How Happiness Works And The State Of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and that’s by the way how you say his name, dedicates a big part of the book to this idea that, “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness.”
And he goes on to quote Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, and Viktor
Frankl… So this idea isn’t something new, it’s been around for millennia now, but recently we’ve been able to gather more data on it. And I’ve talked about this idea ad nauseam now, so I won’t go into detail with it. I’ve talked about it in my videos about Meditations and Man’s Search for Meaning, and many other videos, but to touch on it briefly… People have this idea that if you just had a bigger house, you’d be happy. If you just had a nicer car, you’d be happy. If you just had a lot of money, you’d be happy. But that’s just not how happiness works… Here’s a graph adjusted for inflation that shows a period of about half a century where personal income tripled, but it didn’t really affect how happy people were. After some basic point,
where your basic needs have been met, buying an even bigger house isn’t the way to happiness. It’s about changing the contents of your consciousness. So how can we change the contents of our consciousness? One of the best ways to do this is to put ourselves in a state of optimal experience called flow. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as, “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” He goes on to say that, “Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.”
And you’ve probably experienced this before, and it’s absolutely one of the best feelings in the world. If you’re working on your business,
you might be so focused on what you’re doing that 12 hours might pass and you have no idea… All of a sudden, you look up and you realize you haven’t even had any food, you haven’t thought about anything else, the only thing that you could focus on was your business. And the same thing applies to so many other activities whether you’re a rock climber focused on climing your new record
or a master pianist composing your new masterpiece. It’s an amazing feeling. You’re so immersed into what you love doing, into what you’re really good at, that your brain simply can’t focus on other things. You’re not worrying about stupid things. You’re not regretting what you did yesterday or stressing about what you’ll do tomorrow. It’s absolutely one of the best feelings in the world. So if we look at the flow diagram, here’s how you put yourself in the state of flow… You don’t want what you’re doing to be too challenging, otherwise you’ll have anxiety. You don’t want what you’re doing to be too easy for your skills either, otherwise you’ll be bored. But it’s when you balance these two that you end up in the flow channel. You’re striving towards the upper right corner constantly. You increase your challenge, you get better. You get better, you increase your challenge. And the more you move toward that direction, the more intense the state of flow gets. So this is not really a how-to book, but our goal should be to find what it is that we love and then keep getting better at it and keep making it more challenging. Or in other words, the main goal is to spend as much of your life as you possibly can in the state of flow because that is where you find this unbelievable ecstasy. And Csikszentmihalyi gives an example of the indians in the Shuswap region of Canada, who would settle down in a place filled with resources, and life was good, and they had everything they needed… They had all the food and fish where they
were, but the elders would make sure that the entire village would just pack up and move to a new location every 25 or 30 years. This way, they knew they would have new places to explore and hunt and fish and new challenges to overcome… And it’s a great story to keep in mind when you think about how most people just want to settle down in front of their TV for the rest of their lives… And in a lot of my videos, I criticize being in front of the TV all night, or spending your entire day on your Facebook feed, and I often get people who tell me, “Well, what if that makes the person happy?” And the answer is, “Sitting on Facebook all day will not make anyone genuinely happy.” If you pick a person who spends his entire day in front of the TV, he’s probably not going to be the most exciting, happy, ecstatic person.
Let’s take a look at the graph again… Looking at your facebook all day or watching TV puts you in the lowest left corner of the graph, which is known as the area of apathy. There’s no challenge involved, there’s no skill involved, you’re apathetic. And when you’re not completely apathetic, You’re probably sitting there bored, or worrying about everything there is to worry about. So move away from that… Move away from the boredom, apathy, and worry and move towards ecstasy which is what you’ll experience when you hit the state of optimal experience called flow.