Success, like happiness, ensue as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneselfViktor Frankl
An expert surgeon describes his surgery as ‘It is so enjoyable that I would do it, even if I didn’t have to’, a chess player tells his experience while playing a tournament as ‘the concentration is like breathing, you never think of it. The roof could fall in and I would miss it’. An ace stock trader tells that trading in stock market in order to make money is his secondary aim, but playing it in order to prove his skill of foretelling the future brings happiness. Many more successful people share a common experience of ‘Flow’.
One of the most influential and seminal works on happiness, is written by a noted psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don’t try to pronounce it) in his best-selling book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He developed a theory of optimal experience after interviewing a lot of experts and learnt about their experience and coined the term ‘Flow’. He defined ‘Flow’ as-
The state in which people are so immersed in an activity that nothing seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it for the sheer sake of doing it. When consciousness is harmoniously ordered, one’s skills are competent to cope with the challenges and we feel a sense of exhilaration and enjoyment in our efforts and creativity.
Is the state of ‘Flow’ produces Happiness?
Aristotle, 2400 years ago, concluded that more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. A few decades earlier, happiness for people was to survive and to leave children who will in turn survive, if possible, with a certain amount of comfort and dignity. We, today, are living in the most affluent, scientific and sophisticated world, surrounded by material luxuries which were even not dreamt a few decades ago like cars, smartphones or entertainment a click away. But, why today majority of people are living in the constant state of anxiety and depression?
The Author asserts that contrary to what we usually believe that the best moments of our lives are passive or relaxing times, but enjoyable events happen when a person body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and challenging. Where a person has not only met some prior expectations or satisfied a desire, but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before.
The ‘Flow’ experience persists when one feels that his skills are adequate to cope with challenges at hand, his attention is invested in realistic goals and efforts help him/her to succeed. None of these experiences may be particularly pleasurable at the time when they are taking place but afterward, one think back and say ‘That really was fun’ and a sense of mastery prevails. Our real happiness lies in our ability to improve the quality of our experience of work and also how we manage relationship with family and friends.
How to create ‘Flow’ experience?
A ‘Flow’ experience transforms potential threats into enjoyable challenges and such an experience can be converted into concrete actions by these steps:
Setting Goals: To be able to experience ‘flow’, one must have clear external goals to strive for which involves recognizing the challenges and limitations. If I make a goal to become a tennis player, then I must learn how to serve, to use backhand and forehand and to develop endurance and reflexes.
Becoming immersed in the activity: After choosing a goal, a person who experiences ‘Flow’, gets deeply immersed in his goals. Concentration is so intense there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant and there is nothing to worry as ongoing stream of experience becomes enjoyable.
Paying attention to what is happening: One feels that one skills are adequate to cope with challenges at hand, in a goal directed, rule bound action system that provides clear clues as how well one is performing.
Learning to enjoy immediate experience: When experience becomes intrinsically rewarding, life seems justified in the present. Alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turn into a feeling of control and energy works to reinforce the sense of self.
‘Flow’ is not limited to cognitive activities but applies to every passion like dancing, rock climbing, swimming, playing basketball or other activities but it is not easy to transform any experience into ‘Flow’ like experience and very few people who are truly committed to their passion, interests and goals will reach such optimal experience.
Such optimal experience has potential to make life more rich, intense and meaningful because it increases strength and complexity of the self. Confronting challenges and fulfilling the goals becomes a landmark in the memory which one always cherishes which no other symbols of happiness like wealth, symbol or status can replace.
Before saying Adieu….
Today, we are so much fixated on achieving our goals that we have become impatient and ceased to derive pleasure from the present and contentment in the ongoing stream of experience which results in misery. So set your goals, put unflinching dedication and most importantly enjoy the journey toward the goal!
Stay tuned for the next book review till then stay safe and curious.