I hope your school year has been off to a great start and that you have recovered from the post-camp funk. Like most of you, I struggle with the post-camp funk, symptoms of which include the intense missing of camp, the longing to go back, and the constant comparisons of my home life to camp life. It’s a funk that’s hard to get out of, and as both a camper and a counselor I found that it is always hard adjusting to post-camp life.
A common comment that I hear at camp, especially during our beloved crying fire, is that many of you are happier at camp than we are at home. You feel more yourselves, have stronger friendships, and you days are more meaningful and enjoyable at camp when compared to your life at home. It seems that it’s impossible to be as happy at home as we are at Manitou.
For those of you who may have seen or noticed, this past summer and the summer prior I was reading a book called The Happiness Hypothesis (yes it took me two years to read one book- I’m bringing new meaning to the term “slow reader”). The book, which I highly recommend, discusses the relevance of ancient wisdom to modern day life. The author defines and references the core tenants of various philosophies and religions, and then analyzes and applies recent scientific and psychological studies to these ancient theories to see if they hold true. After examining the data, the author provides the reader with informed steps, backed by science and philosophy, to live a happier life.
The book is filled with anecdotes, bizarre psychological studies, and brilliant metaphors; I tried to write out cliff notes for the entire book, but I was only halfway through summarizing the main points and my post was already five pages long. So I decided to focus on a chapter that I found particularly interesting, one that I think you all will get the most benefit from. So let me tell you a little bit about flow.
Psychologists have discovered that the level of happiness that you actually experience is determined by your biological set point (some people are just naturally happier than others), plus the conditions of your life, plus the voluntary activities you do. Flow falls into the “voluntary activities” category. Discovered by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), flow is the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging, yet closely matched to one’s abilities. Flow is basically what some people call “being in the zone.” Csikszentmihalyi called it “flow” because it often feels like effortless movement. Flow is a state in which you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; it is an activity that brings your mind and body into perfect harmony. Flow can emerge from a range of activities, such as singing, dancing, skiing, fishing, playing the guitar, cooking, reading, or even having a conversation and eating food.
How does one achieve flow? There are a number of different elements involved in achieving flow, but the main elements are:
There are clear goals every step of the way.
There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
There is a balance between challenges and skills.
Action and awareness are merged.
Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
There is no worry of failure.
Let’s take singing for an example. While practicing singing by yourself, you have clear goals (learn this song by Friday, learn how to belt a C, etc.), you are immediately hearing if you are on track to your goals or not, the song is challenging yet with the proper work and practice the goal is within your reach, you are not worried about someone hearing you crack or mess up a lyric, you are solely focused on singing and only singing, and most importantly, it is enjoyable to you.
When we enter a state of flow, hard work becomes effortless. We want to keep exerting ourselves, honing our skills, and using our strengths. Flow is a dynamic rather than static state, because a properly constructed flow activity leads to increased skill, challenge, and complexity over time.
Flow is a gratification, which is fundamentally different than a pleasure. Pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, and may be derived from food, backrubs, and cool breezes. Gratifications are activities that engage you fully, draw on your strengths, and allow you to lose self-consciousness. Gratifications ask more of us; they challenge us and make us extend ourselves. Gratifications often come from accomplishing something, learning something, or improving something. While pleasures are necessary and contribute to one’s overall happiness, pleasure reaches its limit surprisingly fast; this is where flow should enter in, as a way to obtain gratifications that are more dependable and longer lasting than subjective feelings.
At camp we are constantly in states of flow, whether it's in rehearsal, an elective class, or a lively conversation with a friend. Our day is actually structured around flow activities. This may not be the case at home, which is why you may not feel as happy or engaged. If this is the case for you, try engaging in a flow activity! Flow gives us some of our greatest gratifications in life. When you're feeling stressed about school, work, or friendships, take an hour for yourself and do something that produces flow. Not only will it take your mind off what you’re stressed about, but it will also hone and strengthen your skills.
I hope you enjoyed this mini psychology lesson! If you’re interested more in flow or anything regarding positive psychology, feel free to reach out to me, or read about it yourself in The Happiness Hypothesis. Or google. There’s always that.