A few admissions —
I buy Target jeans and shoes – knowing full well I will return them the following week. Why? There is a twinge of pleasure in the purchase. There’s even some satisfaction in the refund – as if I have somehow made money.
I am a manic jogger not for health benefits – but for the hope I might experience an endorphin high and resolve all my problems (and those of the world) mid-run.
I am an online shopper, parking my loaded carts in tabs on my browser. There’s a titillation in their mere presence resting comfortably near the Gmail tab – not caring whether I close the deal or not.
In my teaching days, I loved purchasing new books and lesson plan enhancers. There was momentary pleasure in imagining my students gazing with rapt attention as I worked magic on the Smart Board (which probably happened one time with one student who was likely wondering why Mrs. Marcell had lipstick on her teeth.)
Of course we know the folly of chasing such treats. But they lure us in, like that first sip of red wine. Or that initial bite of a cookie gooey and warm from the oven. We also know there are diminishing returns with more sips and bites.
Following transient happiness is what Solomon called “chasing after the wind” or what Julie Andrews sang of – in trying “to keep a wave upon the sand”. (OK, that’s a stretch…. but who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?)
The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks – send – me – high”), has coined the word, FLOW, to describe optimal happiness – which he says is an internal state and not based on external happenings.
In the context of a creative or work endeavor, he has noted 8 characteristics of FLOW.
- Complete concentration on the task
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding, has an end itself
- Effortlessness and ease
- There is a balance between challenge and skills
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- There is a feeling of control over the task
Being in this FLOW state results in happiness that puts my Target jeans to shame. FLOW is when Roger Federer effortlessly nails backhands down the line, when Patrick Kane shoots impossibly angled passes, when characters dictate their own plot to the amazement and pleasure of their author, now reduced to laptop typist.
FLOW is akin to what the Bible calls Joy.
Joy supersedes circumstances. There’s no conditional phrase associated with Joy. It simply is. Or at least it should be present in the life of a person of faith. Joy is God’s middle name.
So for today may we delete those shopping cart tabs. May we be people of Joy.
“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)