The simplicity of young children playing, when observed, is wonderful.
The way they negotiate, influence, discuss, challenge, confront and care – with conviction. The way they play, generate ideas and handle obstacles – with a care-freeness and excitement. The way they deal with losing, falling over, falling out and not getting a turn – momentary occurrences which come, go and get forgotten. It got me thinking how all of these approaches – the care-freeness, excitement, conviction, the ease of letting go – become our greatest challenges as adults.
Children really do live in the moment. They flow. And by flow I mean they lose themselves in activities and things and that very act becomes the reward in itself. It is the very purpose, in that moment, for which they live. The feature photo in this post is the joint effort of my daughter and her friend in creating a flower circle. They climbed, picked, arranged, admired with so much gusto and nothing else mattered in that time.
The verb to describe this phenomenon is ‘autotelic’ – a flow-like state. And if you haven’t heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi then you’re missing out. He is a Hungarian psychologist who coined the phrase ‘flow’ after years of study into the origins of happiness. Often quoted and referenced by life coaches, he found that when we are lost in something which is driven by our consciousness in a very concentrated heightened manner and not influenced by external forces such as needing to eat, we are experiencing flow. In that state we are not bored, worried about failure or working to anyone elses standards. Think, the girls making their flower circle.
You could argue that the muddy waters of adolescence shakes our inner-held belief system as we struggle to navigate peer-pressure, home values and wanting to ‘fit-in’, to be popular, liked and normal. Zzzzz. And so we water down our conviction and uniqueness so as not to offend or upset others.
You could argue that the excitement and carefree-ness dissipates as we struggle to be cool, conventional and grown-up amongst our peers. There is something our society tells us that’s slightly odd about a grown up being child-like and excitable.
And as for the ability to let things come, go and get forgotten, especially when we fail – well there lies our greatest challenge of all. We live in a world where success is a grade, a speed, a prize, a salary, an audience, a job at the top. Where failure is a grade, a job, a divorce. When we ‘fail’ we never fully recover because somehow the pressures we felt as teenagers sticks. We think of judgement, comparison and societal standards – all the things which are opposed to that inherent core belief system, which is truly unique to us. We choose jobs, relationships and lifestyles based on these standards and expectations (I’m talking broadly and generally here, so don’t take it personally if you haven’t done!). By ‘we’ I mean human beings.
I’m particularly interested in what people do for a living and why they choose to do it. Very often money and status are the driving forces. The career-coaching industry is so big because so many people inevitably feel a deep sense of unfulfilment, living their working life in a way which probably denies their core state of flow. I am one of those people in some ways.
I’m learning the hard way (and there is no other way to learn these things) that letting go of things, feelings, beliefs and life experiences is liberating and lightening. Life is too short to be around people who make you feel bad or uncomfortable. If they do, let it go and stop being around them. Life is too short to worry about not getting that job at the top or getting a divorce. If it happens, let it go and move on.
I am starting to love having a voice again – learning to be proud of everything that makes Janaki Janaki, learning to sing and exercise my vocal chords, starting to paint and write again – times when my flow is at it’s greatest. It’s in these moments I experience a deep sense of joy and fulfilment and so I try to do them more. I love embracing my childishness – the giggling, the playing with children, the laughing at the insane and absurd. But these are not things society deems as successful. But that isn’t the point. The point is I am experiencing happiness and to be happy in life is success.
So I asked my daughter what happiness meant to her and she replied “happiness is everything.”
To all the beautiful children I know.