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Painting makes me happy. When I’m doing it, I feel good. Sure, it doesn’t go well all the time but mostly I’m really having fun when I’m painting.
I’ve often wondered about that and if the act of creating art is somehow good for the body, as well as the mind, in real and tangible ways. I’m no scientist but I taught art on the college level for about 10 years and saw how a deeper relationship with art making or art viewing can have positive outcomes. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds got a whole lot of self esteem from making art or escaping to a museum. This likely isn’t something you don’t already know.
Money and the Brain
A while back I was watching CNN and their doctor reporter Sanjay Gupta, MD explained the rewards system in the brain that fires off neurotransmitters to create positive emotion when we do “retail therapy.” The buying impulse releases dopamine and you get a rush of positive emotions.
Money managers in the financial market experience this same dopamine rush when trading in positive territory. For some. losing money is, strangely, more of a rush because they want to get it back and recover their losses.
Buyer’s remorse, he said, is really the dopamine drop that gives us a “let down” feeling after a big purchase. It’s easy to see that a person could become addicted to this cycle: buying releases dopamine, then the let down, therefore, the buyer seeks more dopamine by buying again.
Dr. Gupta emphasized that these impulses are real so he offered a Plan for Happiness that channels dopamine reward. His plan involved building events that give you pleasure into your schedule, enjoying the anticipation of them as well as the event itself. Know too that the let down afterwards is part of the process.
Remember the let down after your show opening? It’s just the dopamine going away.
The Brain and Art
Watching Dr Gupta’s report on CNN got me thinking about how dopamine and art making or collection might work together. I anticipate my painting session and get joy from thinking about it. I get pleasure from painting as well. Afterwards, I look at the work and take pleasure from the passages that went well and I make mental notes about how to turn less successful passages into better ones. That feels good too.
As a minor league art collector, I get pleasure from that in the same way Dr Gupta outlines. I feel that dopamine in my collector’s brain as I select the new addition for my home. Sure, there’s always the thought later wondering if I made the right purchase but once the dust settles I continue to feel good about that art on my wall.
I think that the pure pleasure we enjoy via dopamine in the brain is good for us. Stress is not good for us, I think we’d all agree, and there’s a lot of stress in our lives right now in general. If you Google Interleukin 6 you can see the interplay between stress, inflamation and the body. One has to believe that anything you can do to increase enjoyment, and thereby relieve stress, is going to have positive results long term in the aging process. Besides, fun is just a way better thing to have than stress.
Think, if you will, how good it feels to be in the moment of making your art. Or how great you feel in a gallery or artist’s studio selecting a wonderfully appealing work of art for your home or office. Feel, if you can, that rush of dopamine and enjoy it to the max! It’s good for you!
For more on this topic check out:
Why Stress Kills ( February 11, 2009)
Editor's Note: You can view Diane's original post here.