From the moment we wake to the moment we go to bed, many of us have a full “dance card”. In other words, the time allotted for various activities that need to be done in order for our lives to run smoothly or to full some other criteria we have set to make our life orderly and purposeful.
Having a purpose in our days is very important, otherwise, why bother getting out of bed in the first place? The mistake we make is to create a life that is so full of “purposeful activities” that we forget why we’re doing them in the first place and we allow little time for pleasure.
Now purpose and pleasure do not necessarily have to be distinct from each other. We may exercise for the purpose of maintaining a healthy body, or enjoy getting out on the bike or going for a run - and they are great time-efficient ways of living a happy and satisfying life – or at least for an hour of the day!
But we occasionally forget to take stock of our routine to ensure that we do have a portion of our day spent in pleasurable activities. Because without pleasure, life becomes one long responsibility and drives us to forgo time where we can lose ourselves in something we enjoy.
It’s the “losing ourselves” that is the important piece. Activities that allow us to have complete absorption and a loss of sense of time are known as activities that produced “flow”
What Is Flow?
The term “flow” is usually used in a sporting context, but the definition of flow is “a state of complete absorption in a complex and challenging activity that stretches one’s skills”. And this can happen anywhere.
Csikszentmihalyi is a world-famous researcher on the psychology of optimal experience –what he calls flow. An essential element of any flow experience is that your perceived abilities match the perceived challenge of the task at hand.
In this balance, we can become truly “engaged” in the activity and some of our peak experiences will occur then. He explains that flow experiences involve clear goals, effortless yet total concentration, a sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, an altered sense of time – complete absorption. The more flow experiences we get in our life, the happier we will be.
So what in your life enables you to experience flow? As a child, many activities allowed flow as we discovered the joy in learning and play. As adults, we may give up our hobbies or interests.
Take a look back at your week and make a note of anything you have done that you really enjoyed, felt relaxed yet absorbed or challenged in the activity. Was there something each day?
If not, time to schedule in some “flow-time”.
“Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.” Professor Tal Ben-Shaar from Harvard University.
Where do we find flow activities?
We can experience flow at work or at home although often other factors affect our experience at work – anxiety, pressure or constant interruptions.
The type of activities that are likely to produce flow are ones that use our strengths. If we can be creative and find ways to use our strengths and talents then the pleasure we gain from a task will increase.
We need to identify what we are good at and use those talents. It is likely that we will get more absorption and engagement when we are doing something that uses our strengths.
Find New Flow Experiences
If we are not finding our current lifestyle “flow-producing” then time to explore other options or interests. Look back on what you have enjoyed in the past or take that next step to try something new which may give you what you’re looking for.