“It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of our pursuits.”
Many people believe that happiness and life satisfaction can be achieved through gaining riches, wealth and fame. For the majority of Americans, our survival is secure and our basic needs met. Studies have found that since the end of WWII, incomes have gone up, standard of living has gone up, and yet happiness levels have remained flat.
If it’s not wealth, then what does make us happy? Happiness experts suggest that when we try too hard to chase happiness, it can become an elusive goal and we find ourselves judging each experience against a backdrop of perceived happiness. There are many things we can do to organically increase happiness in our lives and the one that I’ll spotlight today is creating more “flow” experiences.
When was the last time you were so focused and engaged in something that you lost track of time and a sense of self? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experiences” suggests that happiness and life satisfaction can be achieved through engaging in flow experiences.
When you are in flow, you’ve successfully combined the right amount of challenge with current skill level. You are neither bored, nor overwhelmed by the task at hand. It creates the conditions where you feel challenged enough that you are continuing to grow and stretch your current skill level, yet you have enough competence to feel confident in your abilities. These experiences usually involve using your creativity, efforts, intelligence, imagination, or physical abilities.
In his research, Csikszentmihalyi found that when someone struggled to overcome challenges, they often remembered that experience as the most enjoyable time of their lives. He goes on to explain that through these experiences we are controlling our inner life—the positive feeling we have inside while mastering a skill or achieving a goal has great meaning and purpose for us. Another benefit is that by training ourselves to focus both our attention and energies to achieve flow, we learn to avoid distractions.
The positive feeling and experience we create in our inner life is truly the only thing we have control over, and we have little control over what is happening outside of us. His research found that through mastering their inner world, people who engage in frequent flow experiences have a pathway to happiness and life satisfaction, despite life’s adversities caused by things outside of their control.
It is during flow experiences that works of art, music, athletic achievement, mathematical and scientific discoveries, inventions, personal creations, and the feeling of deep satisfaction occur.
What can you do to bring more flow into your life? When choosing activities to create more flow in your life, look for the ones that are intrinsically rewarding, and produce outcomes in which you are not concerned about the judgement of others. In addition, set clear goals, where you have a complete sense of personal control over the activity.