Think of something you love to do..
Now observe how you behave when you’re doing it ..
Allow to come to your mind some activity that when you perform it you naturally concentrate fully on it, developing your skills effortlessly .. you are so immersed in the experience that you disappear in it, time flies and at the end you get a good feeling of completion and satisfaction ..
… there yet?
Now come back here .. You,ve just recreated a flow, optimal or happy experience, a state of completion that allows you to enjoy fully the present moment by getting involved in it, developing your skills and getting instant gratification.
This state of being is different from a merely pleasant experience, because we can grow with it, overcome challenges and get more satisfaction. We’re doing something that we consider valuable, which has interest in itself (for the simple act of doing it), that allows us to accomplish a little challenge and to which we devote all of your attention, regardless of external circumstances or people, and also regardless of the outcome.
To the study of this matter, psychology professor and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devoted his life for several years. In his book, ‘Flow’ (1990), he describes, not the formula for happiness (something that does not exist, cause that is a creation of each individual), but the common ground of happy experiences of thousands of people. The conclusion was that achieving happiness does not depend on action we are doing, but on the quality of attention that we dedicate to it.
'The shape and content of life depend on how attention has been used. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how we use them, and it,s an energy under our control, to do with as we please. Hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of our experience'.
According to the results of his research, happiness is not something that happens by itself, does not depend on external events but rather on how we experience them within, where we place our attention, which is something we can nourish and develop.
Therefore, we can enjoy whatever we do if we put all our attention into it, not in making things better or worse or in achieving approval, but just for themselves, dedicating ourselves entirely to them, regardless of the outcome.
'Learning to enjoy and find meaning in the continuous stream of life experiences we become independent of the concepts that we learned about what makes us happy, and therefore become masters of our happiness and life'.
So we can flow when we,re hiking, learning to play an instrument or reading a book, but also taking a shower, washing the dishes or cleaning the house. The key is to stay focused on the task at hand and the goals we set out for them (no matter if it,s feeling more intensely the soap on our hands or feel the bodily sensations while we,re showering ..), regardless of external circumstances. In this way, we can even turn unfortunate events into stimulating challenges that keep us energized and purposeful, as long as we turn our attention to the right place.
'To overcome the anxiety and depression of contemporary life we have to become independent of social surroundings and stop responding to their rewards and punishments. This is accomplished by learning to provide rewards to ourselves, developing the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances'.
1.The 8 factors of enjoyment:
1. It involves performing a task that can be completed.
2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
3 . The concentration is possible because the task has clear goals
4. The work provides us immediate feedback.
5. We engage fully effortlessly, which takes away from consciousness the concerns and frustrations of everyday life.
6.There is a sense of control over the actions that provides satisfaction.
7. The concern for the self disappears, and paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience (we have grown by developing skills).
8. The sense of time is altered.
The result of this type of involvement is that we get out of the experience with a strengthened self, which has grown and become more complex, by having developed new skills, and at the same time has forgotten the self, putting aside all small worries and frustrations (which take much energy on a daily basis). Hence the feeling of satisfaction. As with everything else in life, the more involvement, the greater the challenges, higher growth and greater joy. And so the flow itself leads to creativity, accomplishment and an outstanding performance.
'Hundreds of times everyday we are reminded of the vulnerability of our self and everytime this happens psychic energy is lost trying to restore order to consciousness.But in flow there is no room for self scrutiny because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules and challenges well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened'.
Since these are the ingredients to inner states of happiness, and we can reach them at any time, place and events, what is it that prevents us from recognizing, maintaining and / or having more of them?
2. What prevents us from flowing?
- Basically, we are heavily distracted most of the time, without no control over our attention.
This is because we live in an environment of constant external stimuli:
- 24/7 technology, with all sorts of devices that continually interrupt us.
- Fast-paced lifestyle and on autopilot, which doesn,t allow to give more space or attention to anything we do.
- Social and cultural environment in which our attention is constantly guided to external stimuli.
- By the natural tendency of the mind to wander: judging or analyzing the past or the future and preventing us from appreciating and surrendering to what is in the present moment
- Secondly, this type of care requires perseverance and discipline, again because our mind is used to operate in automatic pilot and spend the minimum energy. Setting distractions aside, devoting extra attention and working on challenges, no matter how small, requires effort.
- Finally, the greatest obstacle we face to flow in our experience is that the natural state of our mind is chaos.
'Developing attention allows us not only more enjoyable experiences but also prevent mental chaos, our natural state'.
Left alone and at its free will, our mind works to create and attempting to solve situations, worrying about our little self and all his possible problems (most of them invented). As Mark Twain said, ‘I am an old man who has lived a long and difficult life with a large number of problems, most of which never happened.’
3. How to get more flow-happiness in the everyday life
Training our attention, freeing ourselves from external pressures and achieving a self-contained and self-motivated self with intrinsic goals are the keys to a more fulfilling life. Here are some requirements and ways to achieve this:
- Training our attention. Many mindfulness and meditation techniques of mindfulness help us control our attention. We can start by focusing on a particular object, like a mantra, a candle or one’s breath for 5 minutes. Practiced regularly this allows us to develop a more focused attention.
- Finding goals that motivate ourselves, with no expectations of getting anything from the outside, as approval or reward.
- Practicing something you like (with renewed attention).
- Learn new things.
- Choose a specific daily activity (either showering or washing dishes) and perform it with wider attention than usual: go slowly, enjoying the sensations that arises, focus on one thing at a time ..
'Flow experiences are the antidote to restore order to consciousness, occupying the mind in something different, which makes the sense of self disappear and merge with the surroundings.'
4. A happy life is also full of meaning
Finally, the flow theory (and of life itself) speaks of the need to find meaning in whatever we do to feel that we,ve lived a happy life.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, to have an optimal experience of life is ultimately based on whether we,ve come out successful in the task of bringing order into our consciousness or not. Not just to accumulate the highest number of joyful experiences enjoyed moment to moment, but to give them an overall greater sense.
To turn our entire existence into a flow experience involves paying attention and setting a global goal to develop consistently, knowing what we dedicate and devote themselves to it effectively.
Whether it is caring for our family, protecting animals or developing our full potential in whatever area we choose, having a goal and taking the appropriate actions that leads to it (regardless of the outcome) brings harmony to our minds, the ultimate state of happiness.
Now I wonder how this is for you ..
Think for a moment what things make you flow in your life, in which things you enjoy most spending your time and energy and/or what your overall goal is, what motivates most of your actions. I,d really appreciate it if you tell me in the comments 😉
This post is also available in: Español