The Elements of Enjoyment

by J.D. Roth

I found “flow” in the Peruvian Andes. I also tend to experience it while writing. I’ve achieved it while making boxes in a factory, while preparing a speech, and while mowing the lawn. (For real!) Though each of these activities was very different, they shared some commonalities that helped me get “in the zone”. This leads me to wonder: Can happiness be somehow be cultivated? Turns out, it can.

Through Mihály Csíkszentmihályi‘s research into flow (or optimal experience), he found that it’s possible for a person to gain control over the quality of their daily experience, to build enjoyment into even routine and mundane activities. His studies of diverse populations around the world have shown that our best moments contain at least one — and often all — of the following characteristics (some of which overlap):

That first point merits a closer look. To achieve flow, you have to find a balance between your abilities and the challenge of the task at hand. If what you’re doing is too difficult for your current skill level, you’ll become anxious. If the task is easy and you’re good at it, it’ll be a relaxing pastime. Here’s a graphical representation of the flow model:

Flow model
This representation via globoforce.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, “The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself.” You might need to complete the task you’re working on for other reasons, but you’d do it even if it weren’t required. You’re doing it not for some future benefit, but because the task itself is so rewarding.

When do you encounter flow? Do yo have these peak experiences often? For me, writing is the activity most likely to induce the flow state. Just last week, as I was racing to complete the “Get Rich Slowly” course, I experienced this sort of peak experience. I was working at the limit of my capabilities, and I loved it. What about you?

Updated: 28 April 2014

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