In his TED talk, world-famous Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” He emphasizes that money cannot make us happy. That includes holiday gifts or external reassurance that “everything will be okay.” He has studied individuals who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state that he has called “flow.”
The discipline of positive psychology holds that flow—which is sometimes called “being in the zone”—is the state of mind in which you’re totally consumed in an activity, not to achieve perfection or control the outcomes of problems, but just to enjoy the activity for its own sake.
You feel an alert and energized focus, which brings about an experience of completely enjoying what you’re doing. It’s like the activity absorbs your attention, and you feel confident that you can succeed. You may even forget where you are and what time it is.
- Have you ever worked out just to enjoy the feeling of your body pushing its boundaries?—that’s flow.
- Have you ever made a meal or sung a song, just to enjoy the tastes and smells or the sound of your own voice?—that’s flow.
It feels extremely positive—and anyone can enter this state!
Now that we’re entering the stress of the holiday season, we may dedicate ourselves to finding a few spare moments to spend in positive flow activities:
- Decorating your house in a mindful way, and enjoying the sparkle of the lights and ornaments.
- Walking the dog, practicing yoga, or going to the gym, and enjoying the sensation of the blood flowing through your body and keeping you alive.
- Praying or meditating, specifically about the ideas of gratitude and of being at one with all people and things in the world. (This one may take some practice!—but it’s worth it.)
What activity has made you feel like you are “in the zone”? How would you describe that state?