VIDEO: Oliver Burkeman: The Negative Path to Happiness and Success.

I wrote a book about lament, so I might be a bit biased, but I find grief and lament turning up a lot lately as important antidotes to many of the diseases of our modern western culture, not the least of which is a severe deficit of meaning. The problem is, grief and lament are two stridently unsellable concepts. No one—in our culture anyway—wants to hear about grief and lament. But I’m becoming more and more convinced they are key to us finding human meaning in our lives, key to artist entrepreneurs tethering their generative energies to things that actually matter.

Maybe full on grief and lament is too much to engage. Perhaps something like this video of Oliver Burkeman and the “negative path” he presents is a more accessible way in.

I think creatives are more in tune with grief than they may know. Every prototype, every practice scale, every painting that doesn’t quite have it right—and isnt’ that all of them?—bears a kind of small grieving. To be generative in the world is to never quite satisfactorily scratch the itch in one’s soul. To continue in generative activity is to grieve this unsatisfactory state of affairs that is necessarily part of the human condition.

Words can only ever be approximations of experience, stand ins for the depth and breadth of our lived lives. To utter a word, the most elemental of generative acts, is to be unsatisfied. To write a poem is to step into a centuries old river of longing that carries on, and carries on, and carries on, precisely because the longing that drew us to the river can never be met. A poem can’t pin down love, and yet we try. A song can’t capture our heart, and yet we try. We play one more scale so as to be better at the next attempt. And so the river of longing carries on. We lament our limitations and we continue to write, or paint, or dance, or invent, or speak. Though it grieves us, we utter. Our collective uttering, moths around a single flame, “We are human.”