Exploring Flow

Living in Flow The Key To Happiness?

Money cannot make us happy, but a lack of money can make us unhappy.


When you are completely engaged in a creative process, there is not enough bandwidth left over to process other nervous signals.

Identity dissapears from the concsiouness, existence is temporarily suspended.


Source Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

Mark Strand 1996

It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it.  You can’t particularly force yourself through it.  You just have to float.  If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door



Flow flow chart

In Flow, Csikszentmihalyi uses learning to play tennis an example to illustrate how you can experience flow. I’ve added four numbered circles to the chart to illustrate his example.

11: Your starting point. Here, you’re playing tennis for the very first time. You’re practicing serving the ball over the net (which is tricky, but manageable at first), and trying to hit the other side of the court from your side (or something – I’ll admit, I have no idea how to play tennis). At this point, you’re experiencing flow, because the challenge of what you’re doing is roughly equal to your skill level, and you’re having fun.

From this starting point, one of two things can happen:


You move to “2”. You improve your skills to the point where you get bored of just hitting the ball over the net. The challenge of playing is now lower than your skill level, and you longer experience flow.


3You move to “3”. You challenge yourself at a level that stresses you out – for example, you decide to play a tennis-loving friend of yours, and she kicks your ass. Here, the challenge of playing is greater than your skill level, and you no longer experience flow.

Depending on where you’re at, there are two ways to get back to the Flow Channel.


If you’re bored (“2”), you will need to find a way to increase the challenge of playing, like by finding a opponent whose skill level is roughly equal to yours.
If you’re anxious (“3”), you will need to work on improving your tennis skills to get back in the Flow Channel. (You could also decrease the challenge, but that’s more difficult in practice.)

According to Csikszentmihalyi, this “explains why flow activities lead to growth and discovery. One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.”

Every single activity you perform falls somewhere on this diagram, and according to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, the activities that let you experience flow are the ones that will make you the happiest.

The challenge becomes, then, is to adjust either the challenge or your skill level of the activities you do to experience flow more often