The Root of Happiness: How to Make “Flow” a Daily Experience
We believe there is at least one potential answer to this “unknowable” question: "What is at the root of our happiness?" It’s a matter of neuroscience. When you observe moments of happiness in yourself and others, you’ll find a common denominator – flow.
Written by:Tara A. Collison, Ph.D.
What is at the root of our happiness? It seems like a vast and curious question – one of the mysteries of the universe – but maybe it doesn’t have to be so mystifying. We believe there is at least one potential answer to the “unknowable” question, and it’s a matter of neuroscience. When you observe moments of happiness in yourself and others, you’ll likely find a common denominator – flow. But what exactly is a state of flow, and how do you reach it?
What is a State of Flow?
Being in a state of flow doesn’t require you to blindly drift with the current or just “go with the flow.” It is, however, about forward progress, movement, and continuity. You absolutely can and must guide your direction and progress with influence and intention. The key is to not resist change as it comes, but rather embrace it. Think about downhill skiing – with skill and the control to create necessary conditions, you influence your path and destination. It’s about purposefully pursuing your goals with flow in mind.
In a state of flow, actions and decisions come with less hesitation. Steven Kotler, co-founder and director of the Flow Genome Project, says flow is when “action and awareness merge.” Researchers call it “intrinsic motivation.” This state of being allows you to absorb information, synthesize it, and integrate it, which then further drives the creative process.
How Does Flow Make You Happy?
So, flow makes us more creative, but does it make us happier? The short answer is yes. Kotler says it’s a chemical reaction. “In flow, the brain releases norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin.” Norepinephrine and dopamine “tighten focus,” allowing us to eliminate distractions. Endorphins block pain, “letting us burn the candle at both ends without burning out altogether.” Anandamide prompts coherent and unified insights better than your average brainstorming session. And serotonin, “that feel-good chemical at the heart of the Prozac revolution,” helps us form bonds with people around us, including our teams at work.
Essentially, these chemicals – norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin – make up our brain’s reward system. When we’re in a state of flow, the brain releases all five at once. Have you ever gotten lost in a task you truly enjoy? Did you seem to lose your sense of self, and enter an almost altered sense of reality? This is flow.
How to Achieve a State of Flow
- Create a clear and doable goal. It should be something you really want to do – a goal that gives you energy. And it should be something that you can do. Don’t create a goal for yourself that is outside the realm of possibility.
- Plan to be progressively challenged as time goes by. This increases engagement and the likelihood of more “flow moments.” You should aim to reach a zone of development that falls between arousal and control. Your work should challenge you enough to make your mind stretch, but not so much that you’re free-floating without an anchor.
- Create “white space” for yourself, meaning places and times where you can organize the mental clutter. For example, I do my best deep thinking in the morning, so I dedicate mornings to preparation. I get all my ideas, thoughts, tasks, and to-do lists out of my head and onto paper. It clears my mind so I can really get into my work and also allows me to later revisit my goal and evaluate whether or not I’m doing everything necessary to accomplish it.
- Reduce negative interruptions. This requires you to make explicit choices about what you will not do. When you reduce interruptions, you’re able to become more fully involved in what you’re doing.
- Find rituals that signal it’s time to drop into your flow (grabbing a cup of tea, 10 minutes of meditation, deep breathing, etc.). These rituals may also help us find serenity.
- Embrace the challenge. Focus on problems as they come, and soon you’ll find that hours have passed and you’re dealing with an entirely new set of challenges and rewards.
Experiment with these steps and the more you master them, you’ll find it easier to drop into a state of flow or intrinsic motivation. Once you do, the flow feeds itself – it becomes its own reward. Psychologist and behavioral change expert Ron Friedman says, “When people enter a state of flow, they are entirely absorbed in an activity, concentrating fully on the present moment. Action feels effortless. The world disappears. All that matters is the task.”
Flow with Meddlers
Do you want 2019 to be a year of flow? At Meddlers, we can help you set strategic goals, increase overall engagement, and move seamlessly toward whatever comes next for your business. Give us a call at (602) 842-5272 or contact us online today.