I love a great drummer and when I’m not studying happiness, I’m actually a drummer myself. I love to come home after a long day and get lost in the music that I play. The worries of my life are eclipsed by the intense enjoyment I feel as I power the rhythmic engine of a song.
Watching great drummers, I can see that they’re just as absorbed.
Take a look at the mesmerizing Carter Beauford, the drummer for Dave Matthews Band. Clearly, this man is extremely talented, but I see something more when I watch him. I see a musician completely engaged in the present moment. His focus and attention are piqued; he is flourishing in his own world of just him, the drums, and the music in his headphones.
Like many other great musicians, artists, and athletes, Carter Beauford is experiencing flow.
Perhaps you’ve had a flow experience, where you were so engrossed in your favorite hobby that you completely lost track of time. To be sure, engaging in a flow activity is a unique gateway to happiness because it transcends normal experiences of reality; our perception of time changes and we become capable of incredible feats. It allows us to turn off our inner critic for a moment so that we feel engaged and emotionally energized.
And here is the great news: if you want to have a flow experience, you don’t have to be an amazing drummer or painter. Virtually everyone is capable of feeling flow.
You may have heard the expression, “just go with the flow.” This is pretty good advice, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Flow is an experience that is engrossing and enjoyable. It’s something done for its own sake, regardless of whether anyone else knows about it. Flow activity is so demanding of one’s attention that none is left for anything not having to do with the activity at hand1.
Flow is commonly associated with a huge variety of activities including music, sports, art or games. To give you an idea of what flow is like, here’s what a former poet laureate of the United States said about his writing:
You lose your sense of time, you’re completely enraptured, you are completely caught up in what you’re doing, and you are sort of swayed by the possibilities you see in this work. If that becomes too powerful, then you get up, because the excitement is too great . . . the idea is to be so, so saturated with it that there’s no future or past, it’s just an extended present in which you are . . . making meaning. And dismantling meaning, and remaking it.
How do you know if you are experiencing flow? Here are several unique characteristics of flow activity that make it so special:
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