Why Creators Are Happier Than Consumers

Donald Miller

I’m no fan of the “there are only two kinds of people” idea but in the realm of being a creator or a consumer, I do believe each one of us leans toward one side or the other. I’ve blogged about it before, but it’s been a while and I think I have a clearer view of what these poles suggest, and a much better understanding of how learning to live more as a creator and less as a consumer makes us more happy.

First, definitions.

Creator: A person who leans toward being a creator is not necessarily creative; it only means he believes he has the power to create the kind of life he wants. Within reason.

Consumer: A person who leans towards being a consumer believes he has little power to create the life he wants and instead must shop for it in an endless sea of options being presented to him.

Here’s how it works in real life.

If a consumer longs for community he or she goes online looking for a place to plug in. He might look for a church, a sports league, a class he can take, whatever. And that’s all fine.

But when a creator longs for community he or she invites the neighbors over for dinner, he puts up a screen in his backyard and hosts a neighborhood movie night, he starts a frisbee-golf league, or he teaches a painting class.

Photo Credit: Melissa Wiese, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Melissa Wiese, Creative Commons

See the difference? One person shopped to get his needs met and the other created something to meet his needs.

So the real problem with being a consumer is this:

Consumers believe their options are limited.

And if they’re really far on the consumer side, they might even get depressed because they can’t find something to fulfill them. Which is sad, because the whole time they likely could have just created something.

As people get more and more busy, they have less and less time to create solutions and so those who do create products, services and community become more and more influential. The only people who influence culture, after all, are the creators. Consumers only guide culture with their buying choices; they aren’t actually “making” culture at all, only voting for it.

So how do you know if you lean toward consumer or creator?

Here are four informal questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you often find yourself meditating on your lack? If so, you’re likely leaning toward being a consumer. Creators meditate on what they can do and their imagination excites them.
  2. Do you look for the “right” way to do something? Creators tend to not think something is the “right” way and instead believe there are a myriad of options to get the job done.
  3. Do you look for security in the opinions of others? Consumers tend to go with the flow and feel more comfortable if large groups are affirming their choices. Creators look for options that haven’t been created yet and are okay looking odd to find them.
  4. Do you “moralize your preferences”—meaning do you believe there is a right way to clean the kitchen and mow the lawn and pursue faith and so on? Consumers tend to believe their way is the right way rather than realizing most issues are not moral at all, just practical and pragmatic. Consumers associate their security with following somebody else’s instructions rather than creating their own.

The reason creators are more likely to be happy than consumers is they get their needs met more often and rarely get stuck in fatalistic thinking.

The creator’s world is not a menu; it is an infinite list of ingredients.

What we lose when we lean toward consumer-thinking over creative-thought is our “selves.” As consumers, we wear the clothes, listen to the music, attend the church, vote for the candidate and so on that is presented to us on a menu. Because of this, we stop influencing the world and become a reviewer of it. And yet reviewing somebody else’s products and culture is not the same as having an impact on it.

What if what the world really needed was you?

What if your ideas mattered but they were getting lost because you forgot you were allowed and even created to create? What if God created you to shine, to speak, to influence, to help other consumers realize they could have a fulfilling life of their own making? What if, as Walt Whitman said, you could contribute a verse?

What if, this week you analyzed two things in your life you were dissatisfied with and brainstormed possible solutions you just hadn’t thought of yet.

Go off the menu.

What could you do to make money? What could you do to better organize your time? What could you do to build community? What could you do to express and pursue faith?

What if God was writing a poem on the world and your verse was being silenced?

What if you yelled your contribution for the world to hear? Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Let’s be creators like the one who made us!

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • selena owens

    WOWZA! I prayed about all of this stuff last night and here’s my answer!!!

  • I love this so much. This is spot on. My first thoughts were to associate creator with creative. But I love this spin on being a creator. For so long I thought I was a creative…but I am a creator!!! And I want to scream from the roof tops that others can create the life they want as well! So so good. Thank you.

  • I have been thinking about this lately because I recently started a blog. Browsing WordPress it seems like everyone is a creator. And if everyone is a creator, who is left to consume what they create? Where would you be if there were no consumers for the products you are creating? I get your gist, but it feels a bit like you are shaming consumers. And since you are a consultant to businesses, to people who pay you for your menus, that strikes me as a bit odd. I believe we are happiest when we are both creating and consuming. People who need people, after all, are the luckiest people in the world.

    • Jeff Davison

      I think the bottom line here is whether you are looking to others and circumstances to make you happy (which ultimately can not work), or taking responsibility for your own life and being Active, rather than Reactive. Lots of research indicates happiness lies in this choice.

  • This piece helps me to recognize that I am a creator in some areas like writing and photography, but a consumer in community building.Thanks for the thought-provoking and convicting article.

  • Sarah Paxton

    Desperately needed to read this today! I think my creative tendencies get silenced by consumerism (laziness is really what it is) and self-doubt. THANK YOU!

  • Mike Petty

    I have gained a lot of insights from your creator/consumer posts in the past, but I disagree with you on this one. I don’t think those things on your list (including happiness) are linked that strongly to one’s creator/consumer mindset. Other things are involved.

    I have spent my life creating more than consuming and I’ve been acquainted with many disappointments because of it. To care enough to create in a big way opens us up to hurt. The vision doesn’t always become reality. Maybe it’s just my talent isn’t sufficient for my dreams, but I’ve come to accept and even expect discouragement and frustration is as part of the process.

    On the other hand, I am surrounded by peers who seem to do little more than consume. I hear all the fun things they do with their time and money to the point where I wonder if my creator mindset has been my biggest problem in life.

    Now, I work in education and I do regularly encourage students to create and to follow their dreams rather than just consume entertainment. I believe we are God’s poem and we are given the choice to let Him work through us each day through what we make. I believe it’s about giving back in this way more than just taking in.

    I couldn’t support the message I teach with what you write in this post, though. There are too many other factors involved in how a person might answer the four questions. As far as “happiness”, it doesn’t pay off that way for everyone, at least not in any common understanding of the word. If someone told it to me like this 20 years ago I probably would have given up on creating by now.

  • Here’s the new way of acting out a “yes” to Informal Question #3:

    Yelp

  • GailBP

    great perspective. the consumer in me is motivated to be more creative. thanks.

  • Scott Musgrave

    This is rattling out my brain…for good too as I love the thinking that went into this. Trying to find the right way to build my site with “Consumers” being one target and the other being “Artist” – as in my line of work you have clients and you are the creator.

    I love your Storyline Productivity Schedule – making a great difference for me in my own life! Thank you for that.

  • patricklmitchell

    That moment you thought you were a creator and found out it wasn’t so…

  • Arlen Penner

    It seems some commenters are missing the point of this post as there are many references to creating art and consuming products. This post is not literally about creativity in the artistic sense or the common definition of consumerism. It simply means that a person either believes they have the power and ability to ‘make’ their life (creator) or that their life is made for them (consumer) – life is in their control or it is not. Using this definition, I am probably more of a consumer, even though I have many artistic pursuits (music, photography, graphic design, videography).

  • patriciastrefling

    Oh my gosh! I love this! It’s what is there and I could never put it into words. Thanks Donald Miller!

  • Tears in the eyes, and yes, goosebumps, too. I see myself as a creator, though after reading this it seems the consumer side is fighting to take the win. I will be sharing this with my friends and family because man, this is good. An alarm clock to my soul. Folgers in my cup. Waking up! 🙂

  • Dev Arbikshe

    thank you

  • Ultimately, consuming is boring. Creating is rewarding.

  • I am seeing some interesting replies and thoughts. Here’s why I think creators are happier: Because there’s a sense of accomplishment and purpose in creating. Consuming begs the question, “When is enough enough?” When will I know I’ve consumed enough to find happiness? Someone who’s more creative sees the happiness in creating. Also, I believe creating comes from the mind, the imagination. Something we’re meant to do as humans made in the image of God. Consumers and consumerism is something we move to – it’s external and something to found outside ourselves rather than letting God’s Spirit inform the mind he gave us. I think ultimately we consume because we’re too lazy. That’s been me most of my life. After all, who doesn’t like Star Wars?

  • Hanah Bartee

    I have recently started reading your blogs. Back in 2005 or 2006 I read Blue Like Jazz and you actually were invited by my husband at the time to speak at the cultural center he and I founded in 2006 or 2007 (I can’t recall). It is called Life in Deep Ellum, located in Dallas TX. It was a warehouse at the time and has since then transformed into a beautiful place were artistic expression is cultivated. I was born a creator but so often, through lives challenges it becomes too easy to be a consumer. But if you are born a creator you will never be satisfied until you live creating. Thanks for this reminder as I really needed it!

  • Mariela

    i completely saw myself as a creator but after reading this article i realize i tend to think sometimes as a consumer. mmm

  • Mike Smith

    Seems to me to be connected with giving vs getting – More joy and blessing in giving than receiving – Being creatively generous. I so need to increase in that.

  • Tim Turner

    “For the most banal even to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it. This is what fools people: a man [sic, ‘or woman’] is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story. But you have to choose: live or tell.” -Jean Paul Sartre

  • Anf

    Creating is where it’s at for me. After spending way too much time consuming other people’s creations I’ve made a commitment to myself since last year to spend more of my time being the creator. It thrills me and scares me at the same time but now I’ve got my podcast up and running, and I’m still learning as I go, but there’s something magical about putting your heart and soul into something and sharing it with the world don’t you think?