Flow: The secret to happiness

By Mohamed Alkawaja

Have you ever been doing a task, whether it be sports, homework, or anything else in life, and you're completely immersed in it? You are in a place of deep focus, and time seems to slow down. You feel great; you feel productive, and your senses are heightened. This feeling illustrates the flow state, a powerful state where you are remarkably productive and feel great. And although it may seem to happen coincidentally or randomly, you can actually achieve this state intentionally too. In 1990, a Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, published a book called Flow to describe the concept of unlocking superhuman performance. Ever since then, it has been described as the key to happiness, creativity, and even doing the "impossible." It is how Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant could score impossible shots to win games. It's how Usain Bolt can run so fast and break world records. It's how Harvey Specter can win impossible cases. And it's how you can unlock this extraordinary productivity and performance; it's how you can be happy at a time where happiness seems impossible.

At a time like this, I know how hard it can be to keep up with all the work we have to do, especially for my fellow seniors. College deadlines, project after project for every class, and trying to keep your life and mental health stable during lockdown can be overwhelming. It may feel impossible now, especially with what psychologists call "quarantine fatigue," where everyone, (but especially teenagers) is tired and sleepy all day, leading them to burnout. Hopefully, after reading this article, you'll get all your work done efficiently and achieve this superhuman performance and happiness. This begs the question though: How can we achieve flow? How can we get there?

Feeling The Flow State

Many people connect happiness with relaxation; they believe happiness happens when they don't have to work and can just unwind. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues against this. He says that we are happiest when we are doing challenging things that give us a feeling of ecstasy. It is when we are so engaged and interested in a task that we are happiest. Many people believe that when they reach a point where they can finally relax, they will be satisfied. The issue with this belief is that things don't end, new problems will arise, and you will always want to achieve more in your life. You will always want to rise ranks in what you do and will never be satisfied. And that moment of relaxation will soon feel tedious and futile. This is why many successful people end up getting bored of doing nothing and relaxing and end up getting back into their work or take on more challenging hobbies in their downtime. We weren't meant to sit down, relax, and do nothing for our lives; all of us were meant for more.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, "The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile." According to Csikszentmihalyi, the human mind can process up to 120 bits of information per second. And we can only use our brain's full potential when we do challenging tasks that we enjoy. It puts passionate people above the people who are just chasing fame, glory, and money in the world. The key is to have a balance of challenge and skill. If the task is too challenging for us, it will only cause anxiety, and if it is too easy, we won't unlock the flow state. Only when we have the balance that the flow state can be unlocked, and the longer we are in it, the closer we get to that ecstatic feeling. 

How to Achieve Flow State

According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are five main factors associated with the flow state: 

  1. You have a clear goal that is challenging but achievable.

  2. You feel in control of the task and its outcome (you feel like you can do anything).

  3. Your assignment is intrinsically rewarding.

  4. A feeling of timelessness and lack of self-consciousness

  5. You are entirely focused and are intensely concentrated on the task with no concern for anything else, including personal needs.

Benefits of Flow 

If you are still not convinced of this flow state concept after reading this article, here are some of the benefits that will hopefully encourage you to take on flow: 


  1. Better Performance: With extreme concentration and focus, flow delivers increased productivity and higher quality work. Studies have also shown that flow can improve your performance in various areas such as teaching, sports, creativity, and learning. 

  2. No Roadblocks: Flow will allow you to remove any distractions and negative thoughts such as stress and self-doubt.

  3. Happiness: Although you might believe that flow state will give you a short rush of joy, it will provide you with a long-lasting feeling of fulfillment and happiness, especially if you’re doing something you are passionate about. 



“The 'Flow State': Where Creative Work Thrives.” BBC Worklife, BBC, www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190204-how-to-find-your-flow-state-to-be-peak-creative.

Cherry, Kendra. “Achieve the 'Flow' Mindset to Get the Job Done.” Verywell Mind, www.verywellmind.com/what-is-flow-2794768.

Kennedy, Alayna. “Flow State: What It Is and How to Achieve It.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 5 Apr. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/flow-state-what-it-is-and_b_9607084?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAFpnyPLfzezOv8dcwWIbYpEuFP0JbBf5RUgDtdzQzZGL_DCjbOmuzX4X6PHSUyTbdkej1N4LJ0T_smdEtA5X0sAThWpQ4E94b43hkDeCgznuhuzqIqt_dP4KOFO-VsH21bf5OExtPR2D6-iSI2ZaUWxG0z_-hP5BKDwGhTMzYqA5.


Roomer, Jari. “How To Reach Flow State (Using 10 Flow State 'Triggers').” Medium, Personal Growth Lab, 13 Feb. 2019, medium.com/personal-growth-lab/how-to-reach-flow-state-using-10-flow-state-triggers-473aa28dc3e5.


“What Is a Flow State and What Are Its Benefits?” Headspace, www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state.

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