This week we will be breaking down the first 3 chapters of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. If you haven’t had a chance to purchase the book yet click here to get it from Amazon.
What is this weeks reading about?
The first three chapters of this book focus on defining what happiness actually is, how to harness the power of consciousness, and the things that lead to the enjoyment and quality of life.
There are tons of great points made in these three chapters. In fact, out of the last few books we have read, this book might contain the densest (is that a word?) amount of information.
I don’t know about you but I have found myself having to stop and reread portions of the book just to make sure that I am taking in all the ideas that it contains.
However, I believe that in the mass amount of great ideas and points the author shares in these chapters, there are really two main ideas that these chapters cover.
First, the idea of happiness, and what it actually means to be happy.
Second, how we can use consciousness to identify and focus on the things that lead to happiness.
In this post we are going to look at these two topics and recap what the author discusses in these chapters.
What is Happiness?
For most of us, the idea of achieving happiness seems like something that we can’t control. It is common to believe that happiness is something that happens to us.
But this is far from the truth.
The author says, “What I ‘discovered’ was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them.” He also says, “Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.”
So how do we create happiness?
We have to do the following two things:
- Plan, prepare, and work towards happiness. If you want to be happy, you have to do the things that make you happy. As the author points out, true happiness comes from enjoying the day to day things that we do in our lives. The more things that we can do as part of our day that we already enjoy, the easier it is to achieve happiness.
- Change the way we respond to things. While we would all like to do things we already enjoy 100% of the time, its just not realistic to do so. However, I do believe that we can enjoy majority of the things that we do each day. How so? By changing the attitude we have towards the things we do, we can find enjoyment in more of them. Look for the good in everything you do and you will be sure to be much happier.
While both of these are important, the first option is the one that has the most power.
How do we plan, prepare, and work towards happiness?
The author suggests that having goals and working towards them is the best way.
In the book the author says, “Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.” He also states, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
The “something worthwhile” is what you have to determine with your goals. It can be anything, and to every person it will be different. But, you have to come up with things that are meaningful to you that you can work towards in your life.
As you may already know, I am a huge believer in goal setting. Not the standard new years resolution style of goal setting, but the actually productive and empowering process of setting goals and breaking them down into action steps, and then working towards completing each and every step towards that goal.
The author says that it is when we do this, when we work towards a meaningful goal, that we can experience Flow, which is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
So how do goals help us focus on the details of our lives? The author says, “The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.”
By focusing on the goal, we stop focusing on finding happiness, which in turn provides us with happiness.
So the simple answer of how to achieve happiness, is to set and work towards goals that are meaningful, without letting ourselves become so focused on achieving goals that we forget why we have the goal in the first place.
But what about wealth, possessions, and all the other things that our society says lead to happiness?
According to the book these things provide pleasure, not happiness.
What is the difference?
Pleasure is temporary, and always needs bigger, better, and newer. But happiness and enjoyment don’t. True enjoyment – and happiness – don’t come from experiencing pleasurable things, they come from accomplishment. Which is why setting and working towards goals is one of the surest ways to experience happiness.
Before we can develop consciousness we first must really understand what it is. According to the book, “The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body.
What does that mean?
In simpler terms, it is the ability to “deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly.”
We have all experienced the positive – and probably even the negative – power of consciousness before. No matter what happens (what the senses are telling us) we have the ability to decide how we want to let it influence our lives. We can use this for good or bad.
Have you ever experienced a negative situation, and used it to fuel you positively to make a change or achieve some goal? I bet you have! But, I also bet you have had times where you have experienced a similar situation, and allowed it to make you sad, or cause you to fail to achieve whatever you were working on.
In both situations, the “thing” that is experienced may have been the same. But what is different is the way that you chose to respond to it.
The book says “The events that constitute consciousness—the “things” we see, feel, think, and desire—are information that we can manipulate and use. Thus we might think of consciousness as intentionally ordered information.”
Happiness is a choice. It is by being conscious of the experiences we have that we are able to choose the way we respond, and to choose the response that leads to happiness.
So how do we control consciousness?
According to the book there are two main ways we experience consciousness. First, we can choose to focus our attention on something. Second, we can focus on something that “grabs” our attention.
The first option is more empowering as it is directed intentionally, whereas the second option is more passive and is something that “happens” to us. In the book he uses an example of a driver swerving in front of us as an example of something that we would become conscious of due to it being brought to our attention passively.
Both ways are important, and will always be part of our lives. There are certain things we can choose to focus on, and there are other things that we are forced to focus on because they need out attention.
However, the more intentional we are at focusing on the things that matter to us, the more our attention is shaped to notice things that support the goals and ambitions we have.
No matter what you are doing with your time, you have the ability to become more conscious in almost all situations.
In the book the author uses an example of a man named Rico who uses consciousness to create flow. He says that Rico’s job is made up of a task that should take 43 seconds, and will be completed over and over again each day. If you ask me, this sounds like the type of job that many people would say does not provide happiness, and is one that could become quite boring.
But, Rico loves his job.
Why? Because he focuses on the details of the task. He is conscious about what doing his job means. He focuses on the bigger picture. The author says, “The reason is that he approaches his task in the same way an Olympic athlete approaches his event: How can I beat my record?” He also says, “Like the runner who trains for years to shave a few seconds off his best performance on the track, Rico has trained himself to better his time on the assembly line.”
Rico could let the “things” of his job create boredom and discontentment. However, he has chosen how we wants to respond to the “things” of his job. He has chosen to focus on striving for improvement and excellence each and every day, which in turn creates happiness for him.
He didn’t focus on being happy in his job, he focused on his job and it led to happiness.
This idea reminded me of a story I heard Zig Ziglar tell a few years back about a woman who was unhappy in her job. When she confronted him about it, she told him that there was nothing about her job that she liked. But, after him talking with her and helping her to identify all the things she did like – which I believe ended up being 22 things, even though at first she claimed there were 0 – she was able to achieve far more happiness in her work.
In his example, the “things” of the job never changed. She still had the same job, with the same co-workers, and the same pay. But what did change was the way she chose to react to the “things” of her job. She began to focus on her job, and being excellent at her job, and it led to happiness.
Week 1 Wrap Up
If you want to achieve more happiness, it is critical to develop and work towards goals. It is also critical to become more conscious about the work you do on a day to day basis. These simple things can make all the difference in the world, and practiced day after day will give you a great start towards achieving more happiness in your life.
My Favorite Quotes
- What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them.
- Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.
- It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.
- Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.
- Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself. – Viktor Frankl
- The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
- Flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
- Everything we experience—joy or pain, interest or boredom—is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to control this information, we can decide what our lives will be like.
- The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.
- This paradox of rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way.
- The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present.
- The most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment.
- If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders.
- It seems that those who take the trouble to gain mastery over what happens in consciousness do live a happier life.
- The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body.
- With consciousness, we can deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly.
- The events that constitute consciousness—the “things” we see, feel, think, and desire—are information that we can manipulate and use. Thus we might think of consciousness as intentionally ordered information.
- When a person is able to organize his or her consciousness so as to experience flow as often as possible, the quality of life is inevitably going to improve, because, as in the case of Rico and Pam, even the usually boring routines of work become purposeful and enjoyable.
- When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable.
- To improve life one must improve the quality of experience.
- But by far the overwhelming proportion of optimal experiences are reported to occur within sequences of activities that are goal-directed and bounded by rules—activities that require the investment of psychic energy, and that could not be done without the appropriate skills.
- Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.
- The reason it is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience is that goals are usually clear, and feedback immediate.
It’s Action Time
- Develop and work towards your goals. I know I have suggested this idea before, but it is so important that I am suggesting it again. You NEED to have written goals that you are working towards. Set aside time right now to write down 7-10 goals that you can work towards for the remained of this year. If you need help with setting goals, check out my post on goal setting by clicking here. If you have already set your goals and have them written down, take 30 min to review your goals and action items to make sure you have a clear plan how to achieve them over the coming months.
Coming Up Next…
We will breaking down chapters 4-5 next week. In the mean time, take the action steps above and jump into the Facebook group to help encourage others!