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Flow experience and how it can affect our well being

Perhaps one of the most troubling questions you can ask someone is if they’re happy. More often than not, the person feels the obligation to say yes. It is obvious that the question regarding our general well-being and happiness is not an easy one to answer and can’t be reduced to a yes or no, so I decided to give you a glimpse into some literature related to this. 

For quite some time now, psychologists have been tasked with studying and observing how different people respond to life’s events. How can some go through live so weightlessly and untroubled, while others have difficulty finding a reason to wake up in the morning. Most of us try to live our life striving for happiness, whatever that represents for each person. So, all possible socio-economic factors controlled, how can some achieve it easily while others have such a hard time. Well, it seems like part of the answer can be found in our personality type. 

Flow experience refers to an experience of deep absorption, engagement and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is characterized, among others, by a state of complete concentration, an increased sense of control and a loss of self-awareness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). According to the literature on flow experience, some people are more prone to experience it during their daily activities, which in turn is associated with higher levels of well-being. We can then ask ourselves why there is such a difference. According to several theorists, some people possess certain personal attributes that encourage the experience of flow. These include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, enjoyment of challenges, attentional control and others (Tse, Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2020). A profile that corresponds to these attributes was coined under the term of autotelic personality (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). A recent study that measured autotelic personality, proneness to experiencing flow and well-being found a positive effect of autotelic personality on well-being (Tse, Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2020). What’s even more interesting is the fact that this relationship was mediated by the proneness to experiencing flow. If that’s so, why then don’t we engage more often in activities that facilitate the flow experience? Simple answer: we’re lazy. Indeed, another study showed that because flow activities require more effort than passive activities, people are simply not interested – despite knowing that the flow activities might lead to more happiness (Schiffer & Roberts, 2017). 

In conclusion, there seems to be some people who have the attributes to engage in a deeper level with their daily activities and who make the effort to become involved in more difficult tasks that lead to the so-known flow experience. I hope I succeeded in getting you interested in the topic and I hope you have a lot of flow experiences from now on – or at least now you know the term for that state when you’re playing music or writing your essay.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow. New York, NY: Harper and Row. 
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books. 
  • Schiffer, L. P., & Roberts, T.-A. (2017). The paradox of happiness: Why are we not doing what we know makes us happy? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(3), 252-259.
  • Tse, D. C. K., Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2020). Living well by “flowing’ well : The indirect effect of autotelic personality on well-being through flow experience. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-12.
Featured image:
  • Johnson. S., [@samjsn], (2020, August 8). August.

Author: Paula Morales