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What Do You Feel When You’re Enjoying an Activity

8 elements of enjoyment from a dozen years of research

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

In the book Flow by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi, pleasure and enjoyment are not the same.

“Pleasure is a feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or by social conditions have been met.” — Mihaly C

That means living the Epicurean lifestyle is a life of pleasure. Attending parties, enjoying food, drinks and living a hedonist life all prioritise the experience of sensual pleasure.

Enjoyment is when people think more about why they are feeling happy:

“When people ponder further about what makes their lives rewarding, they tend to move beyond pleasant memories and begin to remember other events, other experiences that overlap with pleasurable ones but fall into a category that deserves a separate name: enjoyment.” — Mihaly C

Enjoyment occurs when we not only meet some expectation about what should fun feel like but also when we experience novelty and unexpected response from the ongoing activity. For example, reading about a topic about which you’ve only heard before. Reading a book about the same topic will give you a lot more new information.

After a dozen years of research and data collection by asking questions from correspondents, Mihaly came up with these eight elements of enjoyment. Whenever people are asked how do they feel when doing an activity they enjoy, they mention these eight things:

1. A challenging activity that requires a skill

The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.

Like if I am writing, I know what resources I have at hand. I know my vocabulary is strong enough to create concise sentences. It should be challenging enough so that after finishing it, we feel a sense of accomplishment.

2. Concentration on the task at hand

We must be able to concentrate on one task at a time. Mihaly defines attention as psychic energy. So, to use it effectively, we need to conserve it and use it judiciously when performing cognitively intensive tasks.

3. and 4. Clear goals and immediate feedback

As said earlier, attention is a form of energy. We cannot work on a task forever. So, to keep on working till the end to know whether the job is complete, we need to have a feedback system that will tell if we are going in the right direction.

Goals are like checkpoints, and when we reach the final checkpoint, we get the cue to stop.

5. The merging of action and awareness

You forget about all the worries for the time being. For example, you’re a working parent who is also building his side business as a writer.

Say, you wake up every day at 4 AM to spend some alone time writing. You also have the responsibility of kids who are mischievous when they are awake, which is almost all the time when you are awake too. Some even wake up in the middle of the night, and there you go again.

But when you’re writing alone, you’re not worried about any such thing. All you are concerned about is how to give your best work in writing while having fun with it.

6. The paradox of control

You don’t have to think about controlling because you have the skills to direct the course of action. This element is more about letting go than to have a sense of control.

I choose the example of writing activity frequently because I am a writer, and I relate to this situation closely. I only think about starting with words. Once I set with the flow, I know I can get to the end of it.

7. The loss of self-consciousness

This one was the only part I knew before studying the science of Flow. Because the task at hand has clear goals, feedback, challenge, there is not much attention left to focus on self.

Most of the time, we are conscious of self. Whenever we face a new situation, we anticipate what effects it will have on us, what threats it might bring. We take action according to that. Survival instinct is the strongest motivator behind most of our reactive decisions.

8. The transformation of time

Ever enjoyed a lecture so much that one hour feels like it passed so quickly? It is like the class was about to get interesting, just then the bell rang, and the teacher stops. It is one of the cases when time seems to pass faster.

There are occasional events when it seems to pass slowly, and we need to keep the track, like a racer trying to beat his own personal best. That is why the transformation of time is a better way to describe how you feel about the time passing.

Final words

While writing today’s article, I knew I had to write way more than I used to. Generally, I write about 500 words. Sometimes I even go blank and bleed till I come up with a 3-minute article at least.

But today, I set an achievable challenge. Since I already had an idea of what I am about to share, the task became relatively more manageable. The challenging part was coming up with an 800-words article.

Reading is the most uncomplicated flow activity. For me, writing is the second one because it involves more concentration than reading. You are not just reading someone’s brain; you are opening your own for the world to see your thoughts too.

This article belongs to a series of posts I am publishing on a daily streak. Today is day 140 of 150. Here is the first blog that started the streak.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

~ Sanjeev



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Sanjeev Yadav

Sanjeev Yadav

Writer • Mentor • Recovering Shopaholic • IITR 2019 • ✍🏼 Personal Growth, Positive Psychology & Lifelong Learning• IG: sanjeevai • List: