“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?”
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?
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.
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.