Did it ever happen to you to practice some activities and feel so absorbed by it to lose the sense of time? In the sideway picture I played chess under a blazing sun for more than two hours, when I finished I was not tired, I was happy and I had no perception of effort despite. My friends asked me how I could stay in the sun for so long. Only two hours before I was complaining about the heat and how this took away the forces, then, as if by magic, I had forgotten the hardships, the moans, the tiredness!
What had happened? I went into a state of “flow“!
What is the flow
The concept of flow (also called “stream” or “optimal experience”) was introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist Croatian matrix positivist.
Quoting the words of Csikszentmihalyi, the flow is “the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement. It is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
This state brings us closer to ecstasy, to a happiness where there is no euphoria and excitement (typical of real happiness), but there is a state of grace that leads us out of time, to the timeless universe of soul.
In the state of flow you can have maximum learning, in fact all the energy is channeled to the task that is taking place and you feel pervaded by a well-being for what you are doing.
You don’t fulfill the activity in order to get a result, but it is an end in itself. The state of flow becomes itself motivation to continue as anything leading to the pleasantness of the state of flow becomes a desirable activity.
The happiness with the flow
Csikszentmihalyi tries to answer the question: “how to be happy?“, on the assumption that man seeks happiness and all behavior is implemented to achieve this condition.
Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good; and so the good has been aptly described as that “at which everything aims” and happiness is really the utmost aim, the supreme right, based on best prating what difference man from the other beings. Nicomachean ethics, Aristotele – 384 – 322 b.c.
Today we have asset and opportunities unimaginable for our parents or our grandparents, but this does not make us happier. Happiness does not come by luck or by chance and it is not determined by external events outside of our control but it is intimately linked to our will, and to how each of us interprets the events that happen and the experiences that receive.
Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. Aldous Huxley 1860 – 1933
Our culture and society affect the way you see, assimilate and interpret events, but we, as individuals, can assign a value to every experience of our life.
Everything changes, or in the words of Zeno “everything flows”! I often hear the sentence “I’m just like” or “this is my life”, but nothing is the same as the previous instant and any information, every event and experience creates what we are now.
This occurs through a process of active selection of information, each person selects and organizes information acquired in the context in which it operates according to specific criteria: the quality of the experience associated with such information.
Indeed, we try to avoid situations that generate stress or anxiety and we look for positive experiences, those which lead to a state of full and positive consciousness.
But what does tie the Flow with the pursuit of happiness?
People who listen to their own emotions and live challenges (even demanding, but without going heavily beyond their limits) are the ones most able to determine the quality of their lives. This is the best way to approach the condition of happiness.
What happens in the state of flow
When we enter into a state of flow:
- the objectives become clear, both in their aim in the path to the achievement, we have a lot of inner clarity and we know exactly what we want to do;
- we are completely involved, focused and concentrated insomuch as we lose awareness of bodily needs. There are no distractions (we are almost in ecstasy);
- we feel that the task is feasible, we dominate the situation and our skills are adequate;
- we perceive that we are using our skills at the peak, but not more (there is no anxiety or boredom);
- we lose track of time;
- we are completely focused on the present (“Here and Now”);
- we perceive that the activity will go well;
- we are confident and lucid, every gesture is carried out in a natural way;
- we feel gratified, we have an intrinsic motivation: anything that makes the Flow that gets the same reward;
- we realize the effect of our actions, in fact, we understand if they lead to success or not, and we correct ourselves;
- we lose track of our ego and we are imbued with a sense of serenity, even the external judgment on us does not matter anymore. We feel part of a larger system in which we move with harmony, as in a flowing, a stream;
So, if the flow is really a “optimal” state how can we reach it?
In the next article I will explain how.