I subscribe to a twice-weekly artist newsletter from Robert Genn. They talk about a lot of different things: the painting process, the business side of art, the spiritual side, you name it. The newest is a really powerful and well-written one. I'm going to quote the full text here.
A few years ago, Adam Leipzig attended his 25th reunion at Yale University. At Yale, he had been a theatre geek and literature major. Mingling in the party tent that summer evening, Adam listened to complaints about emptiness, wasted years, and general confusion about life's purpose. He concluded that eighty percent of his former classmates were unhappy with their lives, even though most were now in positions of power, were prosperous, and had ticked many of life's trophy boxes. In contrast, the twenty percent - the happy Yalies - were arts and history people, and those who had studied subjects for the joy of learning. Adam posited a theory: Happiness is having a purpose. People who are happy, he found, know five things:
Who they are
What they do
Who they do it for
What those people's needs are
And what they get out of it
Amazon.com lists 151,928 book titles about finding life's purpose. It's a going concern. But life teaches that if we make others happy, we're taken care of. Somehow, our most important needs are met on a level that cannot be matched by acquisition or achievement. Focusing outward is the key.
Creative people, in particular, often stumble when asked, "What do you do?" Some find the question confronting, or downright troublesome, especially when between projects, or if there's vagueness about professional status. Many others do something else, something they feel is not the thing that defines them. Still others believe they're not yet ready to identify with the title "artist." The word itself is as loaded as a mid-summer's Ivy League mixer for the middle aged.
Adam suggests that you need only answer the last question in his formula: "How are the people you're doing it for transformed by what you do?"
This holiday season, if you happen to be mingling with the other eighty percent, you may find the question "What do you do?" unnecessary. More valuable will be, "How do you do that?"
If you like this article, you can find more at the Painter's Keys website. Go take a look.