New, challenging endeavors can make you happier

I’ve always been comfortable in the kitchen, somehow sensing that the soup will taste better with a bit more thyme or that the beef stew could use a few dashes of Worchestershire sauce.  I’ve learned to use recipes more as guidelines than as a set of hard and fast rules. I fearlessly make substitutions and like winging it while I’m in the kitchen.

I suppose my fearlessness is one of the reasons I enjoy cooking so well.  Another reason is that I sincerely find joy in rolling out dough, stirring a bubbling roux or watching the bagels bob in boiling water. I appreciate the process of cooking, perhaps even more than the result.

According to psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmiahalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee), the ability to focus on the pleasure of the process, rather than on the outcome, is an essential ingredient for a happy life.  This state, when a person is fully engaged in a creative activity, is what he has coined “flow.”

Csikzentmiahalyi’s theory of “flow” explains why it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re absorbed in doing something that you enjoy. (I attain a state of “flow” when I’m engaged in a Scrabble match with my husband, or when I recently made and piped buttercream frosting for the first time, for example.) It also explains why experiences such as attending a new dance class, tying your first fishing fly, or weaving your own scarf can be so satisfying.  When we engage in activities lively enough to challenge—but that don’t overwhelm us—we’ll be happier, according to Csikzentmiahalyi.

So in the spirit of achieving the kind of flow that Csikzentmiahalyi describes, I’ve decided to make a list of creative activities that I want to try this year.   My list stretches my current skill set enough that I think I’ll welcome the challenge—but still enjoy the process, too.   Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Make my own lacto-fermented ketchup
  2. Make my own cream cheese
  3. Make a jersey scarf with scripted letters (a poem or favorite saying)
  4. Make homemade vanilla ice cream
  5. Learn to use my digital camera
  6. Embroider a design on a favorite t-shirt
  7. Make “softies” out of felted sweaters for my kids
  8. Make really delicious homemade yogurt
  9. Design and prepare a new garden for our property
  10. Implement more permaculture practices in our gardens and other plantings

How about you?  What will you do this year to find “flow”?  Leave your creative ideas in the comment section so others can read, enjoy and be inspired.





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2 Responses to New, challenging endeavors can make you happier

  1. Love this post! I definitely get into a state of flow in the kitchen, and from beginning to end, the process helps me relax while getting my creative juices flowing. I’m also working on learning how to better use my digital camera, and I’d love to try homemade yogurt making.
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    • Carey Denman says:


      Thanks for stopping in to say hello. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but have found so much more pleasure in the process in recent years. It helps, too, that I have a husband that handles most of the clean-up!

      I’ve got some cream cheese “brewing” in the kitchen right now. I’m hoping for results that I can share in a new post soon.

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