The ‘consumption’ of creative goods and activities is more sustainable than the consumption of purely material goods. A creative economy is where production and consumption involves the processing of ideas, symbols, and emotional experiences rather than the dissipation of energy and the breakdown of matter.
A study done by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi showed that there was a negative relationship between energy consumed and positive emotion. The reason for this may suggest a new way of thinking about consuming, one that maximises the quality of experience while minimising the amount of energy used as a result.
The reason activities with low external physical energy requirements result in greater positive emotion is that they usually require greater inputs of mental energy. Having an enjoyable conversation makes very little demands on energy consumption, but it demands concentrated attention and mental activity. Likewise, activities such as reading, gardening, painting, craftwork, yoga, writing poetry, or doing mathematics don’t use much produced energy but they do require peoples’ mental and physical energy.
Csikszentmihalyi found that in general, people report being happier when they are actively involved with a challenging task, and less happy when they are passively consuming goods or mindless entertainment.
This being the case it seems absurd that modern economies keep producing material goods at ever increasing rates when in fact it is non-material, low-energy goods and activities that provide people with greater well-being. The reason might have to do with the fact that it is harder to control, automate, mass produce, package and make a profit from creative ‘products’. So instead businesses focus on what they can control and make a profit from, consumer goods. Modern economies are destructive. They dissipate energy, increase entropy and degrade the environment. This could be significantly reduced by producing more creative and cultural activities and experiences and less material goods.
Craftspeople, chefs, athletes, musicians, dancers, teachers, gardeners, actors, artists, healers, poets, writers – these are the workers creating goods that increase human well-being without degrading the environment.
It is possible to develop a creative economy based on a majority of workers of this kind.