Posts Tagged ‘the flow’

Pleasures: i.e. sex without love, eat chocolate, watch your favorite TV show, take a hot bath on a cold day, spend money on new clothes, go to the hairdresser, see a football match, first gulp of a beer when you go out or the first gulp of your coffee in the morning, hung out with friends, etc.

Gratifications: i.e. reading a book, riding a horse, help people in need, spend time doing what’s your passion, to feel the “flow” when working on a new project, play tennis, to have a conversation that leads you to express your ideas and maybe have new ones, etc.

We live in a fast world, the mass consumer society offers us an enormous amount of fast pleasures- fast food, fast sex, fast everything… Is there real pleasure in those fast pleasures? They are immediate, effortless, meaningless. Still, it is pleasure and in some way it does contribute to our general happiness. “We don’t have the time for psychological romance” sings Korn, expressing this very idea of easily accessible pleasure. There is nothing bad in pleasure itself, but according to different psychological studies, it does not influence how happy or sad in life we are.

“These delights are immediate, come through the senses, and are momentary. They need little or no interpretation. The sense organs, for evolutionary reasons, are hooked quite directly to positive emotion; touching, tasting, smelling, moving the body, seeing, and hearing can directly evoke pleasure. (…) The higher pleasures have a lot in common with the bodily pleasures. Like the latter, they have positive “raw feels,” are momentary, melt easily, and habituate readily.”

There is nothing wrong with having fun, experiencing pleasant moments. The problem with them is that their effect is not long-lasting. In order to feel more fulfilled in life, satisfied and happy, we need to experience “gratifications”. I have mentioned some examples above- you know better what is fun for you and you know better what would be a gratification.

According to Martin E.P. Seligman (also quoted above) these are the components of the gratifications:

  • the task is challenging and requires skill
  • we concentrate
  • there are clear goals
  • we get immediate feedback
  • we have deep, effortless involvement
  • there is a sense of control
  • our sense of self vanishes
  • time stops

One does not feel positive emotion during an activity/gratification. “When what you are doing is seamlessly perfect, you don’t need [emotions].” Seligman quotes then Csikszentmihalyi: “pleasure is a powerful source of motivation, but it does not produce change; it is a conservative force that makes us want to satisfy existing needs, achieve comfort and relaxation… Enjoyment [gratification] on the other hand is not always pleasant, and it can be utterly stressful at times. A mountain climber may be close to freezing, utterly exhausted, in danger of falling into a bottomless crevasse, yet he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Sipping a cocktail under a palm tree at the edge of the turquoise ocean is nice, but it just doesn’t compare to the exhilaration he feels on that freezing ridge.”

To have passions, something you are loosing yourself in, enables you to have a happier life. The problem is that wealthy societies do not encourage the individuals to find their passions and experience the “flow” (an activity that makes the time stop). Why? Because it is not the way they will make you spend more money, they need you to consume goods, each day more, if possible. So the mass consumer society “delivers” you almost any imaginable pleasure, immediately, effortlessly.

The key to a happier life would be, according to this theory:

1. achieve consciousness concerning the bad effects of having a life with pleasure and without gratification

2. get the capacity of choosing an action that will bring gratification, therefore, challenge, difficulty, and the great feeling of achieving something (or failing!), instead of choosing an activity that does not even require thinking

The point is to find an equilibrium between the amount of “pleasure” activities and “gratifications.” It is so easy not to have anything that would belong to the second category and, unfortunately, many people spend their lives… fast. And then they don’t understand why there are not happy and what more would they need to make them happy. And they consume even more, possessions and easy pleasures being the only way they know to have a more satisfactory life.

I believe that even an adult can start to look for what his passion might be, if he didn’t have the opportunity to find any until now. It’s never too late, although Seligman points out that “to start the process of eschewing easy pleasures and engaging in more gratifications is hard. The gratifications produce flow, but they require skill and effort; even more deterring is the fact that because they meet challenges, they offer the possibility of failing.”

It’s hard to start, I know- mostly because I never had many gratifications in my life. But I start to see how powerful they are and just want more… The difficulty in searching gratifications might be in how to look for them, the “know how”- where to look, how to know that this is IT- it is a good thing to work on with a life coach. If you are lucky and know what produces “flow” in your life, be so kind an share with us. We are supposed to learn our whole life, aren’t we?

the flow (while bushwalking)

* All quotes come from “Authentic happiness” by Martin E.P. Seliman, Ph.D., Free Press, 2002


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