I often find myself watching other people.
One of the things I’ve noticed is people who have hobbies and outside interests seem happier than those who don’t. I wondered why, so I decided to look into it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an early pioneer in the study of happiness, provides a possible explanation in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He writes:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
He labeled such moments “Flow”. Here are some examples:
MJ enjoys pottery and sometimes enrolls in classes at the Minnetonka Arts Center. When in the pottery studio, she says four hours can pass like five minutes. This is “Flow”.
In a different, but similar vein, I used to race motorcycles. It required skill, competence and complete focus. Looking back, it’s the one thing I wish I had spent more time doing in my life. When the starting gate went down, the only thing on my mind was the task at hand. This is “Flow”.
Why does awareness in “Flow” differ from normal day to day experience?
I think there are a couple reasons. First, most of the time we’re thinking about things we have to do, places we have to go, things we’ve screwed up, etc. This creates stress. In “Flow”, instead of thinking, we’re doing! That’s completely different! “Flow” releases pent-up stress.
Secondly, when awareness is ego-centered, “Self” is pitted against things that happen in our life. It’s a rare day that everything goes our way. This also creates stress! I am “Exhibit A”!
Once on a family vacation, I was stopped at a traffic light and when it turned green, the idiot in the car in front of me just sat there. I honked the horn to no effect. I honked again adding a stream of words not meant for young ears. Again nothing. Until our daughter pointed out from her car seat that there was no one in the car in front of us. I looked, and sure enough, I was honking and swearing at a parked car!
Many things get on our nerves, they share a common denominator, namely “Self” pitted in opposition to circumstance. This is not “Flow”!
No doubt you can think of “Flow” situations in your life. It’s one of the clearest examples of awareness shifted away from “Self”.
We usually don’t give awareness much attention. But, when this life-energy is out of balance, we experience dis-ease. When “Self” is our primary context, stress builds; when that context is shifted to “Flow”, stress is released. Maybe that’s why people engaged in hobbies seem happier.
Key Principle: Discovering the role awareness plays in life
Key Question: Do you have hobbies or interests that shift awareness to “Flow”?
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