How Meditation Helps Us Enter The “Flow” State, Boosts Happiness
The Ultimate Guide To The "Flow State" & Meditation
The Psychology of Happiness
His shoes rhythmically pounding the pavement. No thoughts enter his mind. Heartbeat and stride in perfect sync. Time doesn't exist. No awareness of himself or the world around him. Mile after mile, he's totally immersed in the experience. Nothing else exists. Flow.
In his quest to "reverse engineer" happiness, Hungarian psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi interviewed a series of world class mountain climbers, chess players, tennis players, ballet dancers, surgeons, and other "self-actualized" high performers.
He outlined his incredible findings in the book "Flow: The Psychology of Happiness," becoming an overnight bestseller. So, what's this flow state all about?
In an interview with Wired magazine, Dr. Csíkszentmihályi described flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you are using your skills to the utmost."
Why Flow Makes Us Happy
Why does flow make us so happy? According to Dr. Csíkszentmihályi, the human mind can only process about 110 bits of information per second. For example, listening to someone speak takes about 60 bits, the reason we can't listen to two people at once.
It's when we are making, doing, creating, and/or playing that our mind has no room for anything else. That's when our full abilities get put to use, all 110 bits per second.
And if we love our chosen activity and are good at it, whatever "it" may be (usually a favorite hobby, sport, or creative endeavor), then our magical "flow" state gets unlocked. And this makes us happy.
We have all heard of the "starving" artist, writer, musician, or composer who would get so lost in their work that they forgot to eat, drink, and sleep. For them, when words, musical notes, and colors "flow" from their consciousness, then nothing else really matters.
So, how long does this "high" last? According to Harvard psychologist Dr. Teresa Amabile, achieving an uninterrupted creative flow state leaves us feeling ecstatic, motivated, and fulfilled for (up to) three days afterward. A powerful drug indeed!
Think back to a time when you experienced flow. What were you doing? Were you gardening, painting, or hiking? Maybe you were dancing, woodworking, or writing? Did your sense of self fade into oblivion? Did time disappear? Did the world drop out of sight? Were your mind, body, and soul absorbed by the moment?
The "Flowing" Brain
In the 30+ years since the publishing of Dr. Csíkszentmihályi's groundbreaking book, neuroscientists have developed a much deeper understanding into the "flow state" brain workings.
Responsible for "skill learning" and "automatized cognition," flow lights up our brain's highly adaptive "caudate nucleus" like the Manhattan skyline. You know when pro-athletes talk about being "in the zone?" Caudate nucleus.
While the best way to get into a flow state is to find your life passion and do it everyday, not all of us know what that is and if we do, there are only so many hours in the day. If you already know what makes you "flow," then DO IT! Everyday if possible. The world needs happy peeps!
While the Mozarts, Picassos, Roger Federers, and Stephen Kings of the world get to experience daily creative flow by virtue of their career, there is another way.
Is Meditation Flow?
In 2013, Belgian researchers (Pickut et al) examined the brains of 27 Parkinson's patients before and after an 8 week mindfulness meditation class. What did they find? In addition to massively upgrading no less than 5 (!) very powerful brain regions, the meditation rookies dramatically increased the gray matter density (GMD) of their "flow state" caudate nucleus.
"In plain English please." The old saying applies here. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck — then it's probably a duck. Likewise, if flow lights up the brain scans like meditation, strengthens the caudate nucleus like meditation, and makes us feel euphoric like meditation, then it's probably meditation.
Whether flow or close to it, what's for certain is that the ancient mind practice opens the door to happiness like no other medium. While the legendary consciousness shifting power of meditation has been known and felt for millennia, it's a whole new ballgame to see hard scientific proof.
And you don't need to give up your material possessions or live the rest of your days in a cave. Countless everyday folks are tapping into meditation's "flowing" benefits to upgrade all areas of their life, with creativity and happiness just the first two drops in an ocean of benefits.
What else can flow do? It lifts us out of the mundane, gives us a sense of purpose. Flow neutralizes apathy, catapults motivation. It makes us grow, develops us as humans, boosts self esteem, opens the door to success. Flow brings meaning to existence.