This week we will be breaking down Chapters 8, 9 and 10 of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. If you haven’t read the breakdown for week 3 yet, go do so before continuing on with week 4.
In this weeks reading the author talks about three main topics:
- Our relationship with others
- How we deal with chaos
- Finding meaning in life
Let’s break down what the book says about each of these three topics.
Our Relationships & How They Lead To Flow
It is pretty common to believe that our relationships play a big part in our overall happiness, right?
The book says “If we learn to make our relations with others more like flow experiences, our quality of life as a whole is going to be much improved.”
Why is it that relationships are so important?
The book says that we are “social animals” and that we are designed to have relationships with others.
When left alone, especially when we have nothing to do, we tend to experience sadness. According to the book one of the reasons for this is because “keeping order in the mind from within is very difficult.”
That’s not to say that we cannot be happy when we are alone. It just means that we have a harder time experiencing happiness when alone. The author says “One can survive solitude, but only if one finds ways of ordering attention that will prevent entropy from destructuring the mind.”
Whether alone, or in the company of other people, the book says that we must learn to control our mind and structure out thoughts. One of the best ways to do this is through the implementation of goals.
Just like in the other areas of our lives we have talked about in the previous weeks, our interactions with family and friends needs to involve goals for us to find flow and happiness.
These goals can be long term things like planning to buy a home, start a family, or saving for retirement. They can also be short term things like planning our weekly meals, going on dates, spending quality focused time with a spouse or friend (that means put the phone in your pocket), or any other personal goal that you have that you can involve your friend or family member in.
It doesn’t really matter what the goal is, it just matters that you have a goal you are working towards in each relationship you are part of.
It’s Not What Happens That Matters, It’s How You Deal With It
It is easy to be happy when everything is going our way, right?
But what happens when things start to fall apart? What happens when we experience situations that we don’t want to experience?
According to the author it is these times in life that can have massive impacts on our level of happiness and flow.
The good news is that it is within our control!
In the book the author gives examples of people who have experienced tragedy, and yet they still regard the experience as an overall good experience.
Is this because the tragedy they experienced was really not that bad? Or is there something else that gives them the ability to have this outlook?
The book would suggest that these tragedies, most of which are described as truly being terrible experiences, should have been looked at for what they were. But it was a choice made by the individuals to whom they happened to look at them in a positive light.
What the author is showing us is that we have the power to determine the meaning of the things that happen to us.
We can transform tragedies, and turn them into something good.
The author says “Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”
We may not be in control of the things that happen to us in life, but we are in control of what we let them mean in our lives.
No matter what happens to you – whether it is getting fired from a job, getting dumped, having a financial setback, or any other negative event – the experience can be turned into a positive if you have the right outlook.
The Meaning of Life
The books final chapter brings the idea of flow and happiness full circle. It highlights the fact that happiness can not be found by achieving flow in a single area of life.
To find true happiness we must find flow in all areas of life.
This is ragraded in the book as the idea of finding a purpose or meaning for our lives.
When we identify a overall purpose for our lives it allows us to work towards flow in each area in a way that makes it more likely to achieve flow in other areas as well.
To illustrate this point the author says, “If a person sets out to achieve a difficult enough goal, from which all other goals logically follow, and if he or she invests all energy in developing skills to reach that goal, then actions and feelings will be in harmony, and the separate parts of life will fit together—and each activity will “make sense” in the present, as well as in view of the past and of the future. In such a way, it is possible to give meaning to one’s entire life.”
To do this the author suggests that we work on developing a life theme. He says “With a life theme, everything that happens will have a meaning—not necessarily a positive one, but a meaning nevertheless.”
When everything thing we do in our lives has a meaning we begin to find ways to make each event fit in with the others. It allows us to create unity in our goals. It allows to to create a flow in one area that overflows into other areas as well.
Book Wrap Up
The overall theme of this book, which is repeated in each and every chapter, is the idea that to find flow and happiness in our lives we have to spend our times working towards meaningful goals.
Whether it is in our work, our ralaionships, our health, or any other area of life, having goals we are working towards is one of the best ways to achieve flow.
But remember, to achieve the flow experience we need to not only have goals, but we need to have goals that challenge us. They also have to be goals that we have the skill set to achieve. We must have a way to receive feedback, and ultimately push ourselves to keep making progress.
One of my big takeaways from this book is that happiness is not something we achieve, it is not a result or an outcome. Happiness is a process. It is found in the things we do each and every day.
Happiness is found in the journey, not at the destination.
My Favorite Quotes
- If we learn to make our relations with others more like flow experiences, our quality of life as a whole is going to be much improved.
- Of the things that frighten us, the fear of being left out of the flow of human interaction is certainly one of the worst.
- There is no question that we are social animals; only in the company of other people do we feel complete.
- Because we depend so much on the affection and approval of others, we are extremely vulnerable to how we are treated by them. Therefore a person who learns to get along with others is going to make a tremendous change for the better in the quality of life as a whole.
- Most people feel a nearly intolerable sense of emptiness when they are alone, especially with nothing specific to do.
- Why is solitude such a negative experience? The bottom-line answer is that keeping order in the mind from within is very difficult.
- One can survive solitude, but only if one finds ways of ordering attention that will prevent entropy from destructuring the mind.
- When two people choose to focus their attention on each other, both will have to change their habits; as a result, the pattern of their consciousness will also have to change.
- To provide flow, a family has to have a goal for its existence.
- Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.
- The difference between someone who enjoys life and someone who is overwhelmed by it is a product of a combination of such external factors and the way a person has come to interpret them—that is, whether he sees challenges as threats or as opportunities for action.
- To be able to experience flow, one must have clear goals to strive for.
- Being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.
- As long as it provides clear objectives, clear rules for action, and a way to concentrate and become involved, any goal can serve to give meaning to a person’s life.
- People who find their lives meaningful usually have a goal that is challenging enough to take up all their energies, a goal that can give significance to their lives.
- What counts is not so much whether a person actually achieves what she has set out to do; rather, it matters whether effort has been expended to reach the goal, instead of being diffused or wasted.
- If goals are well chosen, and if we have the courage to abide by them despite opposition, we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won’t have the time to be unhappy.
- With a life theme, everything that happens will have a meaning—not necessarily a positive one, but a meaning nevertheless.
It’s Action Time
1. Write down your goals. I feel like a broken record at his point, but the idea is clear – we have to have goals we are working towards. If you don’t have a set of written goals, take 30 minutes to write down at least a few. Then break those into a few steps that it will take to achieve them. If you already have written down goals, set aside some time to review them. Analayze the feedback you have received about your goals recently. Are you making the progress you want to make? Or do you need to come up with some new plans to achieve your goals.
Coming Up Next…
We will starting a new book next week. Keep an eye out for the email announcement of the book selection. In the mean time, take the action step above and jump into the Facebook group to help encourage others!