11 Oct A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future (HECTOR GARCIAS & FRANCESC MIRALLES)
What makes us enjoy doing something so much that we forget about whatever worries we might have while we do it? When are we happiest? These questions are also at the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into the experience of being completely immersed in what we are
doing. Csikszentmihalyi called this state “flow,” and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life. There is no magic recipe for finding happiness, for living according to your ikigai, but one key ingredient is the ability to reach this state of flow and, through this state, to have an “optimal experience.”
In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on increasing the time we spend on activities that bring us to this state of flow, rather than allowing ourselves to get caught up in activities that offer immediate pleasure—like eating too much, abusing drugs or alcohol, or stuffing ourselves with chocolate in front of the TV.
As Csikszentmihalyi asserts in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
It is not only creative professionals who require the high doses of concentration that promote flow. Most athletes, chess players, and engineers also spend much of their time on activities that bring them to this state.
According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, a chess player feels the same way upon entering a state of flow as a mathematician working on a formula or a surgeon performing an operation. A professor of psychology, Csikszentmihalyi analyzed data from people around the world and discovered that flow is the same among individuals of all ages and cultures. In New York and Okinawa, we
all reach a state of flow in the same way. But what happens to our mind when we are in that state?
When we flow, we are focused on a concrete task without any distractions. Our mind is “in order.” The opposite occurs when we try to do something while our mind is on other things.
Getting back to Albert Einstein, “a happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future.”
The last thing Einstein wrote before closing his eyes forever was a formula that attempted to unite all the forces of the universe in a single theory. When he died, he was still doing what he loved. If he hadn’t been a physicist, he said, he would have been happy as a musician. When he wasn’t focused on physics or mathematics, he enjoyed playing the violin. Reaching a state of flow while working on his formulas or playing music, his two ikigais, brought him endless pleasure.
Many such artists might seem misanthropic or reclusive, but what they are really doing is protecting the time that brings them happiness, sometimes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. They are outliers who apply the principles of flow to their lives to an extreme.
Another example of this kind of artist is the novelist Haruki Murakami. He sees only a close circle of friends, and appears in public in Japan only once every few years.
Artists know how important it is to protect their space, control their environment, and be free of distractions if they want to flow with their ikigai.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Garcia Hector, Miralles Francesc