The flow theory reveals the secret to happiness

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi spent his life studying the origins of happiness, with surprising results.

How many times have you asked yourself what does happiness stem from? What factors, actions and circumstances affect how happy—or unhappy—we feel? The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devoted much of his career to studying the origins of happiness, convinced that this state of mind wasn't dependent on external conditions such as good fortune or money.

After conducting hundreds of interviews with people with different professions, Csikszentmihalyi developed the flow theory. According to the academic, flow is a state of mind that occurs when we are so immersed and involved in a particular activity that we forget everything else. During this optimal experience, which can be compared to a state of ecstasy or a competitive trance, we tend to lose our sense of time and even awareness of ourselves. It's a moment in which "instead of being at the mercy of nameless forces, we feel that we are in control of our actions, that we are masters of our destiny" and we're able to give our all, experiencing immense happiness.

Csikszentmihalyi and his team of researchers interviewed thousands of people from different social classes to determine whether or not this theory was valid. The research showed that this experience was described in the same way by men and women, by young people and old, regardless of their economic and sociocultural background. The flow concept has since been applied to a variety of fields, including clinical psychotherapy, the re-education of offenders in juvenile prisons and the organisation of museum tours.

We all remember that feeling of excitement we felt as a child during a game, when we channelled all our attention towards an object, ignoring the outside world altogether. We experience the same feeling of satisfaction as adults when we engage in an activity that we enjoy and for which we have the right skills: work, sport, or simply reading a book or carrying out home improvements.

The flow theory dismantles the cliché that attributes happiness to the absence of worries and the presence of favourable external conditions. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it comes from achieving a highly active state of mind that tests our abilities and pushes us to give our best. In these moments, we don't experience fatigue and find the activity at hand highly rewarding, regardless of potential rewards or recognition from external sources. We're highly motivated to complete the task we've started and are able to reach our full potential, with exceptional results in terms of creativity and productivity.

If the optimal experience is something that each of us can pursue and "the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times", then happiness ceases to be something random or independent of one's will. When we put our heart and soul into the activities we enjoy, we feel happier and more fulfilled and forget the fear of failure, facing challenges with greater courage and self-esteem.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, there's another step involved in reaching the highest level of happiness: "if you can link your existence to a powerful purpose, then life itself can become one long flow in which all experiences are interconnected and organised". We like to think that everyone's existence can be held together by a "common thread" that gives it a higher meaning and purpose: an ultimate goal able to inspire and motivate our dreams, desires and daily actions.

Written by: Roberto

The flow theory reveals the secret to happiness


5% off
if you subscribe now