When asking people what they are striving for in their lives, they tend to always give the same answers: fame; success; wealth; health; travelling; freedom; sex; a great family.
And all of those answers are totally legit and understandable. However, they don’t get to the core of what people are looking for. Nobody is looking for things like wealth or success for the purpose of wealth and success itself. Instead, people are aiming for the underlying promise that society makes to us every day: that these things will bring happiness. What people are actually striving for in their lives is happiness. We are all on the road to happiness.
Happiness as underlying principle
So when looking at your goals in life, in whichever area, you will notice that they can all be summarised under the umbrella of “reaching happiness”. Most of what we do day in and day out, most of our daydreams and goals, revolve around increasing happiness within ourselves and our lives.
This ‘road to happiness’ can look very different for each person, it reaches from sports to career to family. The underlying principle stays the same though: whatever we do is always just a quest for happiness. Which brings up the question: Can’t we reach happiness in the process of working towards our goals, instead of hoping for happiness at the end of the road?
Optimal experience through “flow”
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is convinced that we can. He is the author of the book “flow”, in which he describes the cumulative results of interviewing thousands of people all across the world about the moments when they feel most happy. What he found time and again is that people felt the most pure and fulfilling joy in moments when they were challenged with tasks that matched their skill-level or were slightly above their level of skill. If you are not challenged by what you do, you quickly grow bored. If your skills are not up to the task on the other hand, you feel overwhelming anxiety. If however you find the sweet spot between those two extremes, you have created an optimal experience for yourself and are in a state that Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow”.
This is where we feel the happiest. We feel like we are developing as a person, we are moving into a certain direction, while applying skills that we already developed in the past.
After a while of course, your skills will adapt. You will become better at what you do, and so the complexity of the challenges that you are facing has to adapt, too. Only by constantly increasing the difficulty of what you are doing can you make sure that you remain in a flow state.
Happiness is the road, not the destination
So now go and revisit the goals from the beginning of this text: fame; success; wealth; health; travelling; freedom; sex; a great family.
They all have the potential to bring happiness to your life. None of them however will bring happiness itself. Instead, the striving towards those goals is what brings the happiness! Turning this striving into optimal experiences will help you grow and make you enjoy the journey rather than the destination. Getting into flow states as often as possible, in as many areas of your life as possible, is what creates happiness.