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One Path to Happiness

Creating a flow state can help you complete a chosen task with ease and enjoyment.

Have you ever been so absorbed in an activity that time seems to disappear? Hours later, forsaking food and other comfort breaks, you are staring at a product that is wonderfully complete and you ponder how you got there?

Some might call this being 'in the zone.' This often happens to me when I am working in my Art Studio. After pushing past the resistance of that inner voice, I enter a time vortex where I am in an internal conversation with the work I am creating. Making adjustments and hundreds of micro decisions that lead to an expected goal.

The book (audiobook for me), FLOW: Living at the Peak of Your Abilities by psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is in my opinion, the most comprehensive at explaining this state. He describes a happiness that comes from 'enjoying the everyday, the ongoing use of our skills and relishing the moment.' He defines 'flow' as a 'peculiar feeling of complete involvement with what you're doing that comes when you're paying attention to a goal and reading the feedback that you get from the goal.'

According to Csikszentmihalyi, achieving flow can be beneficial in two ways: It can help make everyday activities and work more enjoyable and it helps you harmonize all of the elements of your life so that you feel everything is aimed at the same purpose and meaning.

So, how can you achieve flow?

According to the writer, there are eight (8) elements that facilitate a flow experience - a clear goal, feedback, challenges that match skills, concentration, focus, control, loss of self-consciousness, and transformation of time.

For the purpose of this blog, I will use my experience as an example. However, this is a concept that can easily apply to a variety of experiences so think about what the task would be for you.

  • A Clear Goal - What is a major task where you know what you want to achieve? I have the goal to complete a painting. This major goal can be broken down into sub-goals or steps. Here are just a few. I start with an idea or inspiration. It can be something I've seen, heard, read, or felt. The idea can come from a customer who has asked me to do an art commission. I might do research to help me flesh out the idea/concept. Next, I might draw a sketch or two.

  • Feedback - How can you tell whether you are getting closer to your goal or not? In the outlining stage, when I am drawing the shapes and they are congruent or when I am placing shapes at certain places on the picture plane and my 'landmarks' are accurate, I know that I am on the right track. I can proceed and no erasing/adjustments are required. This occurance is rare. Conversely, when I am mixing colors and the value is a little too dark or light, cool or warm, I know that I need to remix or add complements, or tint to what I already have. Adjustments can be enjoyable. Also, if I am working on a timeline, I can measure my progress by how much work I have completed in a certain period.

  • Challenges Match Skills - Does what you are doing, match your ability to do it? If the task is too easy, you will get bored. If it is too difficult, you'll lose interest or become frustrated. Strive for the happy median. Painting is a talent and a skill that I've developed over decades, so I know the basic process. However, I still find that I am challenged by applying certain techniques or processes. While I prefer acrylics, there are other types of paints such as watercolor and oils which I have yet to explore. I continue to learn, and this is what makes the painting process both challenging and attainable.

  • Concentration - On what task can you merge all of your energy into a focused beam of concentration? For me painting is one of the tasks that achieves this end. I get tunnel vision when I know I have to complete a commission by a certain time or when I have the freedom to work for as long as possible. For me, a good solid block of at least 4-6 hours is ideal.

  • Focus - On what task do you feel everyday worries and problems disappear as you work? Painting brings me a sense of this relief and presence as I work in the moment.

  • Control - On what task do you feel that you can be in control of your actions and experience? When I am painting, I can choose what to paint, when to paint and for how long. This gives me a feeling of autonomy that is important in the creative process.

  • Transformation of Time - In what task does time seem to adapt itself to your experience? Hours seem like minutes when I am zoned into painting. I sometimes have to set a timer or an alarm on my phone to interrupt my flow when I have other commitments on my schedule.

What is your path to happiness? What is that one task that joyfully takes you into the flow state? Please comment, share, like and subscribe.

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