Connection of Flow to happiness

I recently wrote about Flow, and how it relates to GTD, but, of course, Flow is not just a productivity technique. It’s principal purpose is to enable people to focus on what gives them genuine enjoyment – which is not contingent upon externalities in the way pleasure is.

Understanding what provides you with enjoyment allows you to focus on these aspects of your life, and those become more productive. Doing so also increases your chance of sustainable happiness.

Scientific American has posted an interesting article on sustainable happiness, and while I read it I couldn’t help thinking of Flow.

In the article, the authors posit that a chunk of our propensity towards happiness (or unhappiness) is hard-wired at birth. However, they also determine that there is a significant amount of our happiness that we have control over. They state that there is a sort of entropic pull that, if left unchecked, will drag us from our baseline happiness level.

In other words, it’s up to us to take action to maintain a higher than baseline (ie genetic) level of happiness.

The authors show that externalities tend to be short-term fixes in this effort to stay above the baseline. They point to experiments that observed the happiness of lottery winners. Basically, after the initial burst above the base line happiness that occurred immediately after winning the lottery, within a year of this victory the winners they were no happier than non-winners.

The authors use a Flow term, “hedonism,” to further examine this momentary happiness effect:

Hedonic adaptation helps to explain why even changes in major life circumstances–such as income, marriage, physical health and where we live–do so little to boost our overall happiness.

Flow teaches us that these external, hedonistic, pleasures does not lead to meaningful happiness. The authors of this study look for ways in which to sort of train ourselves to find internal enjoyment rather than external pleasure. Their ideas are interesting. In essence, internal enjoyment is a constant process that requires an outward-focused approach. This sounds like an oxymoron, but what it means is that in order to understand your internal enjoyment, you must be looking outward by attempting to do three things:

  • be kind
  • show gratitude
  • be optimistic

For each of these things to have an impact over the long-term, you must be relentless practitioner; you must find new ways to be kind, show gratitude, and be optimistic in the same way athletes vary their training regimes.

Of course, and this is how it really relates to Flow, in order to genuinely be kind, gracious, or optimistic, you must first deeply understand what drives your own enjoyment. From this point, you can turn outward. The net result is that a virtuous circle forms where your own internal enjoyment is impacted and made more profound from your external actions, which then makes these external actions more emphatic.

We know that happier people are more productive and creative people, so it’s worth the effort to give this a try, I believe. Is there a downside?


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