Several years ago I read about Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work regarding positive psychology. I tapped into an online community passionate about his research and have remained a loyal fan ever since. For the record, here’s how to pronounce his name.

Something that’s fascinated me for years is Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Theory. In a nutshell, when someone describes a time that their performance excelled and they refer to being “in the zone”, they’re recalling an experience of flow. It occurs when your skill level and the challenge you’re presented with are equal.

Csíkszentmihályi describes the 8 characteristics of flow as the following:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding, has an end itself
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task

To understand the correlation between skill level and challenge, check out this brief explanation:

Ever since I completed grad school last December, it’s been my mission to hone in on happiness from a scientific perspective. I have several hobbies where flow comes naturally: Cooking, hiking, gardening and canning. A few other spots activities I deem “almost flow” include blogging, reading, travel and crafts.

So where does this put me in life? Well for one, I am grateful to have 4 flow areas to turn to when I need to clear my head.

My 4 Flows

Cooking is a year-around sport, one that’s consumed my time for many years. I wanted to cook better when I was about 20 years old and realized some people avoided my food. From my half-cooked fried chicken to my watered down, bland spaghetti, something had to give. I started small on Pinterest with the most random recipes ever. I went from curried potatoes to peanut butter bars and made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes, sweet potato wontons and buffalo chicken nachos. There was never any rhyme or reason to what I tried to make; I just wanted to try good food.

Ever since then, this remains my number one flow activity besides hiking. I enjoy learning how to cook new recipes, trying new ingredients, and collecting cookbooks, especially vintage cookbooks. My favorite podcast is the Splendid Table, and my collection of cooking magazines is never-ending.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love to cook, because it engages all 5 of the senses. We don’t just taste the food; we see it, smell it, hear it and touch it throughout the process of prepping, preparing and serving the food. We have 6 tastes and should focus on these when enjoying our meals. We should also put our phones down and focus on engaging all 5 of our senses when eating. Why spend all that time preparing the food if you’re zoning out on your phone, not really paying attention to the flavors? Here’s more information on how to cook with your senses.

I’ll be hiking more often in upcoming weeks, as the weather turns cooler quicker out here than it does in my home state, Tennessee. In Colorado, fall actually feels like fall, but the winter chill around the corner is slightly depressing. As such, I’m eager to take advantage of cooler temps before snowy weather appears.

Gardening requires little effort on my part until things go wrong. So I would agree that the evaluating the differences between skill level and presenting challenges is so important. My skill level is decent, and presenting challenges come and go. I enjoy gardening because it keeps me on my toes without feeling defeated.

Canning marks the newest flow and definitely the most challenging one. After canning several new items this summer, I’m taking a break to reevaluate what I want to try next. I look forward to purchasing Lianna Krisshoff’s updated and expanded edition of Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry.  I am hopeful Krissoff’s fresh approach to canning will renew my spirits while I save for additional canning supplies.

81bf071ace5a74914cc48411672e977b

When it comes to blogging, reading, traveling and crafts, I’m so close to dubbing these hobbies flow activities, but I hesitate for a few reasons.

With blogging, there’s really no challenge besides procrastination. My blog was challenging to create at first, but the posts come easily. With reading, my lack of focus creates problems. It can’t be considered flow without getting lost in the process, and sometimes I feel like I have ADHD when I try to read for long periods. I love to travel, but is that really a hobby? When I review Csíkszentmihályi’s 8 characteristics of flow, I can’t equate a vacation with a hobby. I don’t really view a vacation as a challenge aside from planning, but I love to travel, and I feel flowy in unfamiliar places. And depending on the craft, sometimes I enjoy what I’m trying to make and other times I don’t. At times, the challenges outweigh my skills and I’m quick to call it quits.

So from here on out, I want to focus on core flow activities when I need them and incorporating “almost flow” activities for them to become core activities.

But when you really think about it, is it worth pursuing activities that don’t harness your flow naturally? I can’t imagine giving up on the “almost flow” in my life. Just because your flow isn’t activated doesn’t mean it’s an activity not worth engaging in. I’m torn. Unless you’re striving for an autotelic personality, it might be best to just do what you like to do and to not force anything that isn’t appealing to you.

My-hobbies
Sounds funny, but this is truly no way to live!

Speaking of autotelic personalities, this is new, uncharted territory for me. Never heard of such a thing until yesterday, but I’d like to think that’s what I’ve got going on. I’m always wanting to learn new things, always wanting to grow and develop as an intelligent, sophisticated woman. I crave new information and soak up everything I read like a sponge.

I listened to a podcast last week called Making Oprah, and episode two talked about Oprah’s rise to fame and her competitors. Oprah reminded her team to keep their blinders on and ignore the competition. Stay in your lane. Pretty sure my ability to ignore the opponents around me has fueled my autotelic personality. When you focus on you and do the things you love because you want to, not because you seek attention from others, you hone in on your greatness and your ability to rise above mediocre. My drive to succeed is unwavering, and nothing will stop me from reaching my goals.  

After investigating all this Flow Theory information, it turns out that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Martin Seligman, often referred to as the “Father of Positive Psychology”, introduced his Well-Being Theory in Flourish. Seligman remains a champion of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work, and I suspect the Engagement piece of Seligman’s work was borrowed from Csíkszentmihályi. The PERMA Model rolled-out the following elements of well-being:

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishments

I know for sure I thrive on the last two aspects of PERMA. When my life has meaning and I accomplish difficult tasks, I tend to feel happier than when I’m scrolling mindlessly on my phone, pissing my life away. For more information, click on this link to learn about the PERMA Model.

The positive psychology realm is a rabbit hole in which I’ve lost myself many times. My search several years ago began like this:

Shawn Achor –> Martin Seligman –> Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Little did I know, it was Mihály Csíkszentmihályi that influenced every one else. Hence, I should’ve started with Csíkszentmihályi, but how was I to know the very beginnings of positive psychology? I digress.

No matter who you start with, the information remains invaluable. These three men have influenced my ability to think positively and to focus on the present moment. I highly recommend any literature produced by these three individuals. And for what it’s worth, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations are worth a listen, as well.

If there was one thing I wish I could instill in my readers, it’s that happiness begins with you. You must intuitively identify what makes you happy and go from there.

The following TED Talks feature Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Martin Seligman and Shawn Achor. And as always, feel free to leave a comment with questions or concerns, if you just so happen to have made it through my lengthy post.