I just started reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Essentially the author has done a lot of research on happiness revealing that what makes an experience deeply gratifying is a particular state of consciousness called flow.
During flow, people are totally involved in a task that nothing else seems to matter since the activity itself is so enjoyable – think a musician totally lost in song or an artist completely absorbed in a project.
“It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”
I think I am partly driven to books about happiness because I am rarely satisfied, always wanting more than I can have be it number of peaks climbed, books read, time with my boyfriend, or a new pair of skis – I am always left wanting and that frustrates me.
Perhaps that is why I run. Running is the only time in my life I experience such flow.
Just last night I stepped outside to take out the recycling and the entire sky was glowing a crazy shade of purple like I had never seen. I quickly changed into my running clothes and drove to the trailhead closest to my house to catch the last of the sunset. I had only planned on hiking a mile or so, but soon found myself flowing effortlessly up into the hills.
As I crested the hill above Research Park, I heard a familiar voice in the distance and cheering crowds. Brandi Carlisle performing live at Red Butte!
The Red Butte Concert Series is one of my favorite things about summer in Salt Lake City. It is a gorgeous concert venue tucked right into the side of the mountains above the University of Utah and if you don’t have a ticket you can still hear the music clearly up into the mountains above the stage.
Although it was getting dark, I opted for a loop around the gardens coming down Red Butte Canyon itself delivering me atop “The Knoll” – the affectionate term for the cheap seats above the stage where you can actually gaze down and see the musicians. I luckily grabbed my iPhone to take some pictures of the sunset so I could use the flashlight to light up the rocky path.
Once atop “The Knoll,” I sat down and enjoyed a few songs and watched a lightening storm develop over the Wasatch. As the rains hit, I took off down the side of the mountain as Brandi dived into one of my favorite songs, Dreams. I threw my arms up into the air and sang along as I floated the three miles back down to my car.
It is times like these that I feel so alive and indescribably happy. I am cold, it is raining, and I can barely see the trail under the dim light of my iPhone flashlight, yet I am deeply joyful and amazed. I feel like I am master of my own fate and it doesn’t matter what happens next. But seriously though, where can one go on a lovely run and be serenaded by one of their favorite musicians LIVE all the while enjoying the most gorgeous sunset even though it started to rain.
When I look back at my life, I see how scarce these moments are – the sunrise at the Col du Bonhomme, stumbling upon ancient ruins in the Grand Gulch, wandering through Joshua Trees in the Mojave…
The real challenge is not conjuring up these perfect moments to feel such joy, but to learn how to moment-to-moment find joy in whatever we do.
“…most people are caught up on this frustrating treadmill of rising expectations, many individuals have found ways to escape it. These are people who, regardless of their material conditions, have been able to improve the quality of their lives, who are satisfied, and who have a way of making those around them also a bit more happy.
Such individuals lead vigorous lives, are open to a variety of experiences, keep on learning until the day they die, and have strong ties and commitments to other people and to the environment in which they live. They enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult; they are hardly ever bored, and they can take in stride anything that comes their way. Perhaps their greatest strength is that they are in control of their lives.”
I don’t know, something to strive for.