Prerequisites for happiness

Published by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2009 at 12:14 AM

The prerequisite for happiness is the ability to get fully involved in life. If the material conditions are abundant, so much the better, but lack of wealth or health need not prevent one from finding flow in whatever circumstances one finds at hand. In fact, our studies suggest that children from the most affluent families find it more difficult to be in flow — compared with less well-to-do teenagers, they tend to be more bored, less involved, less enthusiastic, less excited.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to think that each person should be left to find enjoyment wherever he or she can find it or to give up efforts for improving collective conditions. There is so much that could be done to introduce more flow in schools, in family life, in the planning of communities, in jobs, in the way we commute to work and eat our meals — in short, in almost every aspect of life. This is especially important with respect to young people. Our research suggests, for instance, that more affluent teenagers experience flow less often because, although they dispose of more material possessions, they spend less time with their parents, and they do fewer interesting things with them (Hunter, 1998). Creating conditions that make flow experiences possible is one aspect of that “pursuit of happiness” for which the social and political community should be responsible.

— “If We Are So Rich, Why Aren’t We Happy?”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, American Psychologist, vol. 54(10), Oct. 1999


Comment by mommyknows on February 4, 2009 at 01:24 AM

I guess this supports the old adage, that money cannot buy happiness.

Comment by maya | springtr... on February 4, 2009 at 01:38 AM

wow. so very true. and i need to do more varied things with my girl. i was just thinking that today. we're still in transition here and it's hard to stay focused sometimes - or lose focus, as the case may be.

Comment by Kerry on February 4, 2009 at 04:38 AM

This is so true, I love it! I've been talking about "flow" a lot with my friends and family - I think people really need to hear and think about this stuff. I'm trying to explain to the people around me that "getting ahead" doesn't really matter when you are disconnected from you own life, your family, your community...and by our example we are teaching our children to be the same way.

Comment by amy on February 4, 2009 at 05:30 AM

i am laughing joyfully right now. never have i felt so good about being less than affluent as i have right now - thanks for the smile!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2009 at 03:09 PM

m.c. wrote this ten years ago and it seems so relevant today!

the kind of work that i want to encourage helps children connect with their own personal work — what makes *them* happiest and most engaged, their own *personal* interests and talents — and with other people — finding information, sharing ideas, and teaching others what they learn.

these things don’t have to do with what pays the most, what is the most admired by society at large, etc.

instead of seeking things always outside ourselves, we should be connecting with the world right here, the people we care most about, the work we are meant to do.

this quote really resonates with my values vis-a-vis project work and parenting!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on February 4, 2009 at 03:51 PM

I've been ruminating on this one for the last day in relationship to an email conversation that I've been having with a friend about raising teenagers. Our eldest went to high school with primarily very affluent kids who were given everything material and were pushed to be a "success" as determined by the parents. We took the opposite approach - did more as a family, supported her interests, but didn't just give her things. We let her fail and learn from her failures, rather than trying to cover them up and fix them for her.

As we talked about our approach to parenting, my friend commented that if more people let their children find their own paths, we'd all be better off. I agreed and said that I don't see myself as a successful parent if I predetermine a path and they follow it because I said so and then they become financially successful. I'll feel like I did my job if they find work and partners they love and become self-sufficient, happy, confident people who give more to the world than they take from it. They'll never be that if all they learn is to do what people tell them to do instead of doing what they love.

I'm hoping that my eldest will find her path. We've given her the tools to do it, but she still hasn't grown enough to see past the things and the trappings of financial success into what real success looks like. It may take a long time (like it took me) but I have faith that she'll get there and trust herself enough to just do what she loves rather than what will enable her to buy that great new purse. I can't wait to see her to find her flow.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2009 at 04:33 PM

i agree with you, sarah, and i think that if they have that strong foundation, they’ll get through their early 20s and continue to be drawn toward something more than material goods.

i got an e-mail last week from a friend telling me her daughter still talks about a project she did in my school when she was four — it’s been several years, and it’s still one of her most important, memorable experiences, and it’s a big part of how she defines herself. she talks about choosing a career based on that preschool project! i find that amazing. if we can give children those kind of really meaningful, deeply engaging experiences, we are giving them the ability to seek them out and recognize them as adults. anyone who has had that kind of deep connection with work (even a four-year-old!) knows it isn’t about extrinsic praise or money rewards. when we make these opportunities for our children, it’s really a transmission of values.

Comment by carol on February 4, 2009 at 06:07 PM

This is such a good reminder/encouragement.

I live on the outskirts of a "well to do" community of Chicago and although I feel confident with our way of living and KNOW we are living within our means, I am well aware of the challenges my kids face. I am fairly certain that their experiences will only help more as they face adulthood.

My husband is an art teacher in the "well to do" public high school and he is saddened that he sees so many discontent students. In fact, he is insistent that our own children go to the public school in our community. Parents are often covering up their kids mistakes with no consequences and kids have lack of respect toward their parents. Obviously this is the general environment and there are families making smart choices. It's just ironic when society views affluence as a happier and more successful life.

Anyway, I am babbling...thanks for this post!

Comment by Christina on February 4, 2009 at 07:06 PM

These ideas seem so innate to me that I'm equally amused and chagrined that there actually had to be a study in a respected journal to highlight these notions. Affluence is not an indicator of happiness? Being involved in life is? Spending quality time together as a family helps foster genuine happiness? Go figure.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2009 at 09:04 PM

carol, yes, it’s a common story, and it seems like something both schools and parents have to work to change.

christina, i agree with you, but then i read a newspaper, flip through a magazine, or scan through some tv channels, and quickly come to the conclusion that our society at large has been placing all their eggs in the material affluence basket for quite some time ..

most parents seem to place their children’s social standing first, then their ability to go on and get a good career/lifestyle, where good is defined as affluent.

Comment by Nancy on February 4, 2009 at 09:22 PM

Want to share any of the conditions that make flow experiences possible? I plan to read more about flow, but I'm impatient -- I'd love some examples/info now, if possible. Thanks! --Nancy in NC

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 12:37 AM

people in the flow are doing an activity they can completely lose themselves in .. not for money or praise .. just for the joy of it.

so .. for *me*, that means giving children (and ourselves) time to explore the things that really interest us and develop our talents. when we are so involved in our work that we are in the flow .. whether we're playing chess, gardening, cooking, writing, programming, etc. etc. etc. .. we should recognize that we're doing something special .. something that is incredibly valuable and a key to our personal happiness.

you know, re: affluence vs. personal satisfaction .. i’m thinking about all those 17yo kids telling their parents that they want to pursue music .. kwim? and the parents telling their kid to grow up, give up the pipe dream, and get an education so they can get a good-paying job. maybe those kids will grow up and put more value on a whole, balanced life?

Comment by Alice on February 5, 2009 at 09:05 AM

When I was deciding wether I should send my daughter to pre-school or not, one of the deciding comments, from another parent was this;
"My daughter's pre-school is great - they even made biscuits the other day!"



Comment by Veronica Boulden on February 13, 2009 at 03:36 PM

I used a portion of this article in my own blog. Reading this helped me understand why it is we don't ever have to do all the expensive stuff others seem to need to do to have fun and make memories.

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