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The Pursuit of Happiness with Flow

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by Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Pursuit of Happiness with FlowOur nation continues to experience heightened levels of depression. Current studies reflect that teens are also becoming impacted by these alarming rates of depression. Investigative journalist, Johann Hari, reflects that:

One in five U.S. adults is taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem; nearly one in four middle-aged women in the United States have taken antidepressants. You can’t escape it: When scientists test the water supply of Western countries, they find it is laced with antidepressants, because so many of us are taking them and they simply can’t be filtered out of the water we drink.


What is happiness?

Social psychologists of our era have started to engage with the great questions of life: What is happiness? Who has it? Who does not? And why not?The research studies and their findings are sobering yet fascinating. People are unable to acquire happiness simply by desiring it, and waiting for it does not guarantee it. Hoping for happiness does not produce it, and we must know what exactly happiness is in order to pursue it overall.

Many might retain the desire for happiness but end up going to the grave without having simple, realistic, and soulful approaches to obtaining it within a lifetime. More cars, more boats, more houses, and more possessions do not equate to a life lived in satisfaction and pleasure, causing our souls to become stretched into new depths of understanding, deepened insight, and heartfelt wisdom. Happiness emerges beyond the mere cosmetics of the mundane and meaningless, and it seeps through our personal histories to cause us to experience the fullness of life. Three main categories of happiness and satisfaction are identified based on recent research studies.

  • The Pleasant Life: People in pursuit of the Pleasant Life seek happiness by looking for pleasure. They are good at savoring the moment and making their pleasures last. These people are often described as “thrill-seekers.”
  • The Engaged Life: People in pursuit of the Engaged Life seek happiness by working hard at their passions. They immerse themselves so deeply in these that they sometimes come across as cold and uncaring; but for them, time seems to melt away as they experience a state of total engagement.
  • The Meaningful Life: People in pursuit of the Meaningful Life use their strengths to work toward something they believe contributes to a greater good. This greater good motivates them deeply. Happy people are highly intentional and passionate to employ their strengths; the people that saw themselves with meaning and engagement were noted as the happiest.


Achieving the ‘flow’ state of happiness

Renown psychologist and researcher on studies for happiness and pleasure, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, highlights his findings here. He applies the term “flow” as a way of becoming completely immersed, with a heightened level of attention and focus, in various life activities – “flow” describes our love for what we are doing and being excellent in it. Gardening, cooking a full meal, bowling in a community league, writing a novel, or blogging a post all exemplify activities in which the focal point is not necessarily on the individual or the task, but the energized focus and full enjoyment of the process within the activity. Full concentration on the task, absorption in the activity at hand, constant engagement, and maintaining a belief that the task matters to us are essential facets to being in a “flow” state.

The Pursuit of Happiness with Flow

According to the latest research studies, only 20% of the general American public achieve a flow state each day at work whereas 15% typically never enter their flow state on the job.

In my perspective, entering into the “flow” state daily is imperative if we are going to see the tides of depression change in the nature of our nation’s mental health crisis.


Here are 6 ways to buffer yourself from the snares of depression to experience flow:


  1. Studies have shown that resistance exercise training (RET) can reduce depressive symptoms. There is much benefit in body movement, and strength training can help alleviate some of these symptoms while bringing your body and brain into alignment.
  2. Almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present. It is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that clear goals, immediate feedback, skills balanced to action, opportunities, and the remaining conditions of flow are a constant part of everyday life.
  3. Connect with people in an intentional manner in community.Join a group that shares your interest and commit to it for the remainder of this year and see what happens with your level of subjective well-being and happiness. Happiness is contagious. Surrounding yourself with happy people builds confidence and stimulates creativity, and it can be flat-out fun.
  4. Go outside and find connection with nature and the outdoors.Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. Happy people that experience flow schedule regular exercise and follow through on it because they know it pays huge dividends for their mood.
  5. Know what you love and go do it!Developing an intrinsic value system outweighs a pursuit of power, influence, status, material wealth, and any other endeavor that ultimately does not lead to a lasting state of happiness.The lesson from the research is clear: the more extrinsically motivated you are, the more you feel motivated by money or status, the more depressed and anxious you are.
  6. Control the use of devices. Create a reminder on your electronic device to go off randomly for 40 times throughout the week and ask yourself these questions when the reminder goes off:
  • Which moments produced feelings of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
  • Are certain times of day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
  • How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moments when you felt disengaged or distracted?
  • If you are having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?

It becomes important to assess our own ideas of happiness, and if we are not attaining it in our search – to truly wonder why and what this means for us within the global community and digital age.

We must become more expectant to look at the hidden parts and allow light to shine upon the inner horizons of ourselves. If we give ourselves the time and wisdom needed to desire, recognize, and possess happiness, then the pursuit of happiness will become a priority in which we pursue greatness for the soul. We learn what we are called to in this moment. That will carry us into the next moment as we discover how to live even more enriched in a flow state, becoming full of life.

Recommended Resources:

  • The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest Peopleby Dan Buettner
  • Happiness by Joan Chittister
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Focus by Daniel Goleman
  • Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutionsby Johann Hari
  • Seven Longings of the Human Heartby Mike Bickle & Deborah Hiebert
  • The Happiness Curveby Jonathan Rauch
  • The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets,
  • Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
  • Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman

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