It's Day 16 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers. I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
I earned my gifted endorsement in 2008 from Wright State University. The classes I had to take for the endorsement were, for the most part, interesting and worthwhile. Out of all the things I read and studied, however, the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was one of the most eye-opening and memorable.
The author's research can be boiled down to this: The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.3) The other important part of his message is that when you are in this moment of flow, you have the feeling that you don't exist. You transcend above or outside of reality. This challenge or creative experience is so fulfilling and absorbing, you cease to be self-conscious. You're completely part of the moment and stop feeling anxious, caught in the past or future, or self-absorbed. Csikszentmihalyi says this results in happiness.
When I first read this book I found that fascinating. There is so much self-help literature out there, and they all say the opposite of this. Most of them say the key to happiness is to "find" oneself, not lose oneself. We are told that kids need "self-esteem," so we bombard them with un-earned rewards. The thing that struck me is that relaxation or "coasting" won't achieve happiness. It's only in a stretch or challenge that you find this flow. My dad asked me not too long ago why I do some of the extras in teaching that I do - presenting at out of town conferences, blogging, hosting book clubs in the summer, etc. - when I'm not paid for them. This is a fair question from a business-minded man, and to be honest, I sometimes asked myself the same question. I found I stumbled a bit over my answer. I should have remembered what I learned from this book. It's because those things stretch and challenge me, make me forget about my own "stuff," and that has nothing to do with money. I've taken on more work than ever in my three years as a gifted ELA teacher, and they have been the happiest years of my career.
Things that put me in a flow state: writing, horseback riding, making creative things, reading a REALLY good book, presenting, teaching, and traveling. I hear people describe moments when they feel completely joyful, and I say, "That's a flow activity!" For some, it could be writing or playing music, knitting, sewing, cooking, mission work, praying, building something, hiking, playing sports, running, dancing, doing math, etc. I found it interesting as a teacher of gifted children that when things are challenging (and I have to find that fine line between challenging and too stressful), kids are the happiest. When they have to work hard and good grades/accolades are difficult to earn, they end up loving it. If things come too easy, they may momentarily think they're enjoying themselves, but ultimately, they become bored, restless, and preoccupied with themselves. Of course, they are happiest when they have some choice in what they're working on, reading, and writing. That is a key element. We need to CHOOSE our flow activities. Flow is intentional.
The Slice of Life Story Challenge and Classroom Challenge is resulting in many of us feeling that flow experience. Those students who are taking the challenge in my classes are stretching themselves, and they are taking it seriously. They're having to come up with ideas every day and have to find time in their busy schedules to write. This is not a normal, every day activity for most of them. When I first took the challenge last year, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. It challenged me, and that made me happy.
What I Know For Sure: God did not create us to be in a constant state of relaxation, leisure, and comfort. Happiness is a result of challenging ourselves, creating, working, risk-taking, and giving back. Happiness is transcending our limitations and self-consciousness.