Pyschologists Say The Key To Happiness Is Finding Your “Flow”
No, I’m not talking about your Friday night yoga flow (although I 10/10 recommend).
This semester, I’m taking a course that I knew was going to be life changing from the beginning. It’s a psychology course called Optimal Human Functioning, in which we study the theories and practices of positive psychology. Positive psychology is defined as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” The field strives to help people find meaning and enhance their lives.
We began the class by reading Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is defined as “flashes of intense living.” One experiences flow when they are so absorbed and engaged in an activity that they lose track of time. “Flow activities” require challenge, goals, and feedback. After completing a flow activity, happiness follows. Flow activities can be anything that fits into this description– whether it be painting, writing, running or swimming. It’s different for everyone. I found three of my flow activities are cooking, yoga and traveling.
Think about an activity that you would consider a “flow activity”. Now think of how much time a week you spend doing this activity.
Csikszentmihalyi divides our time into three different categories-production, maintenance and leisure time. Production is time spent doing things we HAVE to do– working, studying or going to class. He says that we spend anywhere from 25-60% of our time in production. Maintenance takes up about 20-40% of our time and includes activities such as showering, sleeping, eating or cleaning.
Last is leisure time– this is what makes us human. We spend about 20-40% of our time in leisure time. Activities such as sports, art, watching TV and scrolling on social media all fall into the category of leisure time.
How we spend our leisure time is ultimately what determines our happiness. Therefore, it is really important to make sure you pick and choose how you spend this valuable small chunk of your time. This got me thinking. If yoga is a flow activity for me, why do I spend five hours a week mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and only one hour a week practicing yoga?
Of course, we cannot spend all of our time in “flow mode.” Spending time in maintenance and production is necessary to our livelihood and we would not be able to survive without it. However, once we recognize what activities truly engage us and result in happiness, we will be able to improve our overall well-being.
This also got me thinking about how this all fits into work. Csikszentmihalyi says that work has the potential for flow once someone is actually working, but people often dread having to get up early and go to their job. As someone who does not have an entirely specific career they are aiming for, Csikszentmihalyi’s discussion of flow helped direct me a bit more. I figure if I want to pursue a career that makes me happy, I should combine a flow activity with my skills. So if I love food and I am skilled in marketing, I should become a marketing director for a restaurant!
Learning about flow has truly made me become more mindful about how I spend my time. It has also helped me recognize what makes me happy and how this will affect my future. I strongly recommend finding your flow activity and make it a significant part of your leisure time. Hey, you only have one life-you might as well live it to your full potential.