Have you ever experienced a moment while working or exercising or engaged in a hobby when you really hit your groove? We mean really, really hit your groove. You’re not distracted. You’re totally focused. You’re incredibly productive. You’re completely in the moment.
There’s a term for this state of being: Flow. It was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-born pioneer in the scientific study of happiness. He wrote about Flow in a seminal 1990 book called: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Though the book is more than 25 years old, flow is gaining increasing traction today — especially in business. That’s because now, more than ever, the business world is obsessed with the intersection of happiness and productivity.
Csikszentmihalyi believes that nobody has a fixed level of happiness. We can increase our happiness by increasing the amount of time we spend in a flow state. Flow doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. It requires the presence of certain circumstances, notably:
A task that is challenging, but undertaken voluntarily
A task that is focused on a consciously chosen goal
The right environment
That last one is key. It’s nearly impossible to achieve flow in the wrong environment. If you’re a runner, you’re unlikely to achieve flow while dodging cars on a highway. If you’re a writer, you’re unlikely to achieve flow while phones are ringing, people are chattering around you, and the room you’re in is uncomfortably cold.
Once you’re in a state of flow, you might be able to persist through extraordinary distractions and even some unpleasant environmental elements, but you’re unlikely to ever reach a state of flow in the first place under those circumstances.
What’s the lesson here?
- More flow = more happiness.
- More time spent on challenging tasks in conducive environments = more flow.
So ask yourself: When you’re taking on challenging tasks, what environment do you choose? Is your gym, office, or hobby/leisure space conducive to flow? If not, can you change it? Your happiness might just depend on it.