By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC
This is part three in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with “Live well, live happy” in January, followed by “Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness” in March.
What makes me so excited about writing this series on happiness is the fact that our happiness depends so little on our circumstances and so much on what we do with those circumstances. The message is that happiness really is up to us.
It is now early summer ― one of the most beautiful times of year in Minnesota. Winter’s grip is a distant memory and life bursts forth wherever you look. I can be found under a floppy hat, decked out in garden gloves, comfy clothes, wellies and dirt, and surrounded by fragrant and colorful herbs, flowers and vegetables. As I transplant, arrange and water, I am blissfully and completely in my own world. It turns out that as I do this, I am also tending to my happiness and well-being through a process called flow.
What is flow and why is it important to your happiness?
Flow is being fully engaged in what you are doing and fully present in the moment. It can also be thought of as that “sweet spot” between being bored and being overwhelmed. When you are in flow, you might feel simultaneously transported and yet fully in the here and now. You are lost in what you are doing. Though challenged, you feel that you are performing at your best. You may receive some type of reward for the activity, but more often than not, you do it just for the love of it.
Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied flow for decades and the findings are pretty amazing. Flow can benefit us by:
- leaving us fully energized and engaged
- tapping into our strengths and filling us with competence
- improving productivity because flow at its best is absolute focus
- markedly improving our mental well-being.
Sadly only 23 percent of people regularly experience flow and more than 40 percent have never had the experience. Most of us have the opportunity for regular flow experiences at work, but we are too distracted by anxiety, to-do lists, or external pressures, to enjoy the flow. Outside of work, we may miss numerous opportunities when we are glued to our smart phones and tablets.
If you are ready to “go with the flow,” here are three steps you can take:
- Identify your flow experiences:
- When do you feel most energized? What are you doing?
- When do you feel absorbed in an activity? When do you lose track of time?
- What do you do well? What are your favorite skills to use?
- Bring flow to the everyday:
- Try doing a regular task with excellence, focusing on the details.
- Control your attention — practice focusing on whatever it is that you are doing at the present time. This takes practice.
- Expand your boundaries:
- Begin to explore new interests by asking yourself: What would my 8-year-old self want to learn?
- Flow in conversation: Listen closely and learn as much as you can about the speaker.
- Learn the difference between vegging and vegetating: Instead of TV, play a game or work on a hobby or project that demands your attention.
Flow is mindfulness in action. It’s being fully present in the here and now, and responding to the task at hand with curiosity and purpose. Give it some attention and you will reap benefits far beyond those blissful moments.
Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.