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Flow: Measuring one’s happiness in life

Paul Graham put another essay on
How to do what you love
. I’ll have to say I wasn’t as impressed with
this essay as his other ones but it is well written. In the commentary
on his essay one reader
put up a link
to a concept called Flow. This concept I found a bit more interesting.

Flow is a theory coined by a psychology professor by the name
of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his work, he talks about people are most
happy in their lives when they reach a state of flow. In English
we have some expressions for this type of state. We say we are ‘in the zone’
or ‘in the groove’ or have achieved a ‘zen-like state.’ These are all
pretty much one in the same.

One thing that Csikszentmihalyi also mentions about flow is that to
achieve this zone it has to hit a balance between the challenge of the
task and the skill of the person trying to achieve said task. An imbalance
in either will cause boredom or frustration.

Graham goes on and on about finding something you love and a couple of the
other essays on Flow as well. But the trick is more than finding something
you love but finding something that challenges YOU at where you are right
now. For example, if someone only had a background in high school algebra
and then was asked to solve a hard problem using a technique such as
Level Set Methods in one
week.
I’m sure it would be a poor way to reach Flow no matter how
interesting the challenge might seem on the surface. Level Set Methods
imply a knowledge of mathematical techniques such as ordinary
differential equations and partial differential equations (which also
imply other type of math subjects you would also have a decent grasp of
like multi-variable calculus).
I imagine that person would be too stressed
in trying to grasp all the background knowledge down in one week to
be able to really enjoy the challenge of applying the Level Set Method to
the problem involved.
However, IF you had the training or enough
ample time and guidance to learn the necessary techniques then this could
very well be the type of challenge that would put you in a state of
flow.

Perhaps, such background knowledge is considered ‘obvious’ but I think
it’s important to point out that to be able to experience an
optimal experience in one’s life you sometimes need to go through the
mechanics or what some people like to call ‘the boring stuff’ in order
to get to something that you really desire. But these mechanics and
pieces in themselves can be ways to experience flow if you
know what you’re looking for. But since we don’t always
know what we want this can be a lot harder than it looks. So trying to
find that right balance so you can continue to keep moving forward
without being bored or stressed is what is I think one of the most
important things in life.

References:

Wikipedia Article on Mihaly

Wikipedia Article on Flow

A short summary of Flow by David Farmer

Another essay on Flow by Rob Jellinghaus

Flow as a Testing Ideal by Deville C. Rasch

Authentic Happiness

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