The How of Happiness – Flow Experiences

The eighth activity you can use to boost your happiness from  “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky is:

Increases Flow Experiences

This is where you are doing something that you are so engaged and absorbed in that you lose track of time and everything else around you.

That is “Flow”.

People in flow are usually doing something that they are good at but it still challenges.  So they are feeling in control and at the peak of their abilities, doing the activity for the sheer joy of it, but also challenged enough that it’s something they still need to concentrate on.

Myself, I find flow in a number of activities, one of them working on extensive and complex excel spreadsheets (believe it or not).

In one of my old jobs I had to work on excel spreadsheet (and in visual basic – on macros) as my entire job for a while, and I became completely absorbed by it.  Learning the coding, finding new ways to do formulas and tables for all the complex information.  What can I say, apparently I’m a geek through and through.  And when I was doing this, I was happy in that job.  Then I got a new boss and slowly made all the excel sheets so good that I didn’t need to work on them any more and I got reassigned to another project which I did not find engrossing in the least.  After that I wasn’t so happy in my job.

So how can you find more flow in your life and use it to bring greater happiness?  Here are some ways:

  • Control Attention – try to focus your attention on whatever it is you are doing.  Ever heard the phrase “clock watching”?  It refers to people who, at their work, are constantly looking to the clock to see what time it is (or how much time they have left until they leave).  It is the clock that is controlling their attention.  Instead, try to concentrate on what you are doing, find any strengths of yours you are using in this work and concentrate on them.  Now, like I found in that old job, sometimes you have little control over what you do, and if a task is too easy it may not inspire any flow at all – try asking your boss if there is another task you could try that might bring more flow.
  • Adapt Your Values – try these two values on: Be open to new and different things and Learn until the day you die.  One of my old mentors use to say: “the day you stop learning is the day you start dying”.  If you see life this way, there is any number of activities (you could learn or try) that might offer flow.
  • Know Your Flow – be aware of what activities you get the most flow out of.  A neat trick is to set a timer to go off at 47 minute intervals (or something equally as random, but not too far apart) and when it does, notice what you are doing and if you are in flow or not.  This might give you some insight into flow activities you hadn’t been aware of before (probably because you were too distracted being in flow at the time).
  • Transform the Routine – even mundane stuff like taking a walk or waiting for the bus can become flow experiences, if you know how to change them.  Create micro-flow experiences like solving puzzles in your head (counting backwards from 500 by 3s) or composing funny limericks.  Essentially find something internal you can do that gets you into flow (or possibly external like listening to music on an i-pod), and use that to transform the mundane moments.
  • If you talk to people a lot during the day and do NOT find such activity engaging, try this: during your next conversation (in person or over the phone) focus your attention as intensely as you can on the other person, what they are saying, how are they saying it, how do they react to your words, etc.  Have the goal of learning more about this person, as much as you can, and see if this helps.
  • Flow For Fun – in your down time, if you don’t get a lot of flow in your regular work, try doing Flow for fun in your leisure time.  Instead of the TV try doing something that really engages you.  Dust off the guitar/novel/Excel programming guide (whatever you know is something that gets you into flow) and try doing that.  Get lost in it for a while and see if that isn’t a little better than “Friends” reruns.
  • Turn Your Job Into a Calling – essentially transform your mind so that a drudge job becomes more of something you love to do and find rewarding.  Honestly I’ve got a lot of info on this one and I think I’ll make it a whole other post – so keep your eyes out for that.

Flow comes with a warning by the way.  If you find yourself doing TOO MUCH of a certain flow experience, you might actually be addicted to it.  You know it’s gone too far when you are ignoring the needs of people close to you or avoiding or disregarding responsibilities (or even other fun activities).  So keep an eye out for that.

Next time: Savoring Life’s Little Joys

Until then, keep laughing – and hey maybe you can get into flow doing it.

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