What accounts for the difference? In this article we suggest that one important way people find meaning in their lives is by becoming deeply involved in activities that afford them scope. Even apparently trivial activities become meaningful over time if done with care and concentration. And many cultural domains--such as the arts, literature, and scientific research-allow persons to build meaningful lives by providing almost unlimited opportunities for engagement. Finding meaning and enjoyment in one's relationship with the world constitutes the notion of flourishing explored in this article (cf. Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1998 Emmons, 1999). Elsewhere, we have described participation in an enduring relationship that is at once enjoyed and meaningful as vital engagement (Nakamura, 1995, 1996). Have you considered that? Instead of thinking about body types in negative terms, think about them positively. Which way do you think you are going to accomplish more? You want to get shredded or get ripped? You want to lose weight? You want to be more than you are? Be better? Then you have to start by making things right in your head. Fitness starts with one thing and one thing only: the decision to get fit. Over the last fifty plus years, the business of fitness has gone from being a cottage industry to a multibillion-dollar corporate behemoth, and a lot has gotten lost along the way. The data to gather are thoughts and feelings, so this means the plentiful sharing of thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, as many therapists will tell you, many people are ill at ease when comes to sharing their thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are risky data to share because they tap into your feelings of vulnerability.
Yet, these risky forms of communication are the tools that allow you to know each other and discover whether you will support each other through sickness and health, richer or poorer, or lead to an anguishing divorce. Recall that one of the environmental nutrients that help us all is safety and security. You can see one of the reasons this is true. The safer and more secure you feel, the more likely you are to disclose your own thoughts and feelings and solicit those of others. Thus, a good cue to help you decide whether your shelter seeking is taking you down the right path is how comfortable you feel in disclosing your thoughts and feelings during the engagement period and how comfortable the other person is in doing the same. And a follow-up self-help tip would be to get comfortable in disclosing your thoughts and feelings, since these will always be good tools to help discover the emotional nature of any interpersonal environment you enter. The same is true for selecting a business partner. We will examine this optimal developmental outcome in a context that places it in bold relief - the creative work of scientists and artists. Although we will focus on long-term creators and their relationship to science or art, a person can be vitally engaged in any relationship with the world, one of work or love, play or service, no matter how humble. We develop the concept of vital engagement in two stages. The lion's share of the article will be devoted to the phenomenon of enjoyable interaction with the environment--in particular, the body of theory and research on the flow state. The next section will focus on how people achieve meaningful relationships with the environment. The fullness of a person's participation in the world has been granted central importance in human development by some psychologists through the years (eg, Allport, 1937 Buhler & Massarik, 1968). Recently, this view of positive functioning has been extended to the end of the life course by the MacArthur Study on Aging in America. Whereas growing old was associated with social disengagement by early researchers (Cumming & Henry, 1961), continued active engagement with life emerged as a key aspect of successful aging in the MacArthur Study (Rowe & Kahn, 1998). We share Rowe and Kahn's focus on the person's connection to the world, though we think of vital engagement as a general way of being related to the world, possible in innumerable activities, whereas they focus on love and work and we train our attention on the quality of the experienced relationship whereas their scope is broader, addressing the sheer number of older people's social ties and the sheer fact of continued productivity. Indeed, what most distinguishes the notion of vital engagement from related concepts in the study of lives is attention to the experiential. A corporate behemoth doesn't care about you. Those who run such companies have no interest in getting you fit or fixing you. They might say that they do, but their ultimate goal is to sell you stuff and to keep making money off of you.
The goal of those in this business, like any other business, is to turn a profit. If they can sell you a new workout and make money from you, then they will sell you a new workout. And social media has only exacerbated the problem by giving a voice to fitness influencers who may not necessarily know what they are doing. These companies get you because everybody wants to look great. They know that. They know everything they need to do to get you to buy their product or subscribe to their method. They want you to think that you can't do this without them. Quickly formed partnerships usually don't last and often end in a lawyer's office. Spending a lot of time with prospective business partners affords you the opportunity to assess the traits that you need to make business go. We all know that what the person brings to the table on paper can be deceiving. Only by spending time with the person behind the paper will you be able to make the right selection. Business meetings, sports activities, dinners, and phone conversations are all ways to spend time with prospective business partners to find out if they are a suitable match for you. Empowering Your Environment Where you are right now--in home and work--might be far from empowering, and with your hardwiring to be loss averse, you're not leaving. Don't despair, because you can still create a happy ending by empowering your environment, or at least make it less than a taxing shelter. Your capacity to interact and influence your environment is what allows you to adjust your shelters from ones that impede your growth to ones that empower it. Mother Nature tells you that you must have an environment that provides you with the emotional nutrients that feed your growth. So, in your intimate relationships, the urge to shelter seek signals that the emotional nutrients, yours and your partners, are not being met- that's why you feel like looking elsewhere. We focus on the relationship between a person and the environment (experience in the sense of Dewey, 1958, 1963) and on the subjective phenomenology of this transaction (subjective experience in Csikszentmihalyi's [1975/2000] sense see also Inghilleri, 1999). The pragmatist tradition within philosophical psychology is the clearest predecessor of the perspective taken, including the view of optimal functioning and the more general model of experience, attentional processes, and the self. From this perspective, people are capable of actively forming goals, investing their attention selectively, and constructing the meaning of their experience.
As noted elsewhere (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1998), others have developed this notion of people as active shapers as well as products of their own experience (for an influential treatment, see Lerner & BuschRossnagel, 1981 for a recent summary, see Brandstadter, 1998). At the same time, humans are socioculturally and historically situated actors whose experience is constituted jointly by environment and person. A person's goals influence transactions with the environment--but only through transactions with the environment will a self be realized. This interactionism (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998) is counterposed to mechanistic psychologies that depict passive actors moved by forces outside their control but also to those humanistic and other psychologies that imply the possibility of subjective experience and initiative unshaped by culture or history. The sociocultural system supplies the taken-for-granted structures of people's experience (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). As consciously encountered by an individual, it is in addition both (a) a source of demands and constraints on the pursuit of needs and desires and, on the other hand, (b) a source of resources, action opportunities, and affordances (Brandstadter, 1998). The former is a long-standing focus of psychologists, who have studied accommodation, defense, and resistance to externally imposed demands and constraints. For example, you're in the mall and you see a store pushing protein powder. In the store window is a giant ad featuring some clean-shaved, super-ripped guy posing shirtless, holding up the best-tasting protein powder the world has ever seen. Do you think that guy got ripped using that powder? He didn't. Chances are he doesn't even use that product. He's just a model getting paid to say, Hey, if you use this, you can look like me, too. Maybe in that same store window (or maybe in an ad in a magazine) there's a photo of a woman in a tight-fitting outfit, with ripped arms and a curvy body, promoting the latest thermogenic supplement. Same thing. Do you think she uses that product? No. A partner who does not know what emotional nutrients you need cannot provide them, and thus, cannot help you grow. In effect, you have to create emotional environmental awareness in your partner. An easy exercise can help.
Sit with your partner and both take 30 minutes to make a list of your most important emotional nutrients. Then, each of you is to make a list of what you think your partner's most important emotional nutrients are and how you feel they could be added into the relationship. Then review your list and share your thoughts and feelings. I've used this exercise many times in counseling couples and in relationship workshops and have found that when partners are aware of each other's emotional nutrients, they can make adjustments and better attend to them. When partners do this, the relationship is empowered--both partners feel relationship growth, and this feeling continues to fuel the empowerment of the relationship. Naturally, there is no guarantee, but the situation is helped if both partners earnestly want to empower their relationship. Note that your tools to implement the preceding exercise are feeling comfortable in disclosing your thoughts and feelings to your partner (otherwise, you will never speak about your true emotional nutrients) and a willingness to listen to their thoughts and feelings. This article addresses the latter, less studied role of sociocultural systems (in this case, art and science) as spheres that provide media for positive experience and self-realization. The arts and sciences encompass both a cultural domain--or body of knowledge, practices, and tools--and an associated social field--or community of practice (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). We will consider how creative artists and scientists exploit the opportunities for vital engagement that these spheres afford. In the course of daily life, people encounter a vast amount of information. Information appears in consciousness through the selective investment of attention. People's subjective experience, the content of consciousness from moment to moment, is thus determined by their decisions about the allocation of limited attention. As William James observed years ago, with perhaps a touch of exaggeration - My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind (cited in Csikszentmihalyi, 1978, p 339). The attention of highly successful scientists, for example, is drawn constantly to their work the eminent chemist Linus Pauling liked to say, I don't think that I'm smarter than a lot of other people working in science, but perhaps I think more about the problems (Creativity in Later Life Project, 1990a, p 16). Attention may be divided or undivided (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993 Dewey, 1913) indifferent or caring (Dewey, 1958). But the company that makes that product sure wants you to associate their product with that woman. That's how they get you. The people you see in the ads for the products;