Flow: The Secret to Happiness

Flow: The Secret to Happiness

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Slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time, and being mindful in your daily activities and routines, all help train your mind to be in the present. But is there a way to keep effortlessly focused for long periods? Something that can give you a real break from everyday concerns, from dwelling on the past and worrying about the future? Yes, there is. It’s called “flow”.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

Read more on flow, here.

Flow State?

Flow refers to time spent doing something that keeps you focused and engaged. It involves bringing your complete attention to the present experience. Have you ever sat down, started a job or activity, and become so absorbed in what you were doing that time passed without your notice? You thought of nothing else; as you concentrated and focused, your awareness merged with the activity, and you were “living in the moment”. If so, then you achieved that state of mind known as “flow”.

What is the state of flow?

Psychology Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues began researching flow during the 1980s   and   1990s after   Csikszentmihalyi became intrigued by artists who appeared to lose themselves in their work. In interviews with Csikszentmihalyi, many described their “flow” experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that with flow activities, your brain is fully occupied with one absorbing activity.  

This makes it difficult for your mind to wander off or for thoughts about the past or future to find their way into your head. He says that the mind “with nothing to do, begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing”. However, a mind in a state of flow is so engaged there is no room for undesirable thoughts.

Definition of flow and flow synonym?

Flow refers to time spent doing something that keeps you focused and engaged. It involves bringing your complete attention to the present experience.

There are eight aspects to a state of flow:

1. Clear goals each step of the way.

2. Immediate feedback –  knowing you are doing it properly.

3. A balance between challenge and skills.

4. The merging of action and awareness.

5. No fear of failure.

6. No feeling of self-consciousness.

7. Sense of time distorted.

8. The emphasis is on the experience, not the result.

How to get into the state of flow?

Goals need to be clearly defined so that you always know your next step. So, for example, if you are following a recipe, you need to have an idea of what the finished dish will look and taste like. If you are training to be an engineer, you need to know what level of skills and qualifications you are aiming for. Or, if you are training for a marathon, you need to know what speed and pace you need to run to complete 26 miles.

With flow, you receive direct and immediate feedback. When you know what you have done well and what you haven’t done well, you can seamlessly adjust your behavior.  Taste what you’re cooking, and you’ll know if something needs to be changed or added. 

Record your running times, and you’ll know the extent to which you need to improve. There has to be a balance between challenge and skills; if it’s too difficult it will lead to stress and anxiety, if it’s too easy it will cause boredom or be done mindlessly. You feel a sense of control, and the activity is so intrinsically rewarding that although the task is challenging, the effort required doesn’t seem overwhelming.

Because flow involves developing skills, you are open to new challenges and information so “beginner’s mind” is an integral aspect of flow. As you focus your attention on what’s happening and what you’re doing, you lose your sense of self. You feel as if your awareness merges with the action you’re performing.

And yet, how can you be living in the moment if it doesn’t appear that you are even aware of the moment? The level of engagement absorbs you so deeply, keeping attention so focused that nothing can distract you. You focus so intensely on what you’re doing that you’re unaware of time. You are simply living from moment to moment.

There are things you can do to create opportunities for flow; where merging activity and thoughts keep you fully absorbed at the moment.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Play a team sport. 

Tennis or football, whatever it is, everything in sport happens at the moment. No time to worry about the last shot because another one is coming right back at you!

Yoga, swimming, judo, rock climbing.  

Focusing on each movement forces the mind to live in that single moment with the body.

Sing and dance to music. 

Join a choir or dance class, sing, and dance along to your favorite tunes in the kitchen. You’ll become immersed in the music and be in the moment.

Creative interests. 

Gardening, painting, bird watching, juggling, fishing, or stamp collecting. Whatever it is, for many people a creative activity is a place to dwell happily in the present moment.

Games and puzzles.

Whether it’s the card and board games, computer games, jigsaws, crosswords, or Sudoku, all require a level of concentration and provide a challenge that will have you absorbed.

Books and films. 

It could be a gripping thriller, science fiction, or clever comedy.  Whatever the genre, as events unfold, you become lost in the story.

Conclusion: The Flow Activities:

Write down the things you enjoy doing; hobbies, sports, interests. They are activities that you experience flow with; they keep you so absorbed that you can’t think outside the present.

The more flow activities you have in your life; the more opportunities you will have to be living in the moment. However, it’s important to understand there has to be a balance! Too many activities could leave you feeling pressured and stressed.

Related: Moving Towards Mindful Thinking

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