Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

If your creative work is causing you to feel down, do something about it. We share advice from the Creative Boom community to help you feel more optimistic.

Finding happiness in the ever-demanding world of the creative industries can often feel like it’s just out of reach. We pour our hearts and souls into our work, often grappling with the pressures of deadlines, self-doubt and the relentless pursuit of perfection. And so even if we love what we do, our work can often be frustrating, exhausting, worrying and stressful.

So it’s important to stop and step back now and again. We may believe we love our work and our career. But do we love our lives? Are we truly happy?

Of course, there’s no shame in being unhappy. It’s a natural part of life, an impulse that compels us to improve things. And as long as we react to it in a positive, constructive way, unhappiness can be a force for good.

When it becomes a problem, though, is when we wallow in unhappiness or let it defeat us. So, in this guide, we’ll get some advice from fellow creatives who have navigated the ups and downs of the creative journey. Along the way, we’ll offer insights and strategies to help you find true contentment amidst all the chaos.

1. Find fulfilment in expression

The first point is perhaps the most obvious. The very act of working as a creative has the potential to bring you happiness.

As a creative designer, researcher and tester Sajad Sergio Sadick puts it: “Happiness as a creative can stem from the process of bringing ideas to life, finding fulfilment in expression, and connecting with others through your creations. It’s about embracing the journey of exploration and growth and sharing your unique perspective with the world. For many creatives, the act of creation itself is a source of profound joy and satisfaction.”

Illustrator Ewelina Wolnowska echoes this sentiment, stating, “Happiness is inside. One can find it by diving deep into themselves. As creative work and process can become very meditative and allow us to explore the inside, it can help us find happiness.”

Illustrator and comic artist Rebecca Burgess tells a similar tale. “Pouring my feelings and experiences into my art and stories drives me to keep making and brings me happiness,” she explains. “When others connect to it and feel the same, you no longer feel alone. And you worry less about the stressful, out-of-control parts of creating. Even if my career stops in the future, I’ll always treasure the conversations I’ve had with readers who’ve connected and related to my stories.”

If you’re trying to make a living, of course, that’s not always so easy. The demands of the commercial world mean that much of what you do, at least at the start of your career, will be boring, grunt work and not particularly fulfilling.

So the trick is to find ways to combine your own sense of self-expression with serving the client’s needs, at least some of the time. And if that’s not possible, well, that’s where side projects come in, or maybe even setting up your own creative business.

2. Strike the right life-work balance

While immersing ourselves in our creative pursuits can be exhilarating, balancing work and other aspects of life is equally important. Designer Kultar Singh Ruprai emphasises the importance of finding equilibrium. “For me, happiness has always been an inside job,” he explains. “It’s about finding a good balance of friends, family, and me-time. That means a mix of doing things you enjoy. For me, that includes going to the gym, gardening, yoga, reading, gaming, walking, and listening to music.”

By nurturing relationships, engaging in recreational activities, and allowing ourselves moments of solitude, we can cultivate a well-rounded existence that prevents burnout and fosters our overall sense of well-being. For more on this, read our article on how to deal with burnout.

3. Be mindful

In the fast-paced world of creativity, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of deadlines and expectations. But ultimately, that can end up making you exhausted and miserable. Hence, mindfulness can be a powerful tool for grounding ourselves and finding moments of peace and happiness.

By consciously disconnecting from the constant stimuli and taking time to be present in the moment, we can cultivate a sense of calm and clarity that allows us to tap into our inner reserves of joy and inspiration.

Graphic and motion designer Mads Sæløen follows this approach. “I stay positive by blocking the world out,” he explains. “I find that spending a full day meandering around the apartment listening to music and letting my thoughts wander is a great way to recharge.” Alternatively, you can try a more formal approach with our guide to mindful exercises.



Being mindful also means taking a measured approach to the time spent on our phones. As Claire Rodrigues Lee, founder of Neon Army, says: “I find social media, especially scrolling through Twitter/X, quite disturbing sometimes. So I know how to avoid it. Just go on specifically searching for what I’m looking for, then exit.”

4. Be honest with yourself

When you start out in your career, everyone will tell you to “fake it till you make it”. But it’s important not to lose your sense of self along the way because honest self-reflection is a crucial ingredient in the pursuit of happiness as a creative person.

As Pari Purohit of Studio Glyph advises: “Be brutally honest with yourself. This is crucial to get to the real core of what gives you joy. It’s amazing how we delude ourselves and let superficialities drive choices. This isn’t just career advice, it’s life advice.”

Essentially, it’s only by peeling back the layers of external influences and societal pressures that you can uncover your true passions, values and sources of fulfilment. Doing so will guide your creative endeavours and help you align your life with what truly matters, fostering a deeper sense of contentment and purpose.

For example, we often come to a crossroads in our careers: Should you seek promotion to creative director or go it alone as a freelancer? Should you stick with your chosen discipline, learn a new skill, or forge a new path? Only by being truly honest with yourself will you be certain you’ve chosen the right path.

For more on this topic, listen to our podcast interview with Alison Haigh on Why honesty is better for everyone in the creative industries

5. Don’t try to control everything

When you work as a creative, you often have a high degree of control over your output. But it’s important to remember that you can’t control everything elsewhere in life. Consequently, understanding and accepting this is often the key to a happy life.

As illustrator Florence Sabatier of Atelier Mouette reminds us, “Accept the lows, and keep in mind that you can’t control everything and that life isn’t a linear path. That’s easier said than done, especially in our field, but it’s true!”

Embracing the fluidity and impermanence of our lives might sound scary, but it can also be very liberating. By relinquishing the illusion of control and allowing ourselves to adapt and flow with the ebbs and tides of inspiration and circumstance, it’s easier to find joy in the present moment and cultivate resilience in the face of challenges.

6. Be positive

Finding happiness is a struggle at the best of times, but it can be especially tough when things go wrong. Graphic designer and illustrator Charrish F, aka Olli Illustration, is in that situation at the moment. “Right now, things are really difficult for me,” she explains. “I got let go from my job, and it’s not easy to find a new one.”

But while staying positive isn’t easy, it’s certainly worth trying because it will ultimately pull you through. Often, the key is to forge specific habits that will reinforce a positive perspective on the world. Charrish gives an example. “I stay positive by recognising my hard work,” she says. So, at the end of each day, I say my top thing, that I’m proud of myself for doing it, and give myself an internal high five.”

For more on this topic, read our article How creatives can stay positive during darker times.

7. Look after yourself

Even when things are going well for us as creatives, it’s easy to neglect our minds and bodies. Late nights and skipping meals to meet deadlines might make us feel like we’re “going the extra mile” to achieve our goals, but eventually, we’re going to pay for it.

Instead, let’s make an extra effort to nourish our minds, bodies, and spirits with proper rest, nutrition and self-compassion. And by doing so, we’ll fortify ourselves against the stresses of the creative life and cultivate a sense of self-worth that transcends external validation.

In the words of illustrator and designer Cat Finnie: “Eat properly, exercise, and sleep. Find ways to make a small difference.” Or as Claire puts it: “We have so many challenges thrust upon us: without a healthy mind and body, how can we be happy or be our best selves?”

For more on this, read our article 10 clever ways to make your workspace healthier and more productive.

Conclusion

So, what’s the secret to happiness? In truth, it lies less in one strategy than a combination of approaches, and there’s no easy silver bullet. As Claire says, “Being happy and positive is always a work in progress, and the key to happiness falls under many categories.

“I lost myself in a long and unloving relationship for many years, and my life went nowhere,” she reveals. “I came out of that relationship with no self-confidence or esteem. It took hard work to change my self-perception and outlook. But when you start to believe in yourself, you see how the world around you changes. That encourages more good feelings and positivity and drives you to keep moving forward.”

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