When we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffered by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.
Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
It is thus something that we make happen. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves. Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur.
Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long run, optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery, or perhaps better; a sense of participation in determining the content of life; that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine.
Am I going through these experiences?
Am I gonna get the optimal experience?
I think I do, I am, I will.
I am now assured.
The question is, am I gonna be able to handle this?
That, I am certain, that I am not assured.
(Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)