Winter and the holiday season bring all kinds of emotions to the forefront. As the days get shorter and colder and the trees become bare, I begin to think of ways I can be happy during my least favorite season. One step was buying cross-country skis so I can glide through the snow whenever there’s enough on the ground. Now when it snows, and I’m nowhere near a downhill ski slope, I can enjoy it right in my neighborhood. I also get back to activities in which I lose myself and feel fulfilled. I remember learning about a blissful state called “FLOW” coined by the Hungarian psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce that). Flow is the state you feel when time flies, you’re totally immersed in an activity and you feel almost at one with the universe. The pictures above illustrate some ways I find that flow state: yoga, skiing, and creating mosaics. My sister, Cheryl, created the mosaics above and I was with her at the Newton South art show today. We do art together many Sundays and forget to eat or even go to the bathroom during 6-7 hours of work on our art. It’s so all-encompassing.
The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.3)
A few excerpts from the article below state that happiness comes from within oneself. Csikszentmihalyi points to ways in which humans have attempted in vain to find happiness through assigning power to things outside of one’s control, and he quotes Marcus Aurelius approvingly when the Stoic philosopher writes, “If you are pained by external things it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that power now.” The key to happiness consists in how we invest our psychic energy. When we focus our attention on a consciously chosen goal, our psychic energy literally “flows” in the direction of that goal, resulting in a re-ordering and harmony within consciousness.
Cziksentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Cskikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.4) He identifies a number of different elements involved in achieving flow:
- There are clear goals every step of the way.
- There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
- There is a balance between challenges and skills.
- Action and awareness are merged.
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
- There is no worry of failure.
- Self-consciousness disappears.
- The sense of time becomes distorted.
- The activity becomes an end in itself.
To learn more about this go to http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/
What does this have to do with this time of year? In December, some people’s schedules may feel frenetic and out of control. Find at least one thing in your life that creates that “flow” state for you and make it happen ! If you already are doing things where you feel this state, I’d love to hear about it!