As a mosaic artist I have always loved colour and pattern and can happily spend many hours making mosaic patterns with tiles and plates. I am always in “flow” when making mosaics but I am not giving up the day job yet as this love of pattern has always been an interest rather than a job. It is fascinating to hear stories of people who manage to make a living doing what they love and Orla Kiely is a wonderful example of someone whose love of pattern has created a global empire. The article below from The Times looks at a Day in the Life of the very talented Orla Kiely:
How did one simple print create a global empire?
The fashion and interior designer Orla Kiely, 49, has a queue of fans, including Kate Middleton. She talks about the secret of her succesS
Orla Kiely was thrilled when Kate Middleton wore one of her designs (Chloe Dewe Mathews)
I’m out of bed by 6.45, and by 7.30, my husband, Dermott, my two teenage sons, Robert and Hamish, and Olive our labradoodle, are all up and having breakfast. By 8, the boys have left for school, the dog’s been out and I’ve had a coffee and yoghurt. Dermott, who heads up the business side to our company, does a lot of travelling, so he may have left, too. Once they’re all taken care of, I can have a shower.
I’m very much a dress person, so knowing what to put on is easy for me. My wardrobe always includes pieces from both our old and new collections, and I tend to wear a lot of cotton tops and woollens.
We live in a Victorian house in London, just south of the river, and our office is just around the corner. We have our own building with sales and production on the ground and first floors, designers on the second and accounts on the third.
I like to be in for 9 and will then make a cup of tea and sit with my design team so we can recap on what needs to be done. Right now we’re working on next year’s spring and summer collections. As with all of them, there are two starting points: a colour palette and a print.
A print often starts with a theme like transport or animals, and can have a playful edge. I love prints that are graphic, so shapes need to be simple, bold and clean. It means that what might look like a check pattern from a distance is really a small boat or a bird close up. One of the prints we had last year was of a dove which we used on a jacquard wool dress. We were over the moon when the Duchess of Cambridge chose it for one of her engagements.
Once we have a print, we can work on colour. To me, this is an emotional, instinctive thing, and I never get bored with it. I love earthy combinations like walnut brown and mustard yellow. I’m also drawn to opposites — navy and yellow, pink and green. In fact, I’m really into pinks right now; all those gorgeous tones, like peony, hibiscus, raspberry and bubble-gum candy — all of them are in our latest collections. And, of course, there’s nothing so bold and beautiful as a poppy red.
If Dermott’s in the office, we tend to have lunch together and either go to a cafe or pop home and have soup or a sandwich. Dermott and I have known each other since our student days in Dublin, where we grew up. I’m from the south side of the city, near Bray. I didn’t have a creative background, but my mother taught me how to knit and crochet, so I was always making things.
I never thought we’d have a print that was so instantly recognisable. It’s just wonderful
As a child, I also loved drawing and, with the encouragement of an art teacher at my convent school, I went on to study textiles at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, and an MA at London’s RCA. Then, in 1995, having worked for a few fashion companies, Dermott and I decided to set up on our own. He had a business head, I’d a creative head; we thought we’d give it a go.
Every season, our aim is to develop at least seven or eight new prints — maybe four for our ready-to-wear pieces and three for our bags.
I confess, I’m quite picky, not happy until I feel every last detail is right. But we always know we have a finished print when we stand back and say: “Wow! That’s perfect.”
With our other collections, such as accessories and homewear, we rely on the recolouring of old prints such as our “stem” motif that now appears on everything from our cake tins to our wallpaper. I never thought we’d have a print that was so instantly recognisable. It’s just wonderful.
I try and finish in the office by 6.30, and once I’m home, I like to switch off and chat to the boys about their day and what they want to eat — maybe I’ll pop some fish or chicken in the oven. I love to potter around our kitchen. It has a bright green floor and reminds me of the olive green kitchen my mother had, which she daringly topped with a glossy orange ceiling — two colours I’m still drawn to now.
Before bed, I might crash out in front of the TV, especially if it’s one of my favourites like Corrie or Mad Men. Such is the pace of life that it’s good to just stop and reflect. I never really thought I’d be where I am now. Maybe there’s something to be said for taking just one step at a time.
Many experts in positive psychology argue in favour of focusing on flow as a means to happiness and well-being. The excellent article below by Bridget Grenville-Cleave provides you with 5 reasons to focus on flow as part of your well being armoury. I personally am hugely in favour of the concept of flow as I think that if you can become completed engaged with mastering the task before you all other concerns simply melt away. The only gripe I have with the theory of flow is that it can become so addictive. In my own case I get the greatest sense of flow when I am being creative. For months my creative energies were poured into setting up and writing this blog and I loved doing it, but in writing the Happiness Experiment blog I was excluding other pursuits which I also valued. I took a few month’s break from the blog to refocus and my creative energies have gone in to creating art (mainly mosaic art) to the exclusion of the blog – hence my recent silence here. This remains my dilemna with the concept of flow. I can completely buy in to the theory of becoming utterly absorbed in an activity, but when the activity absorbs you so much that normal activities such as food, rest, sleep etc. begin to seem an inconvenient disruption to your sense of flow then alarm bells start to ring! I was rescued from my creative abyss by a great little video clip by Jonathan Fields from The Good Life project which you can watch here:
Jonathan’s video clip gives two great tips to get yourself out of a “creative rabbit hole”- one is to use the practice of mindfulness to keep you aware of what you are focusing on and the second is to enlist the help of a friend to hold you accountable for all the other areas of your life which you also value and want to spend time on. Watch Jonathan’s video and read Bridget’s article and let me know if you have further suggestions for getting all the benefits of being in flow without the disadvantages of focusing too much on a single activity.
FIVE REASONS TO FOCUS ON FLOW
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992, p.3)
Which pathways lead to well-being?
At the moment positive psychologists don’t yet agree on how many routes to well-being there are, or exactly what they are; what we do know is that there are many different ones, for example three in Authentic Happiness, five in the Seligman’s PERMA theory of well-being; six in Carol Ryff’s Psychological Well-being (PWB).
It’s sometimes said that no individual pathway is better than any other; which one you take is very much a matter of personal choice.
Some of us prefer a life filled with positive emotion, taking great pleasure from eating at 5-star restaurants, flaunting a pair of Christian Louboutins, or holidaying in Mauritius, and would be miserable without a regular dose of fun and frivolity. Some are more attracted to a life steeped in meaning and purpose, caring nothing if life’s luxuries are absent. Still others seek accomplishment, such as reaching the pinnacle of a chosen profession, as the main pathway to well-being.
Flow versus Fun
In our Positive Psychology Masterclasses, we frequently discuss with participants the relative merits of flow (also known as engagement or absorption) and positive emotions as routes to happiness. Based on our individual experiences we all have different perspectives. Some put their money firmly on positive emotion being a superior source of happiness. The work of Barbara Fredrickson on the Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions has opened our eyes to the possibility that positive emotions are more important than we have traditionally thought. They don’t just make us feel good, they do us good too. But the more I learn about it, the more I think that the importance of flow as a source of well-being is vastly understated.
For one thing, the enjoyment we derive from flow is an active and dynamic state. It’s about being able to controlour inner experience, whereas the experience of positive emotion seems more passive, depending on events and experiences that are external to us. According to Csikszentmihalyi,
“…happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, how we interpret them…People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.” (p2)
Additionally, positive emotions are typically fleeting: they don’t hang around for long. This may explain why we need a balance of around 3:1 in order to experience a positive upward spiral. Being able to feel positive emotions for any length of time looks like quite hard work!
There are many good reasons why we should focus more on flow as a route to well-being. Five of the best ones are highlighted below.
1. Exercising Control
Self-Determination Theory suggests that one of the fundamental building blocks of well-being is autonomy, being in control of your own life and make your own decisions and choices about what to do or not to do. Control is an important part of the flow experience too, although it seems that, paradoxically, it isn’t the actuality of having control that matters, but the possibility of exercising control, and the lack of worry about losing control.
2. Experiencing Freedom from Negative Thoughts
In flow, being able to control our inner experience isn’t about reframing negative thoughts into positive ones or changing our subjective experience of an event to make it more tolerable or less worrisome. Flow seems more aligned with the concept of mindfulness because it requires you to be able to direct your attention at will to the task in hand.
By paying focused attention to the task, whether it’s washing up, sweeping away last night’s snow fall, or writing your dissertation, there isn’t room in your consciousness for other distractions, worries, or negative thoughts. It isn’t that you ignore the source of negativity as such, but that for as long as the flow experience lasts, which might be minutes or even hours, you’re oblivious to negative thoughts and therefore free from them.
We all want to feel that we’re good at doing what we do. Fulfilling our basic need for mastery or competence is another of the basic building blocks of well-being in Self-Determination Theory. According to K. Anders Ericsson, mastery of your subject or discipline requires around 10,000 hours (or roughly 10 years) of deliberate, effortful practice. As long as the challenge of the task slightly outweighs the level of skill, experiencing flow can lead to mastery. Attention and intrinsic motivation seem to go hand in hand: ensuring that the years of practice are as enjoyable as possible, even if they are hard work, makes perfect sense.
4. Facilitating Personal Growth and Connection with Others
Flow also leads to personal growth because it facilitates two contrasting psychological processes that enable the self to become more complex. On the one hand, it facilitates differentiation or separation from other people, that is, the feeling of being personally unique, capable, and skilled. On the other hand, flow facilitates integration, bothof the self (harmony because your thoughts, feelings, intentions, and senses are aligned) and with other people (in terms of feeling more closely connected with them). It would seem that flow experiences not only enable us to learn and grow as individuals, but also help us to achieve the third psychological need of Self-Determination Theory, relatedness.
5. Building Confidence
Another reason why flow should be at the top of the list of happiness enhancers is that flow experiences help build confidence. This isn’t just the confidence that naturally occurs as a result of becoming more skilled and competent at a task. Flow requires us to focus our attention so completely on the task in hand that there’s no room left over to think about our own selves. We don’t worry about what we look like or what others are thinking of us. There is what Csikszentmihalyi calls “a loss of consciousness of the self,” where we are no longer preoccupied by who we are. If you spend a moment recalling any of your recent flow experiences, you’ll know what I mean.
Control your attention. Minimize distractions and focus on your task, whatever it might be. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the task.
Manage the balance between skill and challenge.
If the task is too easy, find ways to make it more challenging, for example by doing it more quickly (or more slowly) than normal.
To transform otherwise dull low skill/low challenge activities like sitting in a waiting room, create ‘micro-flow’ experiences with specific rules and goals. Examples include solving puzzles in your head or composing haiku.
If the task is too challenging, find ways to up your skill level. You could look for additional training, coaching or mentoring. Or you could break the task down into smaller steps which are more achievable. Or find ways to apply your top strengths to help you achieve it.
To achieve flow in conversation, focus intently on the other person and actively listen to what they are saying. Ask questions and allow plenty of time.
Talk to other people about how they find flow.
Finally, seek feedback on your performance on the task and act on it.
Bridget Grenville-Cleave, MAPP graduate of the University of East London, is a UK-based positive psychology consultant, trainer and writer. She is author of Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide (2012), and The Happiness Equation with Dr Ilona Boniwell. She regularly facilitates school well-being programs and Positive Psychology Masterclasses for personal and professional development. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter @BridgetGC. Website. Full bio. Her articles are here.
Recent articles and Happiness Experiment no 11 have looked at the concept of Flow and how getting absorbed in an activity which you are really passionate about can boost your happiness. For further inspiration I recommend that you purchase the book called The Element by Sir Ken Robinson which looks at ways of being in our element. Being in our element is defined as the point at which our natural talent meets our personal passion. This is where people feel most themselves and are inspired and able to achieve at their highest levels. The book is illustrated with examples of people who have made a successful living through doing what they love like Vidal Sassoon, Ariana Huffington and Matt Groening. Robinson argues that age and occupation are no barrier and explains how it is possible for each one of us to reach our element. Read Sir Ken Robsinson’s book and watch his inspiring TED Talk – finding your true passion could just change everything.
Continuing with the subject of flow this personal account from The Psychology of Wellbeing blog by Jeremy McCarthy about his experiences of implementing the theories of flow in his life is a great illustration of how focusing on flow can bring positive changes. If you have yet not tried out Happiness Experiment No 11: Go with the flow this article should give you some ideas.
Aggie Women’s Tennis 12 by StuSeeger
Passion and Flow – a life changing book
Have you ever read a book (and religious texts don’t count—that’s too easy) that you can honestly say has changed your life? For me, the one book that has changed my life more than any other is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that three times fast–hint: it’s pronounced “cheek sent me hi.”)
The book is based on Csikszentmihalyi’s research on how people felt while doing different activities throughout their day. He literally had study participants wear beepers and would beep them at random intervals over the course of several months (“experience sampling method.”) He measured what people were doing and how they felt during different times in their day.
What he found was that people felt their best when they were doing certain activities that helped them to experience what he called “flow”. Flow is the feeling you have when you are completely engaged in an activity and time seems to fly by. Different individuals have different activities that they find to be flow-inducing. One person might experience flow while preparing a gourmet meal, working in the kitchen. Another person might get it while dancing at a night club. Art, music, sports, travel and social activities can all induce flow in different personalities.
Csziksentmihalyi found that all of these flow-inducing activities have certain things in common. People find themselves in flow when performing an activity that is somewhat challenging, but when they feel they have the skills to meet that challenge. Flow is the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety. An intermediate tennis player, for example, would be completely bored if he was playing against a total beginner who couldn’t even keep the ball in play. If he was playing against a grand slam champion on the other hand, he would have a hard time returning a single serve and would probably find the experience somewhat stressful. But when he plays another intermediate player, who is strong enough to challenge him and push his game to its upper limits, where victory is not impossible but not guaranteed either, he may find himself in flow, loving every minute of the challenge and losing all sense of anything else.
When I read Flow, I immediately recognized some of the flow activities in my own life, and learned how to identify other activities that I might equally enjoy. In large part due to the inspiration from the book, I have filled my life with wonderful activities that I pursue with passion. Hiking, scuba diving, salsa dancing, guitar playing, surfing and beach volleyball are all flow activities that have brought me countless hours of joy. I think of these kinds of activities not as pleasantries with which to fill my leisure time, but as a sacred part of my life, the things that make life worth living.
So what are the activities that put you into flow? What are you passionate about? Finding these activities and giving them the appropriate value in your life can be the secret to living a life of happiness and well-being. And if you have read a book that has drastically impacted your life in a positive way, let me know what it is. I’d like to read it.
Writer Adam Gopnik finds happiness in being “vigilantly absorbed in some activity.”
You will like Happiness Experiment no 11 because it involves doing more of what you love to do. It sounds so simple, surely attaining happiness should be more complicated and involve more of an effort? How can you be happy just by doing what you love to do? Simple as the idea sounds most of us forget to do the things we love to do and get involved in the daily 9 to 5, the things we ought to do, the daily must do, should do and need to do lists. True happiness, argues Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, comes from you being completely absorbed in some activity: you are completely in the zone and time slips by unnoticed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist and researcher, was credited with naming this state of complete absorption as “flow”. After interviewing many people who all had one thing in common (they pursued an activity for its own sake, not for the money or status but just for the joy of it) he came to label these experiences as “flow” activities. We all have different activities that put us in a state of flow and this can vary from individual to individual. So how can you tell if you are in flow? If you are experiencing most of these 7 characteristics while performing a task, chances are that you are experiencing flow:
You experience oneness and ecstasy (you lose sense of self)
You are completely involved and concentrated
You experience the task as highly challenging and requiring a high level of skills
You have a wonderful sense of serenity
You experience a distorted sense of time
You are intrinsically motivated
You have a sense of control
Happiness Experiment no 11 is therefore to become aware of which activities are flow activities for you. Make sure you set aside time for these flow activities this week rather than telling yourself you are too busy. Make more time in your life for doing the things that you love. It sounds a simple experiment but is a remarkably effective way of increasing your happiness. If you would like to read more on the subject of flow read this book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi or watch this video featuring in which Mihaly explains his theories further:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow – the secret to happiness
“Psychology without philosophy is blind, Philosophy without psychology is empty”(James Hume)
There’s a possibility that the 21st century could be the century when we finally get to understand more about how to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Compared to our ancestors of just a century ago we enjoy better health, greater material riches and have a richer understanding of psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. But are we happier or more fulfilled? Perhaps not. As the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said “Everything has been figured out except how to live.”
There’s at least one reason for thinking that things might change for the better. Since 1998 American psychologist Martin Seligman has led the “Positive Psychology” movement which aims to put human well-being on a scientific footing. It has already uncovered some surprising facts , such as
Happier people are more creative, live longer and are more altruistic than unhappy people
Optimists have less heart attacks than pessimists
People experience more absorption and engagement (“Flow”) at work than at home
Moreover Positive Psychology has developed simple practices which are statistically proven to increase happiness for most people. One of the easiest and most effective is the “Three Good Things in Life Exercise”.
Each night for one week, write down three things that went well that day.
In addition to writing three things that went well, provide a causal explanation for each thing.
In particular, try to pay attention to how your behaviour caused the positive thing.
You might like to try it. Most people find there are lasting benefits of doing it for just one week. Governments are beginning to take notice of Positive Psychology. WhilstBhutan, a tiny nation in the Himalayas, has been using a National Happiness Index for years, other countries such as the UK have more recently supported the idea that National Happiness should be measured. Initiatives to enable children to develop important life skills such as optimism and self-control have been piloted in schools. In addition there are many books describing scientifically supported ways you can become happier,some of whichare rather good.
The idea behind Positive Psychology is important and timely. When I run workshops in Positive Psychology , most students enjoy the classes and find that practicing its ideas on themselves makes them happier. In my life coaching and psychotherapy practiceI routinely incorporate Positive Psychology techniques and have found them to be a useful addition to the therapist’s toolkit.
However, much as I enthuse about Positive Psychology, I fear that unless it broadens it perspective it will not fulfill its potential to bring about a fundamental transformation in human well-being this century. I will put my cards on the table straight away. I believe that psychology needs to be combined with philosophy. Science can help us understand and reliably change the world but it cannot tell us what to change. As author Jules Evans argues, “Philosophy ungrounded in social science is a brain in a vat. But social science unguided by ethical philosophy is a chicken without a head. “
It is to ethical philosophy we must turn if we want to reason about such questions as “What is the good life?”, “What is human flourishing?” and “How important is happiness?” . A lot of books on Positive Psychology focus on happiness and how to be happier. Yet a few moments reflection is enough to convince most people that happiness isn’t all there is to a good life. Would you want your tombstone just to say that you were happy? Many people agree with psychologist Joseph Ciarrochi who says:
” I think I want my tombstone to say something about me being a loving father, caring husband and someone who sought to improve this human condition. I bet you…have similar hopes and values”.
But if human flourishing isn’t just happiness, then what is it? Positive Psychology’s leading theorist, Martin Seligman, has proposed the idea that flourishing has five components, captured by the acronym PERMA, meaning:
Unfortunately Seligman’s theory raises more questions than it answers. For example:
What is the best balance of these five values in a good life?
Are there other important values (such as health, autonomy and wisdom) missing from this list?
To lead a good life do you have to actually have these values satisfied, or do you just have to think you have?
Is wisdom, the ability to make ethical choices in the face of complex practical and emotional situations, a particularly important value?
These are all good questions. The answers implied by Seligman ( “Don’t know”, “No”, “You just have to think you have them satisfied” and “Wisdom is just one of 24 strengths and you should focus on it only if it is one of your strengths”) are not very satisfactory.
These are not technical quibbles, these are fundamental issues. If Positive Psychology is going to guide us in our personal lives and public policy, it needs to have a solid conceptual basis. We need to be able to trust it. Yet Seligman himself has admitted that Osama Bin Laden could well have lived a PERMA life. Since PERMA is measured by the subject’s own estimate (see question 3 above) every psychopath, terrorist and criminal could be rated to have good lives according to positive psychology. Worse still, positive psychology’s methods could actually make them worse. Would you prefer your local criminals to be more or less motivated, more or less optimistic? Like nuclear fission, Positive Psychology’s tools can be used in the pursuit of good and evil..
The idea that you should transform human well-being without doing philosophy as well as psychology is too narrow. But Seligman’s own model of Positive Psychology also runs into more specific problems because it ignores key ideas commonplace to philosophers but less obvious to psychologists. Central to Seligman’s theory is the idea that we should all be more aware of our character strengths and use our strengths more often. But should we? Imagine that your next door neighbour, Fred has optimism as his top strength. Positive Psychology tells him to be optimistic in new situations. Suppose Fred’s optimism has so far worked very well for him at home, where his encouragement and positivity are greatly appreciated by his family. After reading Seligman, Fred decides to be more optimistic at work as well. Now cut to the day of your holiday. Unfortunately it’s extremely foggy. You arrive at the airport expecting a long delay to your flight. You are surprised to hear a familiar “How is it going?” from Fred, your optimistic neighbour, who – I forgot to mention – is an airline pilot and is due to fly your plane. “How long will the delay be?” you ask him anxiously. “No delay at all!”, he replies cheerily. “Today I’m going to practice my optimism strength a bit more. Air Traffic Control say we should wait an hour for the fog to clear, but the good news is I’m an optimist so I’m going to ignore them.”? The problem with Seligman’s strengths theory is we have to judge when and where to apply our strengths. Fred needs what philosophers have long recognised to be a key virtue – wisdom.
Many centuries ago, Plato, Aristotle and other ancient philosophers argued that wisdom was in fact the most important thing you need to live well. Without wisdom, all the other things in life could be misused. Money, good looks and health may seem to be good things, but to live well you have to know how to use them wisely. In our example, Fred’s lack of practical wisdom will him lead to use his optimism strength rashly. One of the most influential philosophers on the subject, Aristotle, argued that a wise choice involves choosing the golden mean between two extremes. Fred needs to find the golden mean between optimism and pessimism . In this situation, since there is so much to lose, he should err on the side of pessimism.
What can be done? Positive Psychology has great potential, but for it to be fulfilled it needs to take on a more philosophical perspective. My hope is that more philosophers become involved in Positive Psychology and more psychologists become involved in Practical Philosophy.. I would like them to work together to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to the question of how to increase well- being.
In the meantime, I suggest the interested reader combine their study of positive psychology with practical philosophy. A good place to start are two excellent recent books
Jules Evans’ Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations
Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro’s The Shrink and the Sage.
I also would like to invite interested parties to contact me to help develop a more philosophical type of Positive Psychology. It’s a project I’ve already begun, and I will leave you with one – so far untested – practice, a philosophical version of Three Good Things, which I call “Three Wise Things.”
Each night for one week, write down three ways in which you or someone you know acted wisely that day. The things don’t have exhibit the wisdom of King Solomon – they just have to be things where someone showed good judgement.
In addition to writing down three wise things, write down what made these actions wise?