Finding enjoyment

[ books  psychology  learning  flow  life  ]

People often think that material possessions or external achievements will bring them happiness and fulfillment. This may include things like a high-paying job or social status. However, research has shown that these external factors are not necessarily the key to happiness.

The reason for the above fallacy is probably that people often confuse pleasure with happiness. A satisfying dinner, a brand-new car, or a fancy vacation are examples of things that provide immediate pleasure and to be achieved need resources (e.g. money).

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his great book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience insists that pleasure is an important component of the quality of life but does not provide psychological growth that is essential for perceiving your life as meaningful and happy. The author describes a flow, the optimal experience that drives the enjoyment in our life. It is a state of deep engagement and focus that occurs when we are fully absorbed in an activity that challenges us just enough to keep us engaged but not so much that we become frustrated. When we are in a state of flow, time seems to fly by, and we feel a sense of satisfaction and purpose that is hard to find in other activities. While pleasure and enjoyment are both positive experiences, enjoyment is more focused on long-term fulfillment and purpose, while pleasure is more focused on immediate gratification.

As we probably can see, there is no restriction for activities that can bring enjoyment. However, Csíkszentmihályi determines the phenomenology of enjoyment - a set of conditions that can bring flow into a given activity:

  • A task has a chance to complete. There must be a proper balance between challenge and skills (e.g. tennis game is not enjoyable for players if opponents are mismatched). Flow experience is usually between a state of boredom and anxiety.

  • We are able to concentrate and focus on a given thing. The pleasure often comes without any effort. Enjoyment needs merging action and awareness. We must feel absorbed by the activity.

  • Concentration is possible because a task has a clear goal and gets immediate feedback. Quick feedback tells whether we are closer to our goal. In addition, clear feedback (the information on whether we are doing something properly) can be a source of enjoyment by itself.

  • Deep but effortless involvement that removes worries of everyday life. It put us into a kind of tunnel, leaving no room for irrelevant information.

  • Sense of control over the actions. We should feel that we can influence what is going on.

  • The loss of self-consciousness - egoless. We are immersed in an activity.

  • Sense of the time duration is altered. It does not match the measured sense of time.

Optimal experience can be maintained by traversing on the verge of our comfort zone. However, it needs a proper mindset that fosters constant improvement to feel comfortable with it. It is not easy and straightforward. It is challenging. So we need a proper life perspective to seek it and also persist in it.

The growth mindset presented by Carol Dweck in her insightful book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is probably a good attitude for achieving enjoyment from flow experience. It is mainly because of the underlying conviction that improvement is always possible and skills development can be successful in almost any field.

Another personal trait that can be useful is patience. Oliver Burkeman in his inspirational book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals gives several tips on how to cultivate patience:

  • Develop a taste of having problems (the fantasy of not having problems at all is a myth). Life is a process of engaging with problems.

  • Embrace radical incrementalism (chopping, chunking into small parts that make progress visible). Tolerate that would not be producing very much on an individual day. Be willing to stop when your daily time is up even if you bursting with energy.

  • The originality lies on the far side of unoriginality (trial and error, copying others, tinkering)

  • There is no problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way

To conclude, I think that software development is a great field to find a state of flow. One way to find enjoyment in software development is to focus on the process of building software, rather than just the end result. This means embracing the challenge of solving complex problems, experimenting with new technologies, and collaborating with other developers to create something great. Whether you are building a new feature, designing a new interface, or creating a new application from scratch, the act of creating something new can be an inherently rewarding experience. The sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing your ideas come to life can be deeply fulfilling and can provide a sense of purpose and meaning. There are many opportunities for autotelic experiences in software development. By focusing on the intrinsic rewards of the work itself, developers can find deep satisfaction and fulfillment in their work, regardless of external factors such as pay or recognition.

Have you ever experienced flow in your daily life, and if so, how did it make you feel? Did you try to design your activities to make them enjoyable?

Written on April 25, 2023