by Max Sirak
“Twenty-three hundred years ago Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal—health, beauty, money, or power—is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.”
Mihaly Csikszentmilayi wrote that in Flow.
Both Csikszentmilayi and Aristotle are right.
We want the things we want because we think they will make us happy.
We want money because we think it gives us the freedom to live the way we want and fulfilling our whims makes us happy.
We want to be beautiful because being treated that way feels good – and feeling good makes us happy.
We want health because the alternative, being sick, sucks and makes us not happy.
We want power because with it, we think we will be able to do whatever it is we want and that will make us happy.
Money, power, beauty, and health – think about how much of our lives are spent chasing these things.
Pretty much all of it.
(And for those out there who are shaking their heads about the innocence of children – I'd like to point out that I was literally chasing beauty (girls) around the playground at recess in first grade…so…yeah.)
But while we may while our lives away in pursuit of those four things, how many of us actually get them?
More importantly – do we even enjoy the process of trying to get them? Because, if we don't and yet we spend most of the hours of our days in pursuit – then are we even enjoying our lives?
And if we aren't enjoying what little time we do have on this planet – then aren't we missing the point?
Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Everything we do, we do because we think it will make us happy, except we are more-or- less terrible at knowing what actually makes us happy.
This is where Flow comes in.
The entire book (which, if you like 300 level psych text books you should read, and if not you should take my word for) is about what actually makes most people happy and it isn't money.
Money only makes us happy when we don't have enough to survive. But once our basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, water, high-speed internet, etc.) are met – more money doesn't equal more happiness.
Now – pause for a second, tear yourself away from this screen, and take a look around…
How many folks do you see whose basic needs aren't met?
Do they seem happy?
Are they having fun?
Chances are your answers are: Not many, no, and no. And that blows. Because doing things we don't enjoy in order to get more of a thing we don't enjoy seems pretty ridiculous, doesn't it?
Good thing we know better. We know what makes us happy.
It's the way we spend our time and how we feel about it.
It's not an attractive spouse (or sidepiece) and phenomenal sex.
It's not a high paying job with Scrooge McDuck piles of money.
It's not being jobless and spending your days in blissful Netflix binges.
People are happiest when they're using their abilities to their full capacity while getting feedback and working toward an achievable goal.
That's it. That's flow. Those moments, hours, or days (if we're lucky) when we lose ourselves in what we're doing and time just seems to slip away.
So – if being happier is really what you want – here's what you can do….
1) Find out what you're good at. (Ask yourself, friends, family, whoever you trust or check out this test. You'll have to create an account but it's free.)
2) Next, pick a reachable goal that uses a skill (or skills) associated with your strength(s).
3) Make sure your goal isn't easy but it is possible. Low hanging fruit doesn't really do it for any of us. Neither does fruitlessly pushing ourselves toward the impossible. So choose a goal that stretches your skills.
When we are engaged in activities we are good at, that stretch our capabilities, and are possible to accomplish – we get so completely absorbed in what we're doing we lose track of time. That's a flow experience.
And believe it or not, it's these that makes us the happiest.
It isn't the money. It isn't the attractive lovers. It isn't even the copious amounts of free time. (Unless of course you are the type of person that spends their free time engaging in hobbies that push your best skills to their limits).
It's doing challenging things we're good at and getting so absorbed in them we lose track of time.
That's the secret to happiness.
But, for most of us, creating flow is not the criteria around which our lives have been organized. So, I'm going to give you a couple tips and tricks for making lemonade with all the bushels and bushels of lemons you've unwittingly gathered over these years in mis-pursuit.
If you're bored by the way you spend your time and you're not in a position to change outright how that is (which, I mean really…how many of us are?) then you need to challenge yourself.
I know this runs counter to what a lot of people will tell you on how to increase your happiness – going out of your way to make life harder – but give it a try. Create a game of it and make your own metrics.
For me – I waited tables and bartended for a lot of years. While the number of dollars I had in my fist at the end of my shift was a fine way to gauge my success, it eventually got to the point where it wasn't enough.
Instead of being solely focused on delivering good service, I decided to keep track of how many times I could get my customers to laugh out loud or wrinkle their brow in contemplation.
So, at the end of my nights I would sip my shift drink at the bar, count my cash, and then tally up how many “Ha!”s and “Hmmm”s I had.
If, however, you find yourself on the other side of this spectrum and it's not boredom but anxiety you feel – you have two options:
1) Increase your skills and abilities. Take a class or practice the applicable skills you use in your days.
2) Take a step back. The challenges you are tackling are either above your level or focused in the wrong direction. You either aren't playing to your strengths or you are out of your league.
Life is confusing. It's hard. And, unfortunately, the world we live in was not designed with your happiness in mind.
But it's okay because there are things you can do to make it better…
Find out what you're good at.
Push yourself in those areas toward realistic and measurable goals.
“When experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified in the present, instead of being held hostage to a hypothetical future gain.” (Flow)
Chasing dollars isn't going to make you happy.
Unless, of course, you're good at running.