“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” – Marshal Fochs.


Even though I am pretty sure that the Marshal said this about soldiers and their ability to face the bullets (of which I have always admired and thank god every day that there are people like that on ‘my side’) I am going to use this quote to discuss everyday life and, well, happiness.

Yup. Everyday life and the power of passion and belief and, to me, happiness (which is the most powerful weapon on earth).

Huh? Happiness? Soul on fire? Passion?

Yeah… this is about happiness by elevating the soul of a human to fire … and in every day life. And I do mean every day life.

Wow. Seems like a great thought (concept?) to me. especially as a new year begins.

But is it just a thought … a dream?

I ask the question because I have an answer.

It isn’t just a dream. It happens. And it actually happens every day to everyone.

It’s just that maybe sometimes we miss it because we seek to see the “enough passion that I ran over the hill risking the first bullet” type measurements when in fact maybe it is the pursuit and in the moments.

Think about it.

This idea of ‘happiness every day’ (at least in moments) is attainable … because it is actually something called ‘flow’ (being in the zone). Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a psychologist/researcher, is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. “It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.”

Ok. I am going to apologize to Mihaly now because I am going to use his thinking to discuss my thinking (on happiness).

Is it possible I am making happiness to complicated b y incorporating this idea of Flow?

I don’t think so.  In fact I believe thinking about happiness this way, well, simplifies it.

Happiness is more about moments of “soul on fire” and flow.

It is truly a simple concept. People who find ‘flow’ in their everyday lives have a tendency to have found something that ‘sets their soul on fire’ (in some form or fashion) and ultimately have found the most powerful weapon on earth … happiness.

So lets talk about why people may not recognize it, why they should recognize it … and what all this ‘momenst of flow’ is all about.

People may not recognize it because there is a seeming lack a clear purpose when spending time at home with the family or alone. The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it.

Yet the evidence suggests the opposite. Research shows that free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Apparently, our nervous system has evolved to attend to external signals, but has not had time to adapt to long periods without obstacles and dangers. Unless one learns how to use this time effectively, having leisure at one’s disposal does not improve the quality of life.

In other words … free time doesn’t lend itself to ‘flow moments’ therefore it is more difficult to attain overt happiness within free time.

Research also shows that leisure time in our society is occupied by three major sorts of activities: media consumption, conversation, and active leisure (hobbies, making music, going to restaurants and movies, sports, and exercise).

Not all of these free-time activities are the same in their potential for flow. For example, U.S. teenagers experience flow about 13 percent of the time that they spend watching television, 34 percent of the time they do hobbies, and 44 percent of the time they are involved in sports and games. Yet these same teenagers spend at least four times more of their free hours watching TV than doing hobbies or sports. Please note (before anyone begins slamming today’s teens … similar ratios are true for adults).

Well. Ok.  If happiness defines our lives why the heck would we elect to spend our time doing the above activity ratios?

In other words … why would we spend four times more of our free time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … work. Investment.

Each of the flow-producing activities requires an initial investment of attention before it begins to be enjoyable. If a person is too tired, anxious, or lacks the discipline to overcome that initial obstacle, people tend to settle … take the path of least ‘work’ … and in the end does something that is less enjoyable but is more easily accessible.


I am not suggesting relaxing is bad. Everyone needs time to unwind, to read mindlessly or sit staring into space dreaming or watching TV …. what matters is the dosage.

In a German study it was found that the more often people report reading books, the more flow experiences they claim to have, while the opposite trend was found for watching television.


In general I would agree with this but I would challenge them on that tv watching factoid (and generating flow experiences).

Let me begin with the fact I believe flow is generated by knowledge (not just skill) and mind investment (either conscious or subconscious … although I would further suggest that ultimate flow is when both are aligned).

Even relationships can gain flow moments (I call it “being in sync”) not related to emotion but rather a higher order of understanding. Anyway. That said … I would suggest to the researchers that there are maybe 3 tiers of television watching (and I would bet there are tiers of flow based on what people watch).  Because even TV watching can feed knowledge.

Tier 1 is active knowledge learning.  This is straightforward learning stuff … Engineering an Empire on History Channel, PBS, some Biography segments … things that teach and share historical perspective.

Tier 2 is active life learning. I call it ‘smart TV.’ Maybe Bones, West Wing, The Wire on HBO or MI5 on BBC.

Things that break down issues within a thoughtful challenging construct.  Maybe they take some things in every day life and give some perspective.  I would even argue for teens that shows like Felicity, O.C. and One Tree Hill took real life issues and brought them to life in entertaining ways teaching relationship and dealing with life lessons.

Tier 3 is passive mindless drivel. Reality shows, Bachelorette, Desperate Whatever, American Idol …. Shows that take no thinking and teach nothing.

Sorry. I digress a little to make a point.

There is a relationship between learning/skills, flow moments and ultimately happiness.  And there is NO formula for gathering learning/skills.

Books? Love it.

But TV? Can be just as good. I see research like I shared above and it drives me a little nuts in that it disregards the fact that today’s world permits people so many ways, positive ways, to pursue what input modes that work best for them in order to fill the potential ‘flow pot.’


Flow, and happiness, takes some thinking upfront to establish the ‘higher highs.’

Mihaly, through his research, discovered that Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white. The same clarity of goals is present if you perform a religious ritual, play a musical piece, weave a rug, write a computer program, climb a mountain, or perform surgery. In contrast to normal life, these “flow activities” allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.

Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.

With all that said I would suggest that there is ‘entering flow’ and ‘maintaining flow.’

It takes something to get into it … an obstacle … a ‘something’ that elevates you to that state … but staying in it? Well.

Its not about the obstacles or always overcoming something … happiness can be derived by maintaining it.  And by maintaining I don’t mean by hours or days … but rather it can be those special moments (although, for example, it can be hours … just think of that relationship where you just did something together that was effortless and where it was just ‘right’). Those special moments are also Flow. Flow in that we seek to recreate again at some point (and at the same time it is silly of us to desire to have that 24/7).


How often do people experience flow? If you ask a sample of typical Americans, “Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time?” roughly one in five will say that this happens to them as much as several times a day, whereas about 15 percent will say that this never happens to them (these numbers seem to be quite stable and universal).

The struggle with personal happiness tends to not be the fact we have Flow moments but rather perspective:

The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be”- Marcel Pagnol

Flow moments are flashes of intense living against the dull background of everyday life.

These moments are flow experiences – a sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives.

It is an understanding of flow that makes us happy in life. In other words we can be happy experiencing the passive pleasure of a rested body, warm sunshine, or the contentment of a relationship in sinc. It sounds good but it is complex. Complex in that the happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it takes a deepened sense of understanding of what makes us happy.

Just as the leisure time discussion earlier … we need to make a conscious decision on how we will view happiness before we can … well … be happy in the end.


Lets think about this (because here is the good news).

Almost any activity can produce flow so it is possible to improve the quality of your happiness by making sure that the conditions of flow are a constant part of everyday life.

Now.  Once again. That doesn’t mean every minute or every second … even every hour.  Just maybe … well … every day at some point.

Maybe happiness resides in the pursuit. In combination with moments.

“Sometimes what you want isn’t always what you get, but in the end what you get is so much better than what you wanted.” – Caitlin the teen blogger

So. Is this seeking passion? Maybe. Maybe that is what ‘flow’ (or being in the zone) is all about. Its being within a moment of some type of passion.

Some internal personal centered heightened sense of ‘what is most important to me.”

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”- Dale Carnegie


Maybe good ole Dale is right.

But maybe it isn’t just what you think about … but how you think about it (that is just a Bruce thought for my readers).

Buddhists advise us to “act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”

This serious thought balanced with a sense of humble perspective suggests it possible to be both engaged and relaxed at the same time.

And isn’t that what flow really about? Being serious about something you are passionate about and performing at whatever your own personal highest level?

And if that is Flow … well .. doesn’t that make you happiest?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … setting your soul on fire.

Seek the moments of ‘flow’ in your day.

And I bet you will find happiness. The most powerful weapon in the world.

Written by Bruce