If you’re happy and you know it, ride your bike! Or just maybe, you are happy because you ride your bike.
Happiness in all its hard-to-define glory is the subject of Roko Belic’s 2011 documentary Happy: The Movie. Happy looks at the fledgling academic field of researching happiness from psychological, physical and emotional standpoints and posits several theories as to how happiness is generated. One aspect of being happy is the ability to “flow,” the “mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity”.
The results of flow mojo are part of our culture: champion athletes, skilled musicians, elegant writers and passionate artists all produce tangible results of locking into the flow. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been exploring this concept for over 30 years. His 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is one of the most wide read publications that examines what is happening when we flow. Flow is very similar to a zen state, where the mind and body are balanced and focused on a single task while the individual is equipped with enough skill to prolong the experience.
Tying it all together, what Happy proposes is that flow isn’t limited to highly skilled pursuits; one might achieve flow folding laundry, mowing the lawn or playing a video game. Everything from painting a wall to carving a pumpkin has the potential to flow and when we do, it is intrinsically satisfying. Not only do we reach a sort of timeless place during the endeavor, our brains are physiologically more active. Those who regularly practice mindful pursuits like yoga, meditation and martial arts have been shown to actually have larger, more active brains.
The secret then, is to achieve a state of flow in as many areas of life as possible. Flow is fluid (no pun intended) and can manifest itself in many states. The act of heightened focus can become a habit that transcends whatever activity we excel in most. Which brings us back to the beauty of the outdoors and all the ways we can achieve flow in wilderness.