‘Tis the season, my friends. The season to let loose and be wild. To take risks. To venture into the unknown. To geek out. ‘Tis the season of bookbagging.
This biannual event is every nerd’s equivalent of Christmas morning. Okay, maybe not that extreme. It’s more like writing that cherished letter to Santa filled with all the wonderful classes you wish to take. You get to search through a giant catalog filled with thousands of tantalizing classes ripe for the choosing. The options are endless and the freedom is ours … unless you’re in Pratt. Sorry.
Like Christmas morning, we get to wake up at the crack of dawn, click “Enroll” and then hold our breaths as we wait to see what Santa Clause and the bookbagging gods brought us this semester. It’s magical.
I know I can’t be the only person on campus who feels this way about classes. As much as I despise the mid-semester blues (it’s a thing) and feel that I have a pile of work that reaches all the way up to my nose hairs, there’s something refreshing and exciting about bookbagging for next semester. It renews our sense of wonder and curiosity. It gives us hope for the future.
“Why would anyone get excited about classes?” all you sad, tired and stressed-out people might ask. The answer is flow.
A few years ago, a man with a crazily unpronounceable name published a book on the idea of flow. This man was named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-me-HY-ee) and his book is called “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”
In an interview with Wired Magazine, Csikszentmihalyi described the state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
This sounds mighty hard to do while texting. Or Facebooking. Or tweeting. Or Instagraming. Or Pinteresting.
What Mr. C has introduced us to is an entirely new way to view our actions. We do some things for their external rewards (aka, being able to put it on a resume), but the activities that bring us the greatest sense of happiness and satisfaction are those that have intrinsic value. When our skill level is perfectly challenged by a certain activity—allowing us to completely lose ourselves in our work—that is when we have reached a state of flow.
The key to achieving this wonderful state of existence is not just that we enjoy doing a certain activity, but that we are stimulated by it. We must engage in a task that we know to be possible, though it may be challenging. Being challenged is a good thing. It brings out a healthy sense of competitiveness and ambition (good thing we have no shortage of that here). Once we complete a difficult, but doable task, we get a huge happiness boost. Only then can we “feel part of something larger,” as Csikszentmihalyi puts it.
Creativity is also surprisingly fundamental to our feelings of satisfaction in our lives. In Csikszentmihalyi words, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” There you have it, Dad. Some justification for being an English major.
This semester, I’ve taken a photography class that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Why? Because I experience flow when I’m in the darkroom developing photographs. Even if I mess something up, I know exactly how to complete the development process and this knowledge, together with the added bonus of getting to engage my creativity, lets me feel like I’m in the groove. Time flies. The ego falls away. My whole being is involved.
For me, similar flow moments have occurred while playing tennis, reading a fascinating book or EVEN while taking an exam I knew I was prepared for. Anytime you lose yourself in an activity and walk away from it feeling satisfied. That, my friends, is flow.
This bookbagging season, we should all be on the lookout for classes that could potentially give us a sense of flow. If we looked at classes as mechanisms for flow, they would be much more enjoyable. Papers and exams would be—dare I say it—fun? Maybe we won’t go that far, but it’s an optimistic goal worth striving for.
Addie Navarro is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Friday.