Yesterday night, over a dinner with my older brother’s family, a topic of happiness came up. My wife, Marla, a fellow psychologist, was sharing about Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow.” Marla explained that according to the research on flow, people are happiest when they are absorbed (engaged) in a task that is just challenging (effortful) enough for them to experience a sense of unfolding mastery and agency. I am paraphrasing here.
A few moments later my brother, Yuri, offered the following proposition: “The first and only, necessary and sufficient precondition for happiness is to stop associating happiness with pleasure. The two – happiness and pleasure – have nothing to do with each other.” Yuri’s wife, Natasha, looked at me across the table and asked: “What do you think?” And I said: “I think this is an intriguing point. Simple yet profound.”
This morning, with my cup of coffee, I rummaged through a stack of books on my bedside table and – at the bottom – found Bertrand Russell’s musings on happiness, a book I started reading but didn’t finish. In it, I find the following thought:
“The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when [...] his whims [are satisfied] without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness.”
The conversation (last part of it playing out in my head and in this bit of writing) came full circle: people are happiest when they are in a state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi’s language)… which is the …