Think back to the last time that you were doing something:
- that you love,
- where you were totally immersed in this activity and in the zone,
- totally confident,
- free of judgment,
- feeling tremendous joy and
- so absorbed in what you were doing that time was going by and you didn’t even notice it.
How do you feel?
Chances are that you feel great! Because you have just tapped into Flow, your level of optimal performance! And by tapping into Flow, you are enhancing your happiness. So let’s take a closer look at the connection between Flow and happiness, using the SPIRE model of happiness. In other words, let’s examine how Flow and SPIRE can enhance your wellbeing and lead to greater happiness in life.
The Science of Flow
Flow is the brainchild of the late psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi as described his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi researched the conditions under which people experienced Flow and defined the experience as doing something that
- you are good at and that gives you joy,
- has a goal so that you know what you want to achieve,
- provides you with feedback on how you are doing so that
- you are inspired and challenged to increase your level of performance and
- you are so engrossed in what you are doing that time goes by and you do not even notice it.
As such, Flow is a growth experience that finds the “sweet spot” where your skill level meets the challenge at hand. Flow also presumes that you can control the experience and that you have the ability to cultivate and master the necessary skills through training and discipline.
Moreover, Flow is closely connected to Happiness. In fact, Csikszentmihalyi elaborates on the connection between Flow and Happiness in his TED Talk entitled Flow: The Secret to Happiness.
The SPIRE Model of Happiness
And speaking of science, research now demonstrates how to bring greater happiness into your life. Psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar has created the SPIRE Happiness framework based on research from multiple sources including psychology, philosophy, history, science and art. I have had the privilege of studying with Tal at the Happiness Studies Academy which he founded in order to educate leaders who are themselves dedicated to personal, interpersonal, and communal flourishing. The goal is nothing short of creating and spreading the happiness revolution. And I am proud to be a part of this community as a certified happiness facilitator!
The SPIRE model of happiness is comprised of the following five elements:
S: spiritual wellbeing
P: physical wellbeing
I: intellectual wellbeing
R: relational wellbeing
E: emotional wellbeing
This gives us many ways to enhance our wellbeing. As such, happiness is multi-dimensional. When we cultivate each of the five SPIRE elements, we reach our highest potential. All are essential. Some parts of SPIRE will resonate more powerfully with you than others.
Flow and SPIRE
The SPIRE model shows us how Flow is closely linked to happiness. You can experience Flow and SPIRE by doing this simple exercise:
First, take a moment to access your own Flow experience.
- Just close your eyes.
- Take three deep breaths.
And tap into an experience of total immersion, confidence and joy.
With that experience in mind, let’s examine the connection between Flow and SPIRE through each of the five SPIRE elements.
Flow and Spiritual Wellbeing
There are two principles underlying Spiritual Wellbeing:
- Being mindful and experiencing life in the present moment; and
- Having a sense of purpose to which you commit.
Flow is inherently about being in the moment. That’s one of the core principles of spiritual wellbeing!
And how fulfilled did you feel at Flow? If your experience touched on your sense of purpose and meaning in life, this too is at the heart of spiritual wellbeing.
Flow and Physical Wellbeing
The “P” of SPIRE stands for physical wellbeing, with these two principles:
- The mind/body connection; and
- Exercise, rest, nutrition and physical touch.
Many people experience Flow while engaged in a physical activity like hiking or running.
That’s physical wellbeing!
Or perhaps your Flow activity engages your body in some way, whether it is performing or a creative practice. Pay attention to that feeling in your body. How does that make you feel? That mind/body connection is another aspect of physical wellbeing!
Flow and Intellectual Wellbeing
Let’s now explore Intellectual Wellbeing. This means
- Being curious, being open to new experiences and
- engaging in deep learning.
How curious were you during your Flow episode? How deeply did you engage with your activity? Or did your Flow activity involve one of your areas of multiple intelligence, like visual, musical, linguistic or even athletic intelligence? This helps you to engage in deep learning.
You have now experienced intellectual wellbeing!
Flow and Relational Wellbeing
The fourth part of SPIRE turns on your relationships, with these two principles:
- Cultivating meaningful relationships with others; and
- Having a healthy relationship with oneself.
Perhaps your Flow experience involved other people. If so, you have tapped into relational wellbeing.
In fact, having quality relationships with others is the single biggest predictor of happiness, according to the 8-decade Harvard Study of Adult Development. The results of the study are discussed in the recently published book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness by the director of the study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, and his colleague Marc Schulz.
And were you nurturing yourself during your Flow experience? Having a healthy relationship with oneself also gives rise to relational wellbeing!
Flow and Emotional Wellbeing
Emotional wellbeing-the fifth SPIRE element- sums up the four other SPIRE elements. It encapsulates how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
How did you feel when you tapped into your Flow experience? What words describe that feeling? In my classes and workshops, people often use words like “confident”, “excited”, “calm”, “electric” and a range of other wonderful emotions.
Experiencing positive, pleasurable emotions is at the heart of emotional wellbeing and Flow is a powerful way to evoke those emotions.
Final Thoughts on Flow and SPIRE
No wonder Flow makes us feel happier! It touches on many, if not all, of the SPIRE elements.
So here’s how to bring more Flow into your life:
- Create a Flow Affirmation with the words that summarize what you are like at Flow.
- Use your affirmation to boost your confidence and remind you of what you are like at your optimal best.
- Pay attention to and become more aware of when you are in Flow. Savor it. It is one of life’s great moments.
- Do a SPIRE check-in to note which SPIRE element or elements is or are invoked in your Flow experience.
- Make it a point to do more of what puts you in Flow and involves one or more SPIRE elements.
In short, Flow is a state of complete focus. Therefore, when you do something enjoyable, become fully engaged in what you are doing. Be mindful when you learn, work, practice, converse with a friend, go out to dinner or work out.
By engaging in these practices on a consistent basis, you are on your way to enhancing your happiness.
Here’s to your Happiness and Flow!