How increasing flow increases happiness

We have been exploring this 18 minute video by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘chick-SENT-me-high) that introduces the concept of flow. Flow is understood to be an important ingredient to overall levels of happiness. It is the creative moment when you are completely involved in an activity for its own sake.

Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues have interviewed over 8,000 people from around the world who enjoy their work. The range is incredibly broad from business executives to Dominican monks, to blind nuns, Himalayan climbers and Navajo shepherds. They found that regardless of culture or level of education, there were 7 conditions that seem to be there when a person is in flow:

1. Being completely involved in what they are doing (focused and concentrated).

2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality. (See Could There Be A Link Between Being In The Flow And Being Happy?).

3. Great inner clarity – you know exactly what needs to be done from one moment to the other and you have immediate feedback.

4. A sense of capability – you know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult. It is doable, and your skills are adequate to the task.

5. A sense of serenity – so there are no worries about oneself along with a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego. That means you literally forget yourself and you feel part of something larger.

6. Timelessness – your sense of time disappears. You are so thoroughly focused on the present that hours seem to pass by in minutes.

7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward. What you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.

Using this model Csikszentmihalyi and his team of researchers have been able to precisely study the everyday life of people going about their day. By giving them electronic pagers that go off 10 times a day, this enables the subjects to report what they are doing, how they are feeling, where they are and what they are thinking about. From this they can measure two simple factors - how much challenge they are experiencing at that moment and the amount of skill they feel they have at that moment. This is represented in the diagram shown.


The centre of the diagram is an average that can be established for any one individual. This is the mean level of challenge and skill, which is unique to any one person.

So by knowing where this average set point is it is possible apparently to be able to predict fairly accurately when you will be in flow. Flow will be when your challenges are higher than average and also when your skills are higher than average. What it is that you are exactly doing at the time, will vary from person to person, but for every person that flow channel will be when you are doing what you really like to do.

Flow is generally reported when a person is doing his or her favourite activity – for example when gardening, listening to music, cooking a good meal. It can also occur when driving or talking to friends or when at work (if work is what provides flow for you. Also see Do You Live To Work Or Work To Live?).

Next to the flow section are the sections of arousal and control (see the diagram). Both are also good places to be. In arousal  your skills are not quite as high as they should be, but you can move into flow by just developing a little more skill. The arousal area is where most people learn from as that is where they are pushed beyond their comfort zone. So to enter flow they have to develop greater skills.

Control is also another good place to be, because it is there that although you feel comfortable, you do not feel particularly challenged. So to enter flow from control you have to raise the level of challenge. In summary, arousal and control are ideal and complementary areas from which flow is easy to go into.

The remaining 5 combinations of challenge and skill become progressively less optimal. Of these relaxation continues to be beneficial. However, boredom begins to be very aversive and apathy is very negative. In apathy you are not using your skills and there is no challenge. Unfortunately a lot of people’s life experience is in apathy. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the single largest contributor to apathy is watching television. After that it is sitting in the bathroom! The researchers found that when watching television, people are only 6-7% of the time in flow, and even that is only when you choose a programme you really want to watch and you get feedback from it.

Worry and anxiety can be particularly toxic as in these areas your skill level is low and the challenge you are facing becomes progressively higher. Left unchecked you can easily fall into a stressful situation. (See How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 1, to Part 5).

What are your experiences of being in flow and the impact on your own happiness?

Could there be a link between being in the flow and being happy?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘chick-SENT-me-high) is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University in California. He has researched and written extensively on factors that contribute to what makes a life worth living. The 18 minute TED talk below summarises his over 40 years of research into where in everyday life, in our normal experiences, do we feel really happy.

He points out that in the United States while 30% of people surveyed described their life as very happy, over 40 years since 1956 this proportion has hardly changed. This is in spite of the fact that in the same period of time real income has almost tripled. (For more on this see the post How Much Money Do You Actually Need?)

His research began with interviewing creative people like artists and scientists, trying to understand what made them feel it was worth spending a large part of their life doing things for which many of them did not expect either fame or fortune, but in some way made their life meaningful and worth doing. Here is how a leading American composer described how he feels when the composing is going well:

Is this the best news you have ever heard?

It seems strange to celebrate the death of a noble and great leader. You would be hard pressed to find any other religious or admired world leader who has more celebration and joy around his death than his life. At first glance it doesn’t seem to make sense.sunburst

We usually celebrate someone’s life and then mourn their death when they depart. And yet that is not what we see with Jesus Christ (see What Is So Good About Good Friday?). The commemoration of Christ’s death is actually called good. Or to be even more challenging if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the best news you have ever heard, then you can be sure that you have not grasped it. Why? Why does the Bible challenge us to think of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the best news we have ever heard?

In the last blog post we showed how from the prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years before Christ came to earth, that God while taking no pleasure in the suffering of His son did take great pleasure in what that suffering would achieve. What did Christ’s suffering on the cross achieve? There are two main points.

What is so good about Good Friday?

As a child it was a question that baffled me for a few years. Every year that day would come with predictable regularity. But what is so good about Good Friday? Why do we call it good? When I asked them, my Hindu Punjabi family did not know. When I would ask the English teachers at school none of them seemed to have an answer either. it appeared to make no sense.

154885550So I concluded Good Friday was good because it was a public holiday! Yes it had something to do with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, but why should such a horrific and brutal death be called good? The day marking the death of no other major religious leader is described in terms of being a good event. On the surface it does not appear to make much sense at all.

However, the more you look into it the more interesting and surprising it becomes. The death of Christ commemorated on Good Friday is good because it was ordained by God Himself. As brutal, undeserved, unjust  and horrific as it was, it was no accident. But most of all it is good because of what it achieved.

Chapter 53 from the book of the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament, written 700 years before Christ was even born says in verses 10-12:

How do you handle people stronger and better than you?

He is regarded as one of the greatest  all time world leaders. He was no stranger to personal tragedy and he suffered deeply with depression. Yet  his strength of character powerfully moulded the United States to become an eventual world super power. (For more on his personal life see here).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe was able to overcome his inner limitations (see What Are 3 Barriers To Your And My Growth?) so as to turn around a country ravaged by a civil war.  For modern day examples comparable in brutality and blood shed just think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia or Syria today.

How could those violent countries of today be transformed if their leaders took to heart the life and example of Lincoln?

Abraham Lincoln deeply understood how forgiveness and reconciliation coupled with empowerment of others, even enemies, could transform the United States. He had the vision and foresight to see that overcoming the bitterness of the past could transform the United States into a country for huge good in the world.

There is a story of how he was challenged by an elderly lady for gently calling the Southerners who opposed him as ‘fellow human beings who were in error’. She described them as ‘irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed’. Lincoln’s response is as powerful and as relevant today:

In memory of Abhishek Banerjee (Bunty)

It has been exactly one year since the sudden and tragic loss of our dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (Bunty)

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 21.11.46Abhishek was very thankful for the multiple gifts and talents he had been able to develop through his own privileged upbringing and education. This included, among many other things, a love of literature, a talent for technology, physical fitness, musical ability and team collaboration all centered around his deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. (To read more on Abhishek’s life see here).

As friends and family we have for some time wanted to do something tangible and life giving to remember him by and to pay tribute to him.

Abhishek was originally from Kolkata. Following discussion with his parents and wife, Jayshree we would like to encourage those who were touched by his life to support the expansion of a project run by Emmanuel Ministries Calcutta called Anandoloy (pronounced ANAND –OL-OY and meaning “place of joy”).

We cannot bring Abhishek back, but we can ensure that the impact of his life is felt and experienced by those who are much less fortunate.

What are 3 barriers to your and my growth?

To bring the best out of others I need to be able to empower them. What do we mean by the word ‘empower’? eco-green-empowermentAccording to the dictionary it is:

– to give someone the right or power to do something.

– to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

Here is how Theordore Roosevelt put it:
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

But this does not come naturally or easily.

The life of Henry Ford illustrates that (see the previous post – How Secure Are You?). John Maxwell’s 12th Law of Leadership says that only strong leaders have the confidence to give power to others.

In India there is a phrase about how people as they seek to rise in companies can have a  tendency to “kiss up and kick down.” One of the problems with that philosophy is its the same people who you meet when you go down as well as when you go up! They say if you collect crabs in a container you do not need to put a lid on the container as the crabs will automatically prevent any one of their group form escaping by ensuring that they are dragged back in! We humans can act like crabs to each other as well.

But the fact is only when we empower others can we and our organisations reach their  full potential.

Empowering others is actually an inside job first and it means overcoming at least 3 barriers:

How secure are you?

That is a tough question to answer! Until our foundations are shaken it is very difficult to determine how secure in ourselves we actually are. You only know how deep down your roots go when either the challenges and storms of life come or when there is success. By then it is often too late. (For more on dealing with the storms of life see here).

TMW_-_Ford_Model_T_2The 12th law of leadership from John Maxwell says that only secure leaders give power to others. When we are not secure in ourselves it is very easy to look at others with an attitude of inferiority or of lack. To feel that their progress or advance is a threat to my value or self-worth.

How often have you said to yourself, “Its much easier if I just do it myself. I know what is best and right and no one else can or should interfere.” I know I have and it can be a sign of insecurity.

A case example of the Law of Empowerment is Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. In 1903 the main form of transportation was the horse and cart with longer distance travel by train. In towns and cities the horse and cart dominated streets. One of the big public health questions was how are we going to cope with the amount of horse manure on the streets – if it keeps on increasing at its present rate we will be literally drowning in the stuff!

It is in that context Henry Ford made the following statement:

How Actually Expressing Your Gratitude Can Be Beneficial To Your Mental Health

The following 7 minute video powerfully illustrates why when we take the time to actually show someone how much we appreciate them the effects can be truly transforming. I would encourage you to take 7 minutes out of your day to watch this video. I don’t think you will be disappointed and it may well make your day.

What the video shows using real live human scenarios is that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you genuinely show and express to the important people in your life. This has been scientifically proven in a study by 3 psychologists (Seligman, Steen and Peterson, 2005). You can pick up the study if you are more interested directly from the video. Here is a brief synopsis.

Making Sense of God, Money and Happiness

We tend to think that money brings happiness (who wouldn’t be happy to be offered a million pounds or dollars?).

Coins and happiness

Yet there is something about the achieving of financial wealth that does not ultimately satisfy. Rather than listening to me, here are some quotes from five wealthy men of history that powerfully illustrate this:

John D. Rockerfeller: “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”

W.H. Vanderbilt: “The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.”

John Jacob Astor: “I am the most miserable man on earth.”

Henry Ford: “I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.”

Andrew Carnegie: “Millionaires seldom smile.”

And yet at the same time I do not want to give the impression that wealth per se is a bad thing……