I LOVE Netflix. I LOVE HBO. House of Cards, Luke Cage, Game of Thrones and Insecure are all brilliant television. So brilliant that its addictive. I can and have finished entire seasons of Daredevil over the course of a weekend. In fact, when I’m asked what I do for fun, I have on more than one occasion listed Netflix as a hobby. Don’t judge me…you probably have to.
Well according to science, I’m wasting my time. Not only are these pursuits significantly linked to depression and diabetes, they are also the reason I only had one friend at my birthday party. More importantly, however, none of these activities encourage flow, a key marker in the Science of Happiness.
Refresher alert: Flow is the optimal experience where an individual is hyper-focused and becomes euphorically immersed in a task. In this state, our entire being is completely engaged. Time simultaneously slows down and flies by, external distractions and noise are minimized, and inner peace is increased. For those that just rolled their collective eyes, flow is commonly referred to as “being in the zone.” It’s the feeling a downhill skier gets navigating moguls on a black diamond. It’s the feeling a coder gets as their hands are flying across the keyboard while bumping music. And because we love things in threes, it is also the feeling a runner gets on mile seven when arms, legs, and breath are all in sync. As a result, it is also one of the most important qualities for happiness.
Yet, did you notice that splurging on the entire catalog of the uber-brilliant Mindy Project on Hulu was missing from the flow-inducing activities? YEAH, I WAS SHOCKED TOO! Well there’s a scientific explanation for what activities encourage flow. Researchers call this active versus passive leisure. And unlike other technical jargon, this is exactly what it sounds like. Active leisure includes things like running, playing the piano, and doing improv. Passive leisure…again, is exactly what it sounds like…watching television…passively…for 15 hours…straight.
According to the research, to experience flow, you have to be challenged and engaged by a task. It requires just enough skill to keep you interested, but not too much to discourage you or too little to make you bored. Something…something…something Goldilocks.
But the brilliant thing is that science says active leisure can be ALMOST anything. Love dancing…there’s flow in that. Love video games…yep, there’s flow in that too. Love untangling jewelry for fun…hey, no judgment here…but there’s flow there as well. The important thing to keep in mind is that to experience flow, maybe ration the upcoming season of Stranger Things and invest in a hobby. You’ll feel better and be a lot happier.