Pursuing superiority leads to worse performance and mental fatigue. It does inspire us to achieve much more in life but it can also push us to do unethical things in life to attain superiority.
Instead of pursuing superiority, man must pursue the meaning of his life. Man cannot be happy unless he finds meaning of his life and derives meaning from his experiences. To be happy, life needs to have meaning.
The experience sampling method used by Dr. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi studied participants of a study where they were asked when they found themselves to be most creative or when did they feel good. 40 such dimensions of experience were supposed to be rated from 0-9 by the participants. 6 signals were derived and that helped to map a person’s life. This helped Dr. Mihaly to find what experiences make people happy or sad. He found that people find themselves happy when they were doing something meaningful. Dr. Mihaly termed such experiences as flow.
So, what is ‘flow’? Flow experiences are the ones that the person finds meaningful. Flow experiences are the ones in which there is not much of turbulence or disturbance in the form of obstacles in work.
Let us now understand the features of flow −
The first feature of flow is the distorted nature of time. Such experiences are the ones in which time seems to slow down when you are busy in work. But once the experience is over, it feels that the time went off faster. The way one works is flow experiences. It is on the individual to make it enjoyable.
The second feature is lack of self-consciousness. A worker experiencing flow will not judge himself. He is so immersed in the flow that all the mental faculties will be busy in the work. Once the work is over, then the man will judge himself.
The third feature is acute focus on the present moment. For instance, while rafting, the goal in mind beforehand is to win the trophy. But if a person has a flow moment while rafting, the rower will not think of the trophy at all while rafting. The only thing that will concern him is the onslaught of waves and the way to tackle them. This is another feature of flow experience.
The fourth feature of flow experience is clarity of goals and immediate feedback. A person who is active in sports knows exactly what is required in order to win a game. The rules are clear and thus, the goals are clear too. In every action, success or failure is immediately perceived.
The fifth feature is a high level of concentration on the activity at hand. Other distractions seem not to exist.
The sixth feature says that in order for the work to be a flow experience, the worker’s skills must be comparable to the difficulty level of the work.
The seventh feature states that the worker must find the work in his/her control. Control, here, means the absence of worry in mind and complete relaxation while doing the work.
The eighth, and the last feature, says that flow involves flexibility and ease. No strain must be experienced by the worker in a flow state. The activity must run smoothly, directed by an inner logic.
The flow state is the optimal experience in which everything seems out of context, except the work at hand. The conditions to experience flow at work and hence, be happier at work are as follows, as given by Schaffer.
● Knowledge of what has to be done.
● Knowledge of how the work has to be done.
● Knowledge of how good one is at that work.
● Knowledge of the direction to head to.
● Perception of high challenges.
● High perception of skills.
● Absence of distractions. The Art of Happiness — When, Why and How of Flow.
So, now we have learnt about flow experience. But when does a flow experience happen? The flow experience happens when your opponent is neither far better nor far worse. The flow experience cannot happen when your opponent is far superior or far inferior to you. If the opponent is far better, then you will end up being anxious. If the opponent is far worse, then you will end up being bored. Moreover, if you and your opponent are well matched, still flow experience won’t occur. The flow experience happens when your opponent is very slightly better than you. That is when the optimal experience can be enjoyed.
When your opponent is in a higher position than you, then you will have to raise your level and skills to outperform him. Or else, you cannot win. This will not make you too anxious but will help you grow. Hence, to be happy and to experience flow, try to be better than someone who is just slightly better than you are. But don’t follow quite superior people.
So, how does flow amplify our happiness? Flow makes us happy because flow moments are meaningful for us and when we find meaning is something, the experience becomes enjoyable. This leads to happiness. During flow, people get so involved in the experience that they forget to judge themselves and their surroundings. Such activities help the person to grow and learn and develop. Flow also makes a person feel charismatic and look charismatic to people, because flow experiences raise our happiness and confidence and enhances our self-confidence.
Flow is contagious. Like an infinite resource, it spreads from one person to another. That is the reason why the happiness spreads from one person to the other. This makes the person who experiences flow as likeable.
Research shows that if a person spends 10,000 flow-like hours into a domain, the person becomes an expert in that domain. Flow experiences help us to be involved completely into an activity. This helps to learn the activity in a much better way. This leads the person to be an expert in that field. Hence, flow experiences help us to gain mastery over our fields of interest.
So, how do we develop flow in our lives? And especially, how to develop flow in our work life? A survey shows that two-thirds of the people in the world hate their jobs. A lot of people are discontented with their lives.
To develop flow, get involved in a few activities such as the following −
The first way to develop flow in life is to develop a hobby. Hobbies do not need a particular age to be developed. However, the hobby must challenge us. Flow happens only when we challenge ourselves. For developing flow in workplace, one needs to ask what your work is all about. Ask yourself what you are good at. Once you get the answer, then switch to that job or try to bring in that aspect into your own job.
The second thing to do is to look around oneself and see what is going on in the world. Identify your strengths and nurture them. Find what is happening in your society, and the challenges being faced by it. Flow can be experienced by a person when he does something for the society by doing something what he is good at.
The transition to the new job or the new skill must be gradual and not sudden. Don’t burn your bridges for the sake of switching to your interests. If it turns out later that the work seems no longer interesting to you, then it can be a problem. Hence, the transition has to appropriately paced and gradual in nature.