Notes on Reading: Flow
In general, a state of flow embodies:
1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time - one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
9. When in the flow state, people become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975. p.72).
The idea of overcoming duality of self and object is a key theme of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig (1974). "When you're not dominated by feelings of separateness from what you're working on, then you can be said to 'care' about what you're doing. That is what caring really is: 'a feeling of identification with what one's doing.' When one has this feeling then you also see the inverse side of caring, quality itself." (page 290)
What is happiness? Happiness is such a subjective and elusive term, yet we all manage to agree on the what it feels like to be "happy." Happiness is a state of bliss. When happy, the world seems manageable, dreams are possible, and we function with a keen sense of intuitiveness. We feel connected. Perhaps happiness can be best be described as feeling the simple state of balance among much complexity.
If we believe that happiness goes hand in hand with a loss of "self consciousness" and our contemporary capitalist society is built firmly upon the notions of self identity, expression, and awareness through material desire and possession, it makes sense that "...excessive concern with consumer goods and material possessions is inversely related with positive developmental outcomes" and therefore why "...teenagers from working-class, and even impoverished backgrounds [are] happier than upper-middle-class teenagers living in exclusive suburban communities." With the material possessions within their financial grasp, upper-middle-class teenagers struggle with the issues of ownership or lack of ownership of prescribed materialistic self identities. This struggle is inherently shallow, narcissistic, and devoid of meaning. Also inherent in this struggle is the endless race of materiality, in that one object is never enough because there is always something newer and better guaranteed around the corner. Goals are transient, needs are superficial, and value is monetary.
(slightly tangential, this all makes me think of "Century of the Self" -- where once the political process was about engaging people's rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population. He cites a Wall Street banker as saying "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs.")
There is no secret code for happiness. However, I do value the process of analyzing states of happiness, as the results can be combined with other humanistic studies to give us insight into how and why we should build the systems we do. When we impose social, economic, and physical structures upon society, it is far better for us to build towards positive effect, and be continually aware that nothing made exists without effect, intentional or not.