Yesterday I came across this article in the New York Times: Pottery Is the New Pilates, and Macramé Takes Away the Crazy.
In it, I found stories after stories about people, tired and worn down by work stress, parenting stress, relationship stress, finding refuge and release in the craft studio.
There was Urooj Khan, 29, "a corporate lawyer who started making pottery after a breakup a few years ago. “The studio was my sanctuary,” she said. “I would spend entire weekends at the wheel. Clay requires a lot of presence. There are so many subtle movements that require attention and precision, all the more so when you are a beginner. And that was a relief. My brain hurts after long days at the firm, poring over documents and law treatises, and being at the wheel releases that stress.”"
You can of course blow off steam by pouring your frustration or anger into creativity, like Khan did into making mugs with "male tears" written on them in flowing cursive, but you can also train your brain into new modes of working. Jacob Dorland, an information security consultant, likes the physicality of pottery, and the concentration it requires. “An errant pinkie or distracted moment can ruin a piece that you’ve spent a whole bunch of time on,” he said, “so all those anxious thoughts I might get about whatever problems I have in my life have to be shelved when I’m throwing.”
I wondered all my life why people seem to feel happier when they get to make things. Is it the satisfaction of finishing something useful or well-made? Or simply the pleasure of the process? Why is it that time spent knitting, or carving, or weaving, or building gadgets is soothing balm for frazzled nerves, empowering, gives sparks of inspiration for all kinds of other pursuits including daily work, and builds bridges between people?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described the experience of losing oneself in work as flow: the moments when every ounce of your being is focused on just one thing, and there is no more space left in your brain for distractions, stressors, and time seems to stop.
Could this be happiness?