot tell ourselves that we are good people even if we do empty things. This is not to say that who we are on the outside matters more than who we are on the inside, but rather that the two are more connected that we tend to realize. As Aristotle and later Thomas Aquinas put it, “action follows upon being.” A thing or a person’s actions proceed from what or who they are. We will be happier when we perform actions, more of the creative and relating type, that are worth doing, which make us to be the persons we ought to be. So often, we say we value things but act a different way. For instance, we say we value people more than money, but often we judge others by their salary, job title or lack thereof. Looking at our actions reveals us for what we really are. And I am not immune. Up next I will discuss my struggle with expressing myself or fixing things by just buying something. I say I value the activity or the person and I end up with a purchase in a shopping bag. What happened? What types of activities don’t fit into my categories? What are your favorite creative activities? Do you agree that the creative activities make us happier?


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