There was a time when the world and I had a disconnect (it still happens every now and again and I’m sure that this is something we all feel at certain times, to a greater or lesser extent). At its worst, mine occurred following many years of physical pain causing me to become so introverted that I barely interacted with the people around me. Even going to buy food at the shops was a self-conscious task where I mentally planned what to say to the cashier in case certain situations arose.
That was in my mid 20’s and now in my late 40’s I wonder about this state and exactly what kind of connection to others I was depriving myself of. Also, how was being so disconnected affecting my own sense of happiness?
During my time as a theatre design student I became fascinated with what happens when we communicate and share our imagination with one another in the theatre. I wondered why we did it, loved it, talked about it, felt it and expanded our ideas through it. I realised that fundamentally it was about shared connection through shared ideas with our fellow human beings.
Sharing stuff is at the heart of who we are. It helps give us our identity, individually, and as a social group. I recently found that what we experience during socially bonding moments such as these has some pretty fun brain chemical science behind it – which, if you stick around, I’ll tell you about later!
It also crossed my mind that if these communal imaginative experiences can bond us, then maybe they also hold a kind of antidote to loneliness, and as a result give us an increased sense of happiness.
We don’t live this life alone. There are millions of us out there and so many of us are searching for a more concrete understanding of how to be happy and its importance to our mental and physical health. Ultimately, we are a species that love connecting and doing things together. We need each other, not just for survival, but to elevate and thrive. So, how do we best do this and why does it work? OK, here’s the cool science bit!
Many of you may have heard about ‘being in the zone’, a term used to describe those so completely focused on something nothing else seems to matter. Over the last decade much research has been done into this state that is now called ‘Flow’. Even if we are not always aware of it we ALL get into ‘Flow’ doing different activities depending on our likes and personality. We most easily recognise it when time seems to stretch or contract whilst we’re doing something we love. The fascinating bit is that whilst you can get into flow alone there is also something called ‘Group Flow’ and researchers now understand exactly which chemicals are released into the brain when we are in this state and what this does for us.
So here goes….
Chemicals 1 & 2 – Norepinephrine and Dopamine
These are focusing chemicals that lock us into what we are doing/experiencing.
Chemical 3 – Anandamide
This is a pattern recognition enhancer that enables us to come up with new ideas by connecting abstract ones. This is the chemical present when we feel inspired.
Chemical 4 – Seratonin
This promotes a calming effect on the body.
Chemical 5 – Endorphins
This is big, because aside from inducing feelings of pleasure it has been shown to enhance our sense of social bonding.
Consider this… when we fall in love we actually only experience TWO of these chemicals but in a flow state we get all FIVE! So it’s pretty powerful.
The key to this state is that it literally disengages our pre-frontal cortex and allows us to think less and feel more. Surely, we owe it to ourselves, to embrace ‘Flow’, and even more so ‘Group Flow’ – through shared imagination, play or otherwise. Our minds would be better placed to relax and explore, find inspiration, feel connected to others and in turn, reduce loneliness. Happiness here we come!
Anyone interested in finding out more about Flow States or to take a free Flow profile go to: https://www.flowgenomeproject.com