Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy people go with the flow

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at the University of California, as well as a research psychologist. In her studies, she has discovered 12 things that happy people have in common.

I am happy. Even when I'm feeling crappy, I am a happy person. People are forever asking me how I reached this place. It wasn't because I prayed enough, or took a magic pill, or held my mouth just right while dancing on one foot, or was just born happy (um ... NO ... you can ask my mom about that first year). Yet, I have discovered that self disciplines, even the ones which result in fun, have radically changed my life. These are things I learned through my own therapy and medicinal treatment for depression and anxiety. If you realize the concepts in this series are simply not enough, seek help. Insist on it. Find your own personal level of healing, which is different for everyone. Sometimes I speak "happy" with an accent, because I still dance with depression and anxiety - and that is okay.

I thought I'd focus my Mondays on each of the 12 common factors. It makes sense, because Mondays can totally slurp on the happiness meter.


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There is a man with a really large name: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

He proposed and has studied a very basic piece of happiness: flow

As Csikszentmihalyi describes it, flow is the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.

What I love about the notion of flow is that it happens for everyone, even if they do not consider themselves particularly creative. Think about it. It is a creative moment (everyone has creative ability, even if it's in certain situations and moments). The person is completely involved (as a self-proclaimed change whore, I still have flow - get lost in it). The activity is done for its own sake (not out of obligation, but with an ability to find and feel the joy in what is being done ... just by doing it).

He talks about ten factors that are typically involved. Not all of them have to be there, yet think about times in your life and things you've done where you have found yourself in a state of flow:

Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.

Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).

A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.

Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.

Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).

Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).

A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.

The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)

Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.


Some of this sounds daunting, but it can actually be inspiring. Not to mention, it perfectly describes why people find so much joy in things like crocheting, knitting, quilting, mowing the lawn, etc. Look back at that list. These kinds of things fit.

This list can help you to evaluate what things you should remove from your life. If they cannot be removed for practical purposes (job = money = food/clothing/shelter), are there ways to change them so you can start to experience more flow?

What things should you ADD to your life that will more easily produce a state of flow?

I find flow in many things. I have also become much more skilled at altering the "necessary" activities in my life to better move in such a free and more pleasurable state: cleaning, laundry, driving to and from things, etc.

When is the last time you got lost in your work? If you've never been lost in your work, is it even possible to move toward that goal? Do you have a few things in your life where you literally find yourself immersed in the process, and the task brings you pleasure just moving through it methodically?

Have you given up things, and it's time to add them back ... because it's healthy for you and you're worth it?

4 comments:

Erika said...

Parenting traumatized children has decidedly disrupted my "flow". Sad. I need time for focus and my day is chopped up a lot.

Lindsay Mama to Nine said...

I just re-added part time photography back to me. I dropped it, stopped doing shoots for beautiful people, stopped celebrating their lives and moments ..because mine were so hard...but then I realized I was losing that part of creating, of serving, of witnessing beauty in other people...so I stole it BACK!
and for the last month, I took it back, and it FEELS GREAT!

Tova said...

I'm officially wallowing in self pity right now. I want this flow, I used to have it. I was the crazy that could get into a project and forget to eat. I haven't done that in years. And I don't see it happening in the next few either. So yes, wallowing, because I know what I'm missing...

Lisa said...

If you haven't yet, read 'What Happy People Know' by Dan Baker. Full of good stuff in this flavour.