Most of us understand the importance of play. We did it as children. It came naturally. Yet as we age and we have more responsibilities life seems to get a little more serious. We forget how to play and don't prioritise it in our lives. We forget what play means to us.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist who is noted for his study on happiness and creativity. He is also known for his writing about the topic of flow. Flow is when we are so absorbed in an activity that we loose sense of time. Another way of describing it is being in a zone. Our concentration is completely on the topic of interest and nothing else seems to matter.
Mihaly also mentions that to achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If too easy or too difficult, a flow may not occur. And apathy may result.
I've observed it in children. When they are participating in an activity that captivates and challenges them, trying to get them to end the activity is like sounding an emergency siren. They are so completely interested in what they are doing. And they often won't finish until they feel they are complete.
As adults we tend to loose that ability to feel flow. Probably due to our attention needing to be everywhere at once. So we have trained ourselves to not give a single task 100% of our attention. There is also the multitude of digital distractions in today's society. AKA smartphones and social media which doesn't help things.
But if we can tune into that zone, that place where we can feel complete flow, then how nice that might feel. We could potentially fill our lives with great enjoyment on a regular basis. Feel happier within ourselves, meaning, which then radiates to those around us.
What if we don't know what gives us that feeling of flow?
It helps to start paying attention. Becoming aware of those moments when you think 'huh, this is pretty fun'. And then exploring that a little. What helped me was writing down those moments when I felt enjoyment in what I was doing. And noticing a pattern emerge in the type of activity it is.
For example, when I photograph my family I'm in that moment. It's like an automatic reaction to hold a camera to my face and document it. And then when I sit down to edit the photos I also feel so immersed in the experience. Like I'm reliving that joy over again. I feel it even more lately when I create mini-movies of our family life. It's challenging as my skills are still developing. And I struggle to sleep afterwards because I feel so alive after putting a film together. Not necessarily great for sleep, but it does wonders for my enjoyment. And of course there is writing. My focus is completely on the words as they flow out of my mouth. And time seems to disappear.
What we find joy in varies for each and every person.
While at times it may seem that we are one of those people that really has no hobbies or interests outside of work, it's not always true. With a little digging we can find these flecks of interest sitting there waiting to be explored. And when we do, what a world that might open to us.