Have you ever had a moment of pure passion, where you are so immersed in what you are doing that everything around you does not matter and you are in a state of total bliss? In that moment, you feel fully alive, present and completely engaged with what you are doing. When the happiness and creativity expert Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi was studying how painters work, he noticed an odd thing. When their painting was going well, they did not care about getting tired, hungry or uncomfortable. They just carried on. But when the painting was finished, they rapidly lost interest in it.
Csíkszentmihályi described this state of mind as a flow state: the experience of being fully engaged with what you are currently doing. When in a flow state, an hour can pass in the blink of an eye, action and awareness merges and the experience is intrinsically rewarding. You feel that what you are doing is important, in full control and not self-conscious. Flow state does not just involve ultimate concentration. It is a complex state of mind where you are solely driven by focused motivation, operating at your peak level of mental and emotional engagement. Essentially, your mind uses 100% of its capacity for the task at hand, rather than wondering what is for dinner or peeking at the beautiful girl across the road. Because of this, a person in flow state not only works with great efficiency and creativity, but they also feel positive, energised and happy. In fact, the intense spontaneous joy brought on by flow state can almost be considered the mental equivalent of an orgasm.
So how can you achieve flow state? Flow state is not something that one chooses to go into. It is only attained when certain criteria are met.
- Flow state can happen with any activity, but it is more likely to occur if you are internally motivated (i.e. you are doing the activity mainly for its own sake).
- You should have clear short-term goals for what you are trying to achieve. This adds direction and structure to the task.
- An important aspect of flow is that the activity must be challenging enough to stretch your skills almost to the limits, but not more. If it is not challenging enough, you will get bored. If it demands more skill than what you are capable of, you will become anxious. That being said, the balance only has to be between “perceived” challenge and skill. In other words, all you need is confidence that you can take on the challenge.
- The activity should provide immediate feedback on how you are doing (e.g. seeing how a painting is turning out, hearing yourself sing). This allows you to adjust your performance in order to maintain flow state.
Flow is an incredibly useful thing. Through flow, you can forget about your worries and your strife, reach a state of pure happiness and inner peace and produce something truly great. The key to happiness is knowing what allows you to reach flow state and routinely entering flow state. For example, I know that the three things that give me flow are: music, humour and obsessions. Ergo, I play my guitar and sing, watch television shows that make me laugh and write an entry for the Encyclopaedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledge every day. All of these activities allow me to be truly happy, no matter what the situation may be.