A roadmap for happiness and well being: Part 2 - Engagement
I thought I was all ready to write my next post on "engagement" which is one of Seligman's keys to Flourishing and then I couldn't quite do it. The irony was not lost on me that engagement is about being so engrossed in an activity that you lose yourself in it and yet I was the opposite of engrossed. In fact, I have been having a glorious case of writer's block. I have cleaned my closet, attempted to teach the world's cutest puppy a host of new tricks, read countless posts on procrastination, re-watched most of Parks and Rec, I even gave myself food poisoning (in truth, the food poisoning was an accident) all instead of focusing in on writing.
Then, I went to yoga this morning (taught by the amazing Bee Bosnak). It was a wonderful class that was just the right amount of challenging. I had no choice but to pay complete attention and then it happened…(cue the angels singing)…I experienced flow: time seemed to stand still, I lost myself in what I was doing, and I was fully and intensely in the present. It was a beautiful thing. When I walked out of class I felt an incredible sense of well-being and it has stayed with me for hours…
Flow. What is it and how do we achieve it? Flow is that state that we experience when we are fully engaged and engrossed in an activity. We know from Seligman and other Positive Psychologists that engaging in this way is one key component to well-being.
Here is a rundown of what it entails (Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi, 2002):
- You have intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- “Merging of action and awareness.” What this means is that all of your awareness is engaged in what you are doing. Your aren’t thinking about other things or distracted by things going on around you.
- “A loss of reflective self-consciousness.” This simply means you are so engrossed in what you are doing, you don’t have that voice going on in your head making a commentary on what or how you are doing.
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity. You feel in charge and competent.
- “A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered” (this is just a fancy way to say you lose track of time - like in some amazing movie and when it is over you can’t believe 2 hours have passed).
- Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding - it feels good in and of itself.
So, here is what I figured out. Even though I would like to have writing be a glorious, transformative experience, that isn’t usually what it is for me. It is more of an unpleasant means-to-an-end (I write because I want to find and trust my voice and I hope to share information that may be helpful to others). So rather than being delightful, writing is actually slow and labored for me. However, for me, yoga is a joyous, seamless way to mainline mindfulness. So, I couldn’t find flow by trying to force it, rather, when I engaged fully in something that I love, flow found me.
What most sparks your interest? What activities can you get lost in?
- Cooking an elaborate recipe
- Working with your hands
- Taking a run
- Being out in nature
- Perhaps you are a gifted writer and the process is smooth for you
- Or you love puzzles and can lose yourself in the Sunday NYT
It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you cultivate it. You make proactive choices to fan your inner sparks. For me, when I can’t write (and every other day), I shall get me to the yoga studio.
What is it for you?
Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the time, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.