Is Happiness the Cure for Junk Flow?

A woman dancing in joyful happiness at the surf line of a beach, arms out spread and a huge smile on her face.

Getting into a flow while working on something you love can lead to better concentration and greater productivity. But flow can become hijacked, turning instead into junk flow. 

Junk flow disrupts growth and leads to repetitive action without new learning. 

Intuitively, happiness and junk flow seem connected. Are those who are unhappy more likely to fall into junk flow? How, if at all, can happiness minimize junk flow?

We’re here to break down what junk flow is, what causes it, and what connects it to happiness. 

What is Junk Flow?

To understand the concept of junk flow, we must first understand flow

Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coins flow as the state of ultimate focus and immersion. Athletes, artists, students, and even normal employees can often pinpoint when they’re in a state of flow. 

During flow, time seems to stop. It’s almost as if you zoom into what you are working on, and nothing else. During flow you are challenged, but in such a way that it’s exciting.  Ultimately, flow is a positive experience that can help people be more productive and learn new skills. 

Junk flow is a negative variation of flow. At first, it may begin as flow. However, the person becomes addicted to a superfluous aspect of the activity. Instead of performing it for growth and learning, they continue to repeat the behavior in a meaningless way. 

In a 2014 interview for the Real Leaders Project, Csikszentmihalyi talked about chess when explaining junk flow. “I think it’s very difficult to exhaust chess as a source of growth,” said Csikszentmihalyi. “And yet you find that so many chess masters when they reach the end of their career, even while they’re young in their thirties or forties, can’t go beyond their skill level anymore.”

What Causes Junk Flow?

While Csikszentmihalyi has not found any definitive causes for junk flow, his explanation of its Greek origins may lead to potential causes.

The psychologist explained in his 2014 book Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology (via MiddleWeb) that Plato once wrote about how difficult it is for young people to find pleasure in activities. Ultimately, growth-producing activities may not always feel like the most fun. Instead, it’s easier for people to find pleasure in “alluring” activities. 

“After a while you get trapped by a cycle of short term bursts of excitement, and then it becomes a habit; and now you feel bad if you can’t play, but you don’t feel good when you can play,” Csikszentmihalyi wrote in Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology. “That’s a problem that goes beyond flow. It goes to the philosophy of life.”

Based on Csikszentmihalyi’s insight, enjoyment is a major concern for junk flow. It seems there is a bidirectional relationship between happiness and junk flow. Those stuck in junk flow may not derive true happiness from a junk flow activity, but they also feel unhappy when they cannot partake in it. 

Ultimately, there are many potential reasons behind junk flow, but happiness is certainly one of them. 

The Connection Between Happiness and Junk Flow

Csikszentmihalyi also created the famous Experience Sampling Study, or “Beeper Study” as it’s often referred to, as an innovative method to turn happiness into a measurable phenomenon. 

This study examined a group of teenagers who are each given beepers that go off during random points in the day. At every beep, the teens had to record their thoughts and feelings. 

What the researchers found was that teens discussed being unhappy at many points during the day. However, they were more positive and upbeat when they focused on a challenging task that put them into flow. 

Based on the study’s findings, we can see that happiness and flow are connected. When people are learning new tasks in their optimal zone of difficulty, they derive enjoyment. On the other hand, when they repeatedly engage in activities out of compulsion (like binge-watching TV or playing video games) they report less happiness. 

Improve Happiness to Decrease Junk Flow

If you’re happy when you fulfill challenging activities, then you are much less likely to go into a junk flow state. 

Larry Ferlazzo wrote in the sixth chapter of his book Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond (via MiddleWeb) that teachers demonstrating humor tend to raise student engagement and therefore lead to a “good flow.”

An article from the website Pursuit of Happiness states that a good state of flow equates with subjective and psychological happiness. 

The above are just two examples of experts who believe that people in good flow will feel happiness and thus lower the chances of going into junk flow. Therefore, participating in  activities that test our individual strengths and weaknesses can help increase the enjoyment of the activity and overall happiness. 

That’s exactly why we created planourmals. The purpose of planourals is to help you strive for more than just feeling happy. They’re designed to help you reduce junk flow binge-habits that can trick you into thinking you’re happy, but that ultimately suck away your ability to flourish. 

Binge Battle Planoumals guide you to look for and concentrate on positivity; to help you find challenges that put your strengths to use, and kindly move you to focus on worthwhile relationships and meaningful activities. 

Planormauls are a powerful tool to help you achieve better wellbeing. They combine a planner’s task and productivity properties and the contemplative space of a journal.  Combat your junk flow habit and...

Fight the Suck. 

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