Happiness For Dummies
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Happiness is about those great unforgettable moments in life. So, if you were asked to identify the ten best moments of your life, could you do it? If it’s difficult for you, is that because you haven’t had that many “best moments” or because it’s been so long since you had one that you can’t remember? Are you just too busy trying to survive the modern-day rat race?

When a small group of family and friends were asked about the best moments in their lives — when they were experiencing pleasure that comes from flow — this is what they had to say:

“I’m a photographer and I got a call telling me some work I had submitted to a major museum had been accepted for display. When I went there and personally handed off my work to them, it was a moment of great satisfaction.”

“I love to sew. That’s how I make my living — making women’s purses. It’s such a creative time for me. Time flies by. I don’t eat. I’m just into what I’m doing. The end result is what is so satisfying — each purse is unique.”

“I’m happy when I’m working in my garden — things are growing, blooming, and everything looks nice. It also makes me happy when I give away my plants — so that someone else can enjoy them like I do.”

“I love to go through old magazines that have stacked up over time. I can spend a whole day, sitting on the floor in my pajamas, leafing through hundreds of magazines, clipping out stories and coupons — all the while, as content as I can be.”

What do all of these “best moments” have in common?

  • The moments involve activities and experiences that people want to have in their lives, rather than ones they feel they have to have. You don’t spend your day culling through old magazines because it’s one of those chores you need to check off the “have to” list — you choose to do it because it makes you happy.

    Maybe the thought of culling through old magazines sounds about as awful to you as any chore you can think of. The key is that, for that person, it’s an activity she loves.

  • The moments require your full attention. Getting into flow is a mindful thing. You have to be fully immersed in the moment. It’s an all-or-nothing experience.

  • The moments involve activities that are challenging and creative. Forget the routine stuff like cleaning the house, washing clothes, and most of the mindless things you do at work.

  • The moments provide an immediate sense of reward. It’s the pleasure of the moment that makes it special. It’s not about delayed gratification, although some of that can be a good thing too.

  • The moments involve doing something. Flow comes from utilizing skills — musical, mechanical, culinary — that you’ve developed throughout your life. The more highly skilled you are, the easier it is to get into flow.

  • The moments can occur anywhere — a tennis court, under the hood of a truck, or in your kitchen.

  • The moments come from knowing yourself. Flow isn’t about losing yourself, escaping — it’s about finding yourself, your true or authentic self, your happy self. That’s why each person has a different “best moment.”

What’s important is not what types of activities provide flow for these people, but rather which activities in your life can serve in that regard.

Take a sheet of paper and across the top write each of the following common elements of flow:
  • Activities I Want to Do

  • Activities I Can Become Absorbed In

  • Activities I Find Challenging and Creative

  • Activities That Provide an Immediate Feeling of Gratification

Now, in the left-hand margin, list activities you engage in at work and in your non-work life (leisure and relationship activities) that you think might possibly create flow. If you’re a teacher who loves what she does, you could list, “preparing lesson plans.”

Put a checkmark next to each of those activities indicating which, if any, of the flow criteria apply. Those activities that fit three or more of the criteria listed on top are ones that you should do more often if you want to experience the happiness that comes from flow.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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