Living Into Your Natural Flow: How to Achieve Happiness


Have you ever noticed the phenomenon when you’re wrapped up in something you love and time seems to fly by?  Maybe you experience this when you’re playing a favorite instrument, reading a book, or solving a problem at work.  According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you’re likely experiencing what he calls a state of “spontaneous flow.”

What is flow?

Csikszentmihalyi has done extensive research on this concept of flow, defining it as a state of being where you get lost in the task you have in front of you.  Typically it is a place where you have both a great level of skill and are performing a highly challenging task that uses that skill.  You can recognize when you are in this state of flow by noticing when you feel like you are outside of yourself or completely absorbed in what you’re doing.

He studied creatives, business leaders, and athletes to explore the moments when these individuals tend to feel most productive or highly motivated in their work.  Here is his TED talk outlining his research results:

How can I achieve flow?

When Csikszentmihalyi claims that flow provides the greatest source of happiness, it makes sense that you’d want to know how to get there.  Identify where you already have some natural talent.  Maybe you’re a skilled basketball player, you’ve enjoyed playing the piano since you were young, or you have a knack for closing on a sale at work.  Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his 10,000 hour rule, explains that in order to become an expert in an area (and to achieve flow), you must begin with some natural talent.

Once you’ve identified this area, you need to train and develop technique in it.  As he mentions, if you’ve never played the violin a day in your life, you won’t be able to enter flow the first time you pick one up.  Similar to Gladwell, Csikszentmihalyi suggests having 10 years of technical knowledge and immersion in your area of focus.  This takes time, patience, and practice, but that will pay off into satisfying work. If you enjoy what you’re doing, the process of getting that skill will likely be enjoyable as well. 

You can also grow into flow by paying better attention to the zones he mentions are closest to it: arousal and control.  Moving from intellectual arousal to flow involves facing high levels of challenge that push you to learn new skills and grow beyond your preexisting knowledge.  On the other side, when you achieve control through mastering a skill, you can increase your chances of entering flow by providing yourself with greater, more difficult challenges.

In his book Flow*, Csikszentmihalyi gives more practical feedback on how to achieve this flow in your life.

Why does flow matter for mental health?

We all want to experience greater peace, productivity, and happiness.  Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates how research does not support the stereotypical belief that money or material things will increase happiness.  Finding a purpose and a passion are what ultimately lead to happiness, both of which are involved in the experience of flow.

Achieving a state of flow can break you out of your mundane, everyday routines and give you a new sense of power and purpose.  It gets you in touch with your passions.  It helps you to experience peace and serenity, where worries melt away and you can maintain focus on just this one area.  It will help you to enjoy your work more, rather than experiencing stress.

If you struggle with addiction, you might find yourself getting locked into destructive patterns of behavior that consume your time and energy and leave you drained and exhausted.  Choosing to engage in areas of positive flow  both reduces the power of that addictive behavior and provides an intense experience in a positive direction that can replace this longing for a high from the addictive substance or behavior.

Where can you begin your focus to experience flow?

To get you started on this journey toward achieving a state of flow, ask yourself these questions:  Where are the areas that you wish you could achieve this state of flow?  Where have you experienced it before?  What skills do you feel are most developed in you to reach this state?  Which skills you desire to develop more?  Where have you experienced a state of arousal or control and are looking to move into the zone of flow?


Are you tired of feeling purposeless, like you’re just getting through each day?  Do you wish you didn’t feel so much like a zombie?  Do you walk through life bored and just looking for something to keep you entertained, rather than truly enjoying your life?  I understand how difficult it can be to find purpose and meaning in your life.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling in my Ann Arbor therapy office to help you move closer to this state of flow and out of that space of apathy and aimlessness.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or email me to talk with me today.



*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Be Where You Are: 4 Ideas to Consider When You're Feeling Down

Ever have a day where you absolutely feel in a funk, and you can’t for the life of you figure out why?

I had a day like that in recent history that stands out in my mind.  I ended up unable to complete any tasks I had set out for that day, completely checked out, feeling down for what seemed like no apparent reason.  I tried all my tools for cheering myself up, but nothing seemed to work.

I had gotten enough sleep the night before, so that couldn’t be it. I had a very light workday on Monday, so it wasn’t that I was so burned out from work.  What could it be?

It wasn’t until I took a moment to stop and think back that I actually was able to feel the fog slightly lift.  Here’s some of the things I had to realize:

Find your trigger event.

I had to think back to when I first started to feel down in the dumps.  What was I thinking or experiencing?  I realized a big trigger moment was a text I had received from a friend that increased my stress and worry level.  I had to choose to set a boundary with this friend, even though it was uncomfortable to say no.  I had to make some decisions about the words I was going to say to be polite yet firm.  This was emotionally taxing, and I felt the discomfort as an aftereffect the rest of the day.

Check your energy level.

I also realized that this was a Monday.  And not just any Monday – a Monday after I had just started a second part-time job that had me work a total of 22 hours over three days.  It didn’t help that those hours were revealed to me Friday morning, so I was unable to prepare for the busy weekend during the week.  The job required me to stand a lot, as well as learn a lot of new tasks that I hadn’t done before.  Once I realized each of those aspects, I saw how my body had been affected by my work hours and was feeling the effects.

Assess self-care.

I also had to think about self-care.  Each week I try to do a “Sabbath,” or a day off of work where I spend time caring for my spiritual health and well-being, as well as my emotional and mental health.  I typically spend that time recharging alone through reading and journaling, and connecting with close friends.  Even if I can’t feasibly spend an entire day on a Sabbath, I like to prioritize at least setting aside an afternoon and evening to rest.   None of that was able to happen due to my unknown work schedule, however, and because of that I knew I wasn’t able to give myself the rest I needed.

So what am I to do, if I can’t snap out of the funk?

Knowing this didn’t immediately make it better.  I still felt in a funk, although knowing why did have its benefits so I could be aware of it potentially happening again.

What I had to do was this: accept it.

I had to acknowledge that all those factors listed above put me in a place where I was not my best self, and accept the limitations that came with that.  I chose to spend the rest of the day resting and doing tasks that weren’t too energy draining, scheduling unfinished tasks to be completed the next day. 

And by the next day, I had snapped out of it.  I was able to complete the tasks I needed to, and learned to take a break when I need one.  The best part is knowing that I can use this in the future when I feel that funk coming on: figure out what the triggers are, and make a priority of taking care of myself.


Do you often find yourself in a funk and have a hard time getting out of it?  You may be struggling with depression.  Good news?  I can help.  Contact Restored Hope, an Ann Arbor-based counseling office, to schedule an appointment to start your journey of freedom from depression.  Call me at 734.656.8191 to schedule your first appointment or fill out the form here.  I’d love to talk with you!