Finding the Key to Happiness
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Positive Psychology
The search for happiness is often inspired by hardship. This was the case for Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the co-founders of positive psychology. Born in Hungary just before World War II, Csikzentmihaly lost both of his brothers at a young age, one in the Siege of Budapest and the other to a Soviet work camp. During the second world war, his family was expelled from Hungary and had their citizenship revoked; Csikszentmihalyi dropped out of school to help his family make a living.
Csikszentmihalyi became intrigued with how life can have meaning in the face of great loss or disappointment. A lecture by Carl Jung, a renowned psychoanalyst, further intrigued him.
He moved to the United States and studied psychology at the University of Chicago. His research involved observation and interviews with artists, among others, about the nature of their relationships to the process of creating art. He was particularly struck by moments when he observed artists become completely engrossed in their pieces—so much so that they seemed to stop taking breaks, eating, or even going to the bathroom.
What is “Flow?”
Does that sound familiar? From time to time, most of us have experienced these moments, which Csikszentmihalyi calls moments of “flow.” When we do things that we enjoy and are skilled at, like practicing a new sport or engaging in expressive arts like drawing or dancing, we enter a trance-like state where we are completely immersed in the activity. We lose track of time and become less self-conscious.
Why does this matter? Csikszentmihalyi believes that individuals have some control over their own happiness, and that finding flow was a key factor. He also believes that all individuals are capable of finding flow, even in the midst of difficult or challenging times.
How to Get Into Your Flow
Recognizing an activity that gets us into a state of flow, and finding ways to incorporate that activity into our lives can be hugely rewarding. Get started with these questions:
- Have you ever become so engrossed in something that you lost track of time? What was it? How was it different from your other tasks?
- What sort of accomplishments do you take pride in even when other people don’t seem to admire them or give you credit?
- How can you further incorporate the above activities into your life? Can you make any of them a bit more challenging to promote growth??
If you have any questions about flow or happiness in general, you’re always welcome to reach out to one of our clinicians. We’d be happy to talk through any thoughts or struggles you may have.
May you achieve the flow you’re seeking.
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.