Aristotle came to the conclusion that what a person wants more than anything else is to be happy. But what makes us happy? Is it that next vacation? A new car? A promotion?
In 1961, the US psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote: ‘While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal – health, beauty, money or power – is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.’ (And that makes for a pretty limited life, according to Steve Jobs.)
Csikszentmihalyi looked for a term that described the state of feeling happy. He called it ‘flow’.
But when are we ‘in the flow’?
After interviewing over a thousand people about what made them happy, he found that all the responses had five things in common.
Happiness, or ‘flow’, occurs when we are:
– intensely focused on an activity (busy but not rushed)
– of our own choosing, that is
– neither under-challenging (boreout) nor over-challening (burnout), that has
– a clear objective and that receives
– immediate feedback.
Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people who are ‘in the flow’ not only feel a profound sense of satisfaction, they also lose track of time and forget themselves completely because they are so immersed in what they are doing.
Musicians, athletes, actors, doctors and artists describe how they are happiest when they are absorbed in an often exhausting activity – totally contradicting the commonly held view that happiness has to do with relaxation.