“The more flow we experience in daily life, the more likely we are to feel happy overall.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
We all have heard that famous phrase ‘Just go with the flow,’ haven’t we? But, what does it look like to go with the flow in practice? In some cases, it can mean simply going along with the status quo or allowing things to happen to you without making waves. Is this what a happy life is about? What if you can discover your flow and, in doing so, find absolute peace and happiness?
Decades ago, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of flow to describe a specific state of mind where everything comes naturally. You are working on a task, making progress, while being completely immersed in it. Nothing seems too easy or too complex in a state of flow, and you are just pleasantly engaged in a stimulating experience.
Chances are you’ve experienced that feeling a few times, probably while doing something you love. Whether you were studying, rock climbing, or drawing, you experienced an effortless concentration and focus, feeling like you had complete control over your actions, and time seemed to pass more quickly than usual. At those moments, your status, color of your skin, finances, or anything else were simply irrelevant. Nothing was important except you excelling at the challenge of the task at hand.
We All Want a Meaningful Life
Have you ever felt like your life doesn’t have a purpose or a meaning? Although rarely someone wants to admit it, every one of us has felt this at some point in our lives. And whether we realize it or not, we all strive to lead meaningful lives or at least hide from the lack of it. And almost always, we attempt to distract ourselves by seeking meaning through some form of escape. Naturally, this can rarely provide us with the stimulation we need to change our lives for the better fundamentally.
Similarly, our pursuit of riches is also doomed to fail. After all, we all know too well that money can’t buy happiness. We only need to check the news to see that fame, popularity, and wealth don’t make our lives better. So, if none of these paths brings us happiness, what does?
Let’s say it’s Sunday afternoon and you have nothing to do. Where do you turn to find fun and pleasure? You can try painting, reading that book you bought a few months ago or taking up a new instrument. You must know that each of these things requires effort, and none provide an instant reward. Unfortunately, most of us tend to give up and decide to watch something on tv. But will this bring you lasting satisfaction?
It may engage you for a while, but that’s about it. That is why we should stay away from settling into our meaningful, non-fulfilling ways. Because, although watching a movie is awesome, it’s unlikely to make you a better person or fill a void in your life. That’s where stagnation and unhappiness come in. Suppose we repeatedly choose thoughtless pleasures over the pursuit of engaging activities that can bring us personal development and meaning. In that case, our lives will continue to be as hollow as our choices. Fortunately, we can achieve our goals and make a difference by understanding the simple difference between instant gratification and lasting enjoyment.
Find Your State of Flow
Once you understand that you will not gain anything from instant gratification, how can you find your flow and live a more meaningful and happier life? You need to opt to do the things you genuinely love doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s coloring a book of mandalas, cooking a meal you never made before or performing surgery – the state of flow can be different for everyone. The universal thing is the feeling it produces. When you are in the flow, you feel a sense of pure enjoyment from engaging in a task that balances skill and challenge in a pleasurable way. When in flow, you can benefit from completing your goals and feedback on how you did it. As you complete the task, you might feel a sense of accomplishment, joy, and power that you may not feel in any other aspect of your everyday life.
In a state of flow, you can master your fears, insecurities, and any other thing that troubles you. And when you are in this state, you can draw on a sense of power and self-worth that will carry you through all the ordinary moments in your life. The beauty of the state of flow is choosing an activity, a mission that challenges us enough to commit to it, but that’s also not too difficult for us to give up on it. This way, we can push our limits and achieve new things we may think are solely in the realm of wishful thinking.
The specific happiness that comes from this state of mind is called intrinsic motivation. Unlike extrinsic motivation, such as prizes, money, or anything in between, intrinsic motivation is driven by satisfying deeply personal goals. While extrinsic rewards are good for us externally and can keep us motivated, the pride and joy we get from intrinsic motivation help us consistently be happy, mentally fulfilled, and at peace. For example, if you’re working at a job that pays well but leaves you bored and wanting more, no amount of money will make you truly happy, the way of doing something that really fulfills you.
So, actively doing something you love will put you in the flow state and give you the happiness everyone needs. As long as you can find an activity that works for you, where you can truly feel the peace while focusing entirely and applying your whole self to a subject, then you have everything you need to get yourself into the flow. Despite the negative things that occur in the world that are sadly not so easy to dissipate or control, we can still choose what we can do with our free time to experience joy, peace, and happiness.
Once you find that activity that works for you and enters this peaceful and superior state of mind, you will experience a primal and fundamental sense of happiness. This isn’t a fleeting feeling but rather a deeply fulfilling one. With the modern evolution of the world bringing about a new technological age but also chaos and confusion, I believe it’s crucial more than ever to have an activity you can give yourself to and feel happy doing it.
We can change ourselves for the better, and therefore this beautiful world we are living in. It is what Happytalism stands for. We are focusing on the human flourishing and building capabilities of individuals, communities, organizations, and governments to help accelerate progress toward enhancing happiness and well-being for all. It starts with You and your goals and ends with Us and everyone’s happiness. Join us in our efforts.
Read the first part of this article here.