Flow for fulfillment

In a New Yorker article, Will Storr wrote about Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work which helped validate a theory that “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow.

Mt Storr went on to write, “At the time, this finding pushed back against conventional wisdom. Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and spend more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s studies reveal that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”

Let me repeat that: jobs are easier to enjoy than free time. This challenges our dream-like plans to retire and golf the rest of our days. Instead, we need to be looking for something that has stretch goals, something that leverages our experiences, strengths & passions, something we can lose ourselves in. So stop thinking about how to work less, start thinking about what kind of work will give us flow. It’s immaterial if it’s now or at retirement.