The following text is based on the book “Flow – The Psychology of Happiness” written by Csikszentmihalyi (2002), who is the psychologist behind the concept. The concept of flow describes a process of achieving happiness.
Csikszentmihalyi grew up in the aftermath of WW2, and therefore he found a strong need to find happiness during a time of depression. He came up with the concept of flow which is the experience of having one’s feelings and thoughts in harmony.
It often occurs when you do something that is not too difficult and still not too easy. In this way, you get challenged in an appropriate way where you manage to stay in control of a situation.
When you reach the flow-zone, you won’t get bored, and you won’t get apathetic as you are optimally challenged: the challenge does not exceed your capabilities, and the goal of your actions is likely to be fulfilled.
The experience of flow often happens in contexts where you experience a high degree of self-efficacy, which is our belief in our ability to succeed, and it can therefore be compared to self-confidence.
People get self-confident in leisure activities they find interesting, and in activities where they invest a lot of time. Activities that are significant to the individual are more likely to evoke the experiences of flow.
Having invested a lot of time in an activity (e.g. writing) normally augments your self-efficacy because you become better at it, and the likelihood of experiencing flow during these activities are accordingly high.
The experience of flow is said to be a way of achieving happiness. This might not come as a surprise because experiencing flow means that you are in control of a situation (you feel mastery), and your intentions are being fulfilled by achieving the goals you put, and at last you live up to your thoughts about yourself being an efficacious person.
If we could engage in behaviours that always promote flow, we would probably be happier in general, but the problem is, it is not all situations that enable us to feel flow. Leisure activities which you find pleasurable can be a way of experiencing flow once in a while.
In fact, all activities have the potential to promote feelings of flow – the feeling of mastery is a crucial factor for achieving it. Get out and do the activities that you like the most, and go with the flow.