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Adam Grant on Flow State and Happiness - Fulfillment Daily

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“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder…” ~Thoreau

The secret to happiness is that there is no secret to happiness:

1) By looking everywhere for happiness, we disrupt our ability to find Flow.

Csikszentmihalyi finds that when people are in a flow state, they don’t report being happy, as they’re too busy concentrating on the activity or conversation. But afterward, looking back, they describe flow as the optimal emotional experience. By looking everywhere for happiness, Tom disrupted his ability to find flow. He was so busy assessing each new job and country that he never fully engaged in his projects and relationships. Instead, he became depressed and entered a vicious cycle documented by psychologists Katariina Salmela-Aro and Jari-Erik Nurmi: depression leads people to evaluate their daily projects as less enjoyable, and ruminating about why they’re not fun makes the depression worse.

Watch Mihaly C's TED talk on Flow:

2) Do not overestimate the impact of life circumstances on happiness.

As psychologist Dan Gilbert explains in Stumbling on Happiness, we tend to overestimate the emotional impact of positive life events. We think a great roommate or a major promotion will make us happier, overlooking the fact that we’ll adapt to the new circumstances. For example, in a classic study, winning the lottery didn’t appear to yield lasting gains in happiness. Each time Tom moved to a new job and country, he was initially excited to be running on a new treadmill, but within a matter of months, the reality of the daily grind set in: he was still running on a treadmill.

3) Do not pursue happiness alone.

Happiness is an individual state, so when we look for it, it’s only natural to focus on ourselves. Yet a wealth of evidence consistently shows that self-focused attention undermines happiness and causes depression. In one study, Mauss and colleagues demonstrated that the greater the value people placed on happiness, the more lonely they felt every day for the next two weeks. In another experiment, they randomly assigned people to value happiness, and found that it backfired: these people reported feeling lonelier and also had a progesterone drop in their saliva, a hormonal response linked to loneliness. As Tom changed jobs and countries alone, he left behind the people who made him happy.

4) Do not look for intense happiness.

When we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm, and excitement. Unfortunately, research shows that this isn’t the best path to happiness. Research led by the psychologist Ed Diener reveals that happiness is driven by the frequency, not the intensity, of positive emotions. When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed. Indeed, Mauss and her colleagues found that when people were explicitly searching for happiness, they experienced less joy in watching a figure skater win a gold medal. They were disappointed that the event wasn’t even more jubilating. And even if they themselves had won the gold medal, it probably wouldn’t have helped. Studies indicate that an intense positive experience leads us to frame ordinary experiences as less positive. Once you’ve landed a gold medal or won the lottery, it’s hard to take pleasure in finding a great parking spot or winning a video game. Tom was looking so hard for the perfect job and the ideal country that he failed to appreciate an interesting task and a great restaurant.

The advice of psychologists Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky: “Change your actions, not your circumstances.”

Viktor Frankel quote suffering ceases to be suffering

There is this sustaining myth that internal emotional states are dependent upon external events, or circumstances and/or behaviors.  And this can be so, but need not be an all encompassing truth:  

I can and have changed my external circumstances as well as my internal states.  Others have too.  There is nothing particularly special or unique about seeing this opportunity and taking the immediate steps to activate our organic potential to do so--this is an universally present capacity in all humans, easily accessible to all those with any awareness of self agency.

Sometimes we only view what we are challenged to do in terms of what we learned how to do long ago.  And that's one way to frame our potentials--in the same way that I could frame my opportunity of traveling from Austin to San Francisco by crawling on my hands and knees.  It's possible.  Maybe I should start training by crawling around the block first.

And that's how some people choose to engage their potentials for personal change and mastery--setting up challenges of mythic proportions and then responsibly training for them--baby steps!  This is often especially true about how we react towards altering the incessant flow our day to day realities, whether adhering to a new diet or simply trying to contemplate and master the internal geography of our emotional states.  

So we have studies and stories and anecdotes of plenty of people deciding to crawl all the way, and similarly plenty of stories of some people deciding that any new destination isn't worth the effort... 

We need more stories of how others figured out ways to book a plane flight.  And then simply get over our fear of flying...

but baby steps work and "getting over it" is hit or miss.

i'm a big fan of getting over it.  i've done it.  but i've also tried to cheerfully force it on my kids and discovered that baby steps really do have their place.  eg: throwing my son in the pool did NOT help him get over his fear of water; buying him a noodle and floaties and encouraging him to start on the steps is how we had to do it.

Haha!  I didn't even think of my metaphor as implying getting "over it"--but you're right!  That kinda works too!

I actually just wanted to represent there are easier ways to travel to our desired destinations and even overcome our challenges than relying blindly on what our history my have revealed to us, or what we might have learned incrementally through trial and error.  In other words, I didn't invent airplanes--but I'm sure glad somebody showed me how to use them!

i totally agree, rob.  and getting in the flow feels like leaps instead of baby steps.  that's living!!

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