Success, wealth, respect — these are all things we pursue to be happy. However, have you ever paused to reflect on where happiness comes from? You may be surprised to discover that the answer is “D”, none of the above.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, has observed and studied the psychological concept of “flow” in his studies on happiness. Flow is a mental state. Csikszentmihalyi states that happiness isn’t fixed; rather, it a combination of a baseline level, where basic needs are met, and a broader area, controlled by the individual. His studies and research show that once a person makes it a little beyond the average poverty level, their material resources don’t affect how happy they are. To think that you would be happier if you just had a nicer house or a higher salary is wrong. In most senses, personal happiness comes from within.
Physiologically, the front of your brain is the section where your worries, self-reflection, and consciousness reside. When you achieve flow, you enter into a state in which the front of your brain experiences decreased activity, allowing the rest of your brain to function more, enabling new ideas to emerge from your neurons. This state is conducive to creative thinking, as it is not inhibited by the more conscious part of your brain. Your neurons communicate more, bouncing and generating ideas faster, unlocking more than they would be able to otherwise. This is where you are most productive. Other research hypothesizes that the flow state is related to the brain’s dopamine reward circuitry, since curiosity is highly amplified.
Defined by Csikszentmihalyi himself, flow is: “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
“What contributes to the feeling of a life worth living?” In very simple terms, you could describe flow as getting into “the zone”, focusing on and doing something so productively that it takes up all of your attention and you lose track of time. When you want to work on a task and do so wholeheartedly with a sincere, positive attitude, you will enjoy it. “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness.”
So how do you achieve flow amongst all the radio static of distractions and pressures around you? Fortunately, you’ve already experienced it. You can probably remember at least one day in your life when you were so wrapped up in something that you lost track of time and other responsibilities. This is the happy and ecstatic state that you want to make a habit of being in.
There’s no straight-forward, one-size-fits-all approach, but if you have something that you love doing, keep challenging yourself with it. Apply this mentality to be happier in other aspects of your life; approach everything with more curiosity and positivity. Do not underestimate the effect of changing to a more positive outlook. By telling yourself you want to do something instead of dreading it, you will delve into it with more ease and interest — even if feigned at first.
So, shed that cloak of pessimism and create some positivity in your daily life. Remind yourself that you are happy today because your thoughts dictate it. Tackle your work with newfound curiosity and let yourself be engrossed by your tasks. Learn to embrace and enjoy everything that comes to you and you will achieve a state of happiness that is worth more than just your salary or car.
Originally published at medium.com