Pleasures are ephemeral and range from the purely sensual (e.g. tasting ice cream) to the more complex (e.g. excitement when a try is scored or amusement when watching a sitcom). Both are fleeting, and repeating indulgence soon afterwards doesn’t work; by the fourth taste of an ice cream feelings of pleasure have evaporated. By mindfully savouring pleasurable experiences we maximise the benefit from them.
Gratifications are activities we enjoy doing, which are not necessarily accompanied by any emotion. The ultimate is “flow,” where the person is completely lost in the activity. The activity could be playing a sport, riding a wave, reading a book, volunteering, conversing, and so on. We have a clear goal and are challenged. The challenge is equal to the task, we get immediate feedback, and have a sense of control.
A McKinsey study found that the productivity of top executives increased fivefold when they were in flow.* So how can university students harness flow? Find the “sweet spot” between work which is excessively challenging and makes us anxious, and work which is insufficiently challenging, leading to boredom and apathy.
What about the spaces between flow? When we are stuck in the mire? It’s hard to concentrate when neglected thoughts and feelings re-emerge and pull us out of the here and now. When we can mindfully make room for all our thoughts / feelings we are most psychologically flexible and best able to meet our needs and move in a valued direction.**
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University is a stressful environment, guilt lurks 24 hours a day. Institutional feedback is slow and irregular. Limited social contact leads to isolation for some. Step back and look at the big picture. You are unlikely to enjoy your studies or experience flow if your life is out of balance. Attend to important relationships. To your health: eat well; allow adequate time for sleep and exercise. Treat university like a job—reward yourself for a hard day’s work with down-time in the evening. Mindfully savour pleasures that come your way, while accepting other thoughts and feelings as they arrive. Have fun. Allow time for reflection. Lose yourself in activities apart from study. Be gentle with yourself. You are a human being, not a machine.
* “Flow State: How to Cultivate a State of Bliss and Seamless Productivity.” Huffington Post. March 2014.
** For more on this see: “Psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose.” Steven Hayes, TEDxUniversityofNevada.