One night this week, my housemate and I attempted something we hadn’t done in more than 12 years. “Let’s play a duet!” she shouted, excitedly, and produced a book of music. Its corners were softened and curled by listless practice of more than a decade ago, when we were at school together. We’d spent so much time together holed up in practice rooms at lunchtimes, she on flute, me on piano, or in my mum’s dining room, that even reading the titles of the pieces in her favourite book propelled us back to being 14. We started giggling. And then, in my room, the two of us howled as our now talentless little fingers annihilated every single note on the page.
Since I was able – thanks to my extraordinary family – get a digital piano for my home in London earlier this year, I’ve annihilated a lot of music. Really, I sound terrible. When I sit down and try to learn something new, or play something embedded in my memory from years gone by, even I am sometimes astounded at the absolute trash I am able to create. The Beatles are the fractured four, in my hands. I’ve had to stop attempting to play anything by David Bowie out of respect and Carole King really should be off the cards too, now. But I won’t stop creating these little aural abominations. Because, above anything else, it makes me happier.
Which is why I wasn’t surprised to see that a new study says we’d all be much happier if we took time to be creative every day. According to the research, even small-time creative hobbies, like knitting or doodling, can make a positive contribution to our overall wellbeing. The authors had over 650 volunteers rate their daily creativity in a diary over the course of the day, in terms of “coming up with novel or original ideas; expressing oneself in an original and useful way; or spending time doing artistic activities”. People who engaged in creativity were more “energetic, enthusiastic and excited” the following day.
I like doing something in my week which isn’t for someone else’s pleasure. And I do it terribly, eight or 10 times over
Does it sound like a lot to be creative every day? Do one thing that is creative? Make one thing that didn’t exist before? Perhaps. Definitely, if you’re wedded to the idea that you have to be any good. Which I am not. In fact I’ve found that, in line with the study’s findings, even just engaging in something more soulful feels rewarding. It feels good.
Maybe it’s not so much the creative aspect (though it’s inevitably fun, to be unapologetically creative), but just that this type of activity forces us to take time to do something solely for ourselves and our own pleasure. It’s rare, nowadays, to do that. It’s a privilege. To just sit down, for an hour, or half an hour, and focus on yourself. And, in this case, to take something from inside the bones of you, to think about it and write it down or paint it or papier mâché it or put it into an unwittingly offensive piano score.
It’s cleansing to take something that you’d normally carry locked up inside of you and free it up. It feels good to try and to have a go and disregard other people’s expectations of you. I like doing something in my week which isn’t for someone else’s pleasure. And I do it terribly, eight or 10 times over. Next year, I’m going to create unreadable poetry as well as unlistenable music. Just for me.
Back when we were at school, my friend and I taught ourselves to read music and practised and practised and we achieved. We both reached Grade 7 level on our instruments and I went on to study A Level music, too. But now I look back, and now I’m teaching my clumsy fingers to keep in line once more, what made us happy was those botched-up duets shut away in practice rooms or after school at my mum’s. When we recreated it this week, I noticed my laugh was ever so light and more careless, similar to how it was when we were teenagers. We created nothing – really, absolutely nothing – but we tried. We played for playing’s sake and we let go. And that’s something that could make us all happier.