creativity,  flow,  happiness

The connection between flow and happiness

It starts with what you know and enjoy

I’ve written about flow before but wanted to expand a bit on the concept. Flow is the sensation you get when you are so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time and feel completely in-tune with yourself and the activity. I often find myself reaching a flow state when I’m creating art. It’s not uncommon for 3 or 4 hours to pass before I realize that I’ve been engrossed in a project for that long.

Flowing Happiness


What is flow?

And how do we achieve flow?

The chart below shows where flow falls on a scale of psychological states. Each state is in relation to how skilled a person is at an activity and how challenging the activity is. Flow occurs in a space between being overly challenged (think stressed and freaked out) and too tightly controlled. It is the opposite of not caring about the activity. It is a fine balance between being anxious and being relaxed. Flow does not elicit worry or induce boredom.

As indicated in the video above, flow requires two things: skill and challenge. We achieve flow when our current skill level is being challenged, and we are striving to improve. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, the father of flow, indicates 10 factors that are often present in a state of flow:

  1. Challenging goals that are attainable
  2. Laser-focused concentration
  3. You enjoy the activity
  4. A sense peace and lack of self-consciousness
  5. You lose track of time or time seems to stand still
  6. You get immediate feedback on the progress of the activity
  7. You are confident you can complete the task (this is the balance between skill and challenge)
  8. You feel in control of the situation
  9. You aren’t aware of physical needs like hunger (an athlete in the flow might not feel pain)
  10. You are only aware of the activity — the rest of the world seems to fade away

Not everyone will experience all 10 factors when they reach a flow state, but these are factors identified as being a part of flow.

So what’s the connection between flow and happiness? Csíkszentmihályi has called flow the secret to happiness, and he has spent his career trying to understand flow and how people can get more of it in their lives. When we have activities in our lives that involve moments of flow, we live happier lives. Flow puts our egos and our worries in the back seat, so we are more content. Flow keeps us stimulated and interested, so we aren’t wallowing in apathy or boredom. The accomplishments achieved during flow states leave us with increased self-esteem.

Although we can’t live every moment in the flow, each of us should find activities that allow us to achieve flow. Sports and art are well-known fields in which practitioners achieve flow. However, flow can be achieved in may different endeavors from cooking to web design.