“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In his breakthrough book entitled, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explains the connection between “being in the flow,” and living in full involvement in our day to day existence. He encourages developing fascination with a subject as a means of engagement, stating, “If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.” 

It is not merely an absorption with hedonistic pleasure, looking to fleeting external activities. Flow reflects a sense of curiosity and control of one’s life trajectory; such as setting goals and watching them come to fruition. Think of flow as resembling what athletes call “being in the zone,” which is timeless and sometimes paradoxically effortless, even as they are doing the work of performing in their sport or event. As a young competitive swimmer, I would spend hours in the pool, clocking lap after lap. As my body would move through the water, one stroke at a time, my mind would turn to what I would now consider alpha state meditation. I was not aware how much time had passed as I climbed out of the pool in chlorinated exhaustion, muscles like putty.

Flowing with it/going with it

When I consider moments of flow in my present-day life, what comes to mind are periods in which I am writing, without editing, as the words come through me and not from me. It might occur when connecting with kindred spirits, talking about “life, the universe and everything,” as highlighted in the cult classic Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

It can look like spontaneously riffing on a topic when speaking to a group, without plan, or responding to a client’s dilemma as if downloading guidance from an unseen source; letting theory fall by the wayside. It might be attributed to longevity of practice, or being an open channel for wisdom to come through. Of course, this is not unique to me or to the field of psychology, but is available to anyone with the willingness to tap in.

Quality of life is internally defined as well. Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was a pioneer in the field of positive psychology and championed the modality of Logotherapy which has at its core, the importance of discovering meaning in life, particularly in the face of trauma. Not just quantity, but quality. Not just the years in our lives, but the life in our years. What might reap purpose and meaning for one person, may be empty for another.

Our perception of this paradigm shifts over time and within circumstances. When in the midst of a fast-paced schedule, we may miss out on those precious moments with loved ones. While engaged in the necessary details of work and home life, we may neglect our health. When in treatment for a life challenging illness, we may focus so much on the symptoms, that we forget the simple pleasures of being able to enjoy a meal or take a walk in nature.

Factors that contribute to quality of life:

  • Relationships
  • Physical well being
  • Spirituality
  • Financial stability
  • Satisfying home environment
  • Psychological well being
  • Freedom of choice
  • Attitude about life circumstances, whatever they are
  • Personal values
  • Flexibility

When asked, “How do you define quality of life? Do you feel as if you are living in alignment with it? If not, what would you do to change those dynamics?”, respondents shared their thoughts:

“I gauge my quality of life with the quality of my health. If I feel good, everything I do is high quality. I also walk straight away from stressful situations. Don’t even get involved. If I am trapped in it I never return. I can’t avoid it all but I do my best.”

“That is a difficult question. Quality of life is different for every single person. For example, one person might find it terrifying to be a quadriplegic, while another person makes the most of their time here and becomes a Paralympic athlete. Is only the athlete experiencing quality of life? I would say no. Depends on your definition of quality, your desires, your wants, your needs, your goals, your socio-economic environment, etc. Some people feel they still have quality.”

 “I would just add that for me the measure of QOL changes over time, as I learn and grow over time. It’s never been static.”

“It’s family time, friend time, community time, In balance. Fresh food, exercise and good health. Being loved and needed.”

“I would more emboldened to take courses in permaculture so I can immerse myself in that culture and community. The courses cost money and it is hard to make a living as a permaculture teacher, designer, and practitioner. I am hoping for a community who will support my financial needs in part.”

“Quality of life is like feelings…. come from within and unique to each human. My QOL may not be yours and that’s OK. As a nurse I saw the same diagnosis delivered that devastated one and inspired another. Is the cup half full or half empty? That alone likely affects one’s attitude toward their quality of life.”

“For me, I’ve created the life I want and the quality is pretty damn high … and I’ve worked hard and had some luck along the way!”

 “Quality of life is feeling good emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Kind of like the ultimate hair day.”

How can you improve your quality of life?