I had never “gotten” the game of golf or fathomed what is so exciting about it until a chronically ill colleague recently let me witness the game through his eyes. He spoke of golf as something he thinks about or talks to his buddies about every day of the year. Because he lives in chilly Canada, May is the first month he is able to play, and, as May approaches, the anticipation builds. However, the previous year, April brought beautiful weather, and he told me of spending five hours during the previous week playing with his friends. His health condition involves a great deal of stress and discomfort – even as we were meeting, he was working his Blackberry to schedule a series of doctor’s appointments and crank up his pain meds – but when he played, the game stimulated him to be completely focused. He was challenged and he was engaged and the five hours flew like five minutes. He was in genuine flow.
One of my favorite definitions of the emotion happy is that you are happy when you want to keep doing what you’re doing. Czech-born Mihail Csikszentmihalyi has spent his career studying the experience of flow – a state characterized by being so absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice the passage of time, you don’t realize that you’re hungry or stiff or in need of a bathroom break, and you are unselfconscious. A person in flow, in my mind, is truly happy, as the essence of this state is that she wants to continuing doing what she’s doing.