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Does 3D Printing Make You Happier?

on Aug 22 2014 , 07:30:07

“Happiness is a 3D printed gun,” says the title of Cody Wilson’s video on YouTube, and that is the first result from a Google search on “happiness + 3D printing”.

It is surprising how 3D printing can be associated with happiness around the world.

3D printing is one of the hottest trends right now. Industrially, it reduces prototyping time, minimizes production costs, and eliminates huge manufacturing waste. Ford reportedly saved $470,000 in creating a prototype using 3D printing.

In terms of happiness, technology does not seem to bring long-lasting happiness to humans, mainly because of a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation, where happiness, although caused by permanent positive changes, fades back in time to our original baseline. We get used to our iPhones and laptops and our joy diminishes.

What about 3D printing?

Does this mean the moment we are accustomed to having a 3D printer at home it becomes yet another tool like the household printer?

To understand happiness in such activities, we need to investigate the origin of human nature. For millions of years, the only way primitive humans could survive was to outsmart nature, and at some point we began designing tools to adapt the environment to our needs. According to scientists, our dexterity with tools is not only a sign of human intelligence, but also acts as a stimulant for the development of the human brain.

Primitive humans that are born with certain instincts, such as curiosity, inventiveness and competitiveness, tend to have a higher probability of surviving. This innate desire to design and make tools is thought to be passed down hereditarily, and operates by creating creative desires that are irresistible. When we manage to satisfy those desires, according to Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi, we experience the activity as “intrinsically rewarding”. In other words, we become happy.

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Psychologist Martin Seligman asserts that one of the happiest state humans are capable of is “engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity”.) In fact, scientists have scanned the human brain during the process of creativity, and have noticed clear distinctions in brain activity when one is engaged in creative pursuits.

During episodes of creativity, like that of rapper’s improvisation, we are less self-conscious, in a sense freed from self-criticism. One of the ways we can engage in this “flow” is by being engaged fully in designing objects—be it tools or items of pure aesthetics. 3D printing gives us plenty of that.

From creativity to happiness

3D printing is as much a tool as it is a technology, much like a painter’s brush. Hardly anyone gets excited about a painter’s brush. But if you were a painter and could enter the “flow” via painting, then the paintbrush is no longer just a tool to you.

3D printing has attained its status today because it is an affordable and versatile way for the average person to create something unique. It fulfills all 3 conditions of flow: it provides a clear goal, gives immediate feedback, and is challenging. And most importantly, it is simple—3D printing is essentially a 2-step process: create the virtual design, print the tangible object.

  • Clear goal: With 3D printing, the goal is always to create a physical object that satisfies an objective. The most rewarding phase of design seeing the final object made tangible. 3D printing bridges virtual design and reality.
  • Adequate Challenge: Currently, 3D printing is quite a challenge for new users because of the novelty of the technology, and the need to digitize an object before it can be printed. In order to get their printers to function properly, most 3D printing hobbyists have to perform frequent adjusting and recalibration on their self-assembled low cost 3D printers. But to these hobbyists, nothing is more satisfying than overcoming this challenge.
  • Immediate feedback: 3D printing offers immediate feedback in the form of a tangible printed object. You can touch it, you can hold it, turn it around, and feel the texture. Such immediate feedback is important for artists to perfect their art, and is fundamental to sustain the engagement in a flow.

Through 3D printing, our design becomes tangible, long lasting, and displayable. There is no substitution in feeling the bliss, holding the unique item that really originates from the vision inside your brain. Not only does the process of creation bring joy, just staring at an object being printed layer by layer is enough to captivate our attention as we eagerly wait for the final product.

The good news is that 3D printing material come cheap, about 40 dollars per kg (printing a Coca-cola bottle costs at most 50 cents). 3D printing gives us an affordable entry into the hope of seeing our design come to fruition. Never in history has the average person come close to being an inventor or creator himself, a position that was previously reserved for artists.

flower gif

The author is the Chief Executive of Blacksmith Group, a company that designs and produces Blacksmith Genesis 3D printers. Blacksmith Genesis is an all in one 3D machine that does both 3D printing and 3D scanning. It allows users without much knowledge of 3D software to scan any item, edit the scanned virtual model on the computer, and print it out in 3D.

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