flow, happiness, work, and such sundries of life

I am currently reading Finding Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) which discusses moments of ‘flow’–experiences that are characterized by effortless action, and that stand out as some of the best in our lives.

Flow, zone, ecstasy–all are words expressing the sense of total harmony and complete engagement. According to the book, moments of flow do not feel ‘happy’ when they are occurring, because the person is too engrossed in the experience. It is only later that, looking back, the person may feel happy.

At one level, I have known this to be true, but reading the book gave me pause in how I arrange my life and what I aim for. It seems obvious that merely recapturing happiness is sub-optimal; it makes sense to aim at experiencing flow rather than wallow in memories. What’s worse, there is a problem with remembering something happy because the memory does not come alone–it comes all too often with the sadness that the moment is over, and the fear/ sorrow that such a moment may not occur again. So, is aiming for happiness clutching at shadows and ghosts? I really need to ponder on this…

Most of my flow moments, surprisingly, have come from work. For example, in the years I was actively programming, I often got lost in coding for hours, absolutely engrossed. I felt extreme satisfaction after the activity, even happiness, but I cannot recapture it now.

Strangely,  while I cannot remember too many times I label “happy”, I remember plenty of times when I experienced “bliss”. Some came from snatches of music heard inadvertently, some from the sudden snap of a concept as it fit into a mental framework, some even in exam halls when I suddenly saw an unusual solution to a problem (typically math) just a moment before I needed to turn in my answer-sheet (and so clear was the answer I actually managed to scribble enough to make the grade).

Reverting to the work-related ‘flow’ experiences and how I don’t seem to recall them when I consider ‘happiness’, I think this may be related to the fact that we consider work as necessary and often barely tolerable if not downright unpleasant. We work,and then we go back home to relax and enjoy. Work is, well, work. Perhaps at one level of thinking, I assumed that any happiness experienced at work must be delusional. On the other hand, I often try to squeeze out happiness from leisure activities and relaxation, but end up vaguely disappointed. Reading discussions on this and related concepts in this book has given me a lot to think about.

And a lot to hope, too.

Because, if ‘flow’ is more likely when I have goals and work towards them, it means that an overload of work can be viewed as an overload of flow opportunities– now that sounds like fun, I mean, flow.

Well, and now it is back to work 🙂

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

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