When Are We at Our Happiest?
Updated: May 31, 2021
I know what you’re thinking: awfully ambitious to try to answer that in a 3-minute blog post. Understanding happiness is hard, especially since it seems so subjective. I’m sure if you’d surveyed everyone around you, you would get a diverse array of answers. Many might even say that there’s just no answer to the question that would apply to everyone. Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would disagree. According to this famous researcher and author, universally human beings are happiest when we're in the state of flow.
Flow refers to a blissful mental state that comes to us when we’re actively engaged in an activity in which the level of our skills perfectly matches the level of the challenge posed by the activity. While we may all experience flow doing different things, our experience of it is the same.
During flow, we experience extremely focused concentration, a feeling of transcendence of self, and an absorption in the present moment. This makes it impossible for us to engage in worrying about the past or the future or spend energy thinking about our insecurities and desire to fit in. We also get an increase in positive affect even after we’re finished the activity.
Some people find it easier to get to flow state than others. While people with a high tolerance for ambiguity find it easier to get into flow and have righter, higher quality flow experiences, those who are shy have may find it harder to get into flow. Those of us who are higher in conscientiousness and lower in neurotic tendencies also find it easier to get into flow state.
While it's easier for some of us to get into flow than others, flow is accessible to everyone. So now that we know what flow is, how do we get into it, you may ask? Luckily, it won’t cost you a cent or years of study to achieve. All it takes is an open mind a can-do attitude!
1. Choose an activity you like
Flow can be experienced in all types of activities (you can even get into flow at work!) But, it’s easiest to slip into flow when you’re doing something fun and intrinsically motivating. You can even turn chores or boring tasks into an opportunity to get into flow by gamifying them. Next time you’re doing your Spring Cleaning, try turning it into a game of basketball, tossing the items you’re getting rid of into a garbage bag.
2. Choose something challenging (but not too hard)
Since flow requires us to be in a relaxed state, it’s important to choose something challenging but not to the point that it becomes frustrating. At the same time, flow requires us to feel like we’re striving, so the task you choose needs to be manageable but not to the point that it becomes boring.
3. Remove all distractions
Since attention is the key to getting into flow, you won’t be able to sustain the elevated state if you’re constantly getting interrupted by notifications about the latest TikTok challenge or sappy texts from your ex. So try putting your phone away for the duration of the activity so you can give it your all!
4. Take advantage of your peak time
We all have certain times of day where we’re at our peak. If you’re not sure whether you’re a lark, hummingbird, or a (perpetually exhausted) night-owl like me, this quiz will help you figure it out! The best time to get into flow is when you’re at your highest energy level.
5. Monitor your emotional state
If your mind is in a state of arousal, whether you are anxious or angry or any other emotion that prevents you from feeling relaxed, try to calm yourself down. Your physiology has an impact on the ability to get into flow. If you are feeling low in energy, go for a quick jog or recite a motivating mantra to wake you up!
So, while we’re all cooped up inside, it’s comforting to know that being ecstatically happy is still possible. If nothing else, I hope what you take away from this is that through influencing our environments and being attuned to our bodies and minds, we can create that joy all on our own!