Monday, May 27, 2013

WISE - Happy or Not, Here I Come

One of the main reasons I chose to take WISE, as I often tell, is because I loved the idea of doing music as schoolwork. Pursuing my passions and getting school credit along with it. For the first time ever, I could go into a course knowing I would be happy doing the work.

Now, as I near the end of this WISE journey, it's time to ask myself the inevitable question. Have I enjoyed doing the work for WISE?

I recently read an article in class discussing the topic of happiness and how it is not something we can achieve by striving directly for it, but rather something we must achieve by throwing ourselves at difficult tasks and working hard to succeed. "The best moments in our lives," says the article, "are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... 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."

When I look back, there were times during my project when I was getting by with very little work actually being done. These times, however, are far from the happiest times of my project. Instead, I associate moments of accomplishment, such as when I finished the very first draft of my orchestral piece, or moments of responsibility, as with when I led the rehearsals, to be the most enjoyable moments of my project thus far.

Of course the project hasn't consisted of these gratifying emotions a 100% of the time. The article has a word for this inevitable back-and-forth sway in and out of happiness: flow. This concept of flow struck me as a very articulate way to describe such an intangible state of mind. Drawn in the form of a graph, flow is described to be the happiness achieve through the balance between the challenges faced and skills available. When the challenges are too great for your skills, you become anxious and there is no flow. If your challenges are too trivial for your skillset, you become bored and there is also a lack of flow. Only when the two are balanced do you achieve flow.

Surprisingly, such a concise and simple graph is quite an accurate model. To learn a musical instrument, for example, you must first push yourself to meet the challenge of playing music even without the skills to play that instrument. As your skills grow, you become more and more proficient. But you can't keep throwing difficult challenges at yourself: you must take time to practice what you've learned until what was once difficult becomes easy. When you feel that your skills now outweigh your challenges, then you can tackle new challenges once more.

To bring myself back to the question above, I can now say for certain that I have experienced this "flow" within the course of my project. And as this article seems to suggest, that would mean that I have achieved happiness within my project as well.