Don’t Feel Guilty for Finding Meaning in Your Life


Catching Air

“Women feel guilty for being in flow,” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Men don’t ever feel that way.” I’ve been thinking about this comment ever since my interview with Mihaly yesterday, when he pointed out this vital gender difference in the pursuit of happiness.

Flow, for those that didn’t hear the show yesterday (it’s not too late, click here to listen; I’ll wait), happens when you are completely absorbed in the moment. The task is challenging, time slows down, you are totally focused, and the reward is the activity itself. In a word: your best moments. This is what gives your life meaning.

Which leads me to this question: Guilty? Women feel guilty for finding meaning in their lives? It sounds pretty ridiculous when you say it like that.

First a little context: Earlier I’d asked Mihaly a question about flow personality. Are some personality types more likely to get into flow than others? His comment was interesting. Individuals that are too self-conscious to lose themselves in an activity rarely get into flow. (I was thinking about teenagers here.)

Only later did he mention in an anecdote how often he encounters women when he gives his talks that say, “isn’t the pursuit of flow selfish?”



Queens of the Hill

Granted, most of us have pretty busy lives. Most of us have others relying on us. Most of us don’t even have enough time to brush our teeth, let alone search for moments of freedom and transcendence.

But we should make time.

We all should make time to find flow NOT because it makes us better mothers, more enthusiastic partners or more capable employees/business owners/etc.

We should find flow because it makes life worth living. Get that? Flow states are what we live for.

I hear myself justifying my pursuit of happiness by how it will affect others. I’ll be a nicer person if I can go hike the King right now; I’ll make a better wife and step-mom if I get a few hours to work on my book this morning. I’m going to paddle the SUP for an hour, and then I will be nicer, kinder, calmer. Well, guess what?

That’s bullshit.

Instead, I should be finding flow activities because that’s what I want to do and it makes me happy, not because it will then make me a better person for others. As it turns out (hello?!) I’m not here for the exclusive betterment of those around me. I’m here for me.

Snow Angel

Snow Angel

Well, duh.

Men don’t feel guilty for being in flow. Why? Because its not a normal human reaction. That means that women, too, can shake off this pesky guilt and get after it. We can stop justifying our best moments and just say, “I’m going surfing because that’s what I want to do.”

Sure, when you get back from your surfing session (or making snow angels, or skiing or watching a sunset, or whatever gives you flow) you will probably make lunch for your kids. You’ll do all the other important tasks in your life, and you’ll probably be happy to do it. But just remember, that’s not why you need to follow your flow state. Flow is for you. Period.

So go out there today and find some flow and don’t justify it based on how it will help your spouse/kids/parents. Do it because it will make you happy and give your life meaning.

And that is reason enough.

10 responses »

  1. let’s see…my flow will be found by: a walk with the dogs this morning – CHECK, golf at noon – quick nine holes, massage @ 3pm, followed with evening boating with Stevie.
    “FLOW” check complete!

  2. Just did a snow angel on the living room rug, the dog got up and thought it was a game, brought over one of her toys and the tug of war was on. I ended up doing some stretching on the rug as well. Guess it worked. Thanks.

  3. This hits too close to home, Kim. I really struggle with allowing myself to do the things I want to do that don’t seem to “contribute to” others – and I don’t even have kids. I feel guilty even about self care (you know, massage when my back is out sort of thing). I have this yoke of expectation that I am pulling – expectation that I contribute and make the world better for others. Exactly as you’ve said. And I can hear the voice from my childhood who planted this expectation (name withheld to protect the … well, for confidentiality), but even knowing where it came from and knowing it is not the actually my sole goal in life to make the world better for others have not freed me from this … yoke. Literally feels like I’m pulling a plow. The thing is, I have developed twisted ways to use this expectation as an excuse/shield from disappointment. If I don’t make time to finish my novel, then I can’t be bummed it’s not published, now can I? if I don’t make time to meditate, then I can’t be bummed by how hard it is. I can’t be the only one who does this…

    • You aren’t the only one Sharona. I think we all do a little bit of this. I find myself justifying my flow activities all too often. But after Mihaly made that comment, I realize how that really doesn’t work for me.

  4. One of the best posts I’ve read in a while. 🙂 Thanks, Kim. This was an important reminder for me as I tend to my 4-month old, and balance that with work, play, household demands, etc. (heck, I’m typing this as I nurse her).

    This quote really stuck out to me:

    “Instead, I should be finding flow activities because that’s what I want to do and it makes me happy, not because it will then make me a better person for others. As it turns out (hello?!) I’m not here for the exclusive betterment of those around me. I’m here for me.”

    I have often heard that I’ll be a better mother if I do things for myself. I say this to myself, too. But your perspective turns that notion on its head. I’ll be reflecting on your words this week.

    • Thanks Meghan. It’s so easy to think that we MUST be good/happy/complete people for the benefit of others. I think it’s an easy copout. Instead, we should starting saying we MUST be good/happy/complete people for our own benefit. Because it makes life worth living. For ourselves.

  5. Pingback: Start Gaining Momentum — Welcome to a new friend Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

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