Tag Archives: Activity

Walking in the sea, an adventure in the Wadden Sea

Saturday morning, 6.30. Time to wake up. It promises to be a fun day: in a couple of hours, I’ll find myself back walking through layers of mud, in wet socks and shoes and covered in mud up to my knees. I’ll be spending four and a half hours through a two to five centimeter layer of sea water, here and there interrupted by a meter-deep waterway for ships or a layer of mud so deep I need all my forces to move forward and prevent myself from getting stuck.

Why on earth did I do this to myself?

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In the North of the Netherlands, the Wadden Sea is a shallow sea, separating five islands from the coast of Frisia and Groningen. The ineraction between the tides create an ecosystem unique in the world. With ebb, the water retracts and leaves the sand plates exposed. They’re like all-you-can-eat buffet in a restaurant or hotel: the shellfish ready to grab are a birds paradise. With flow, the water returns and cockles, crabs and millions of worms have the sand for themselves again.

Beyond many types of birds, another creature enters the plains of the Waddenzee during ebb: the human being; rather than food, it is adventure that he seeks.

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Out in the open

‘Wadlopen’, as a Wadden Sea walking or mudflat hiking as it appears to be called in English, is a special experience. You are out in the open, walking in the sea, in an area that is only accessible during those couple of hours it takes you to cross through. You feel in touch with the elements, facing the wind blowing through your hair and the sun shining on your face. Nature is present in the form of thousands of little worms crawling under your feet, some crabs here and there, and the shells you crush below your feet. We crossed a ‘shell cemetery, where the streams of ebb and flow had deposited hundreds of shells to a sand plate. Further away, we even spotted a seal.

Horizontal alpinism

It is also a tiring experience. Those parts that are  sandy and solid are like a walk on the beach, but many parts are not. Occasionally, you are stuck so deeply in the mud that walking is as tiring as on a mountain. Indeed, wadlopen is also known as ‘horizontal alpinism’. But when you arrive to the coast, or when you experience the magnificence of a warm shower, none of that counts anymore. The only sensation going through you is a feeling of accomplishment and bliss.

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This must be the ‘after’ photo

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At the coast, you arrive to a natural reserve with wild horses!

Csikszentmihalyi, for a flow of happiness

This post was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam. TED’s library contains about fifty talks on happiness. In a new monthly series under the title TED & Happiness, I’ll be sharing the insights of TED speakers about happiness.

When are we happy? TED speaker Csikszentmihalyi has a surprising answer. According to his research, maybe we do better to find pleasure in difficulties activities, even hard work, than those activities that seem relaxing in themselves.

Of all the TED and TEDx talks on happiness, my favourite is the one by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow. His talk is not spectacular. Do not expect flying robots, emotive music or a call for revolution here. But behind his old-fashioned slides (a no fear for using a graph), Csikszentmihalyi shows his passion for passions. In his talk, the psychologist explores where our moments of happiness lie. His examples show that we experiences happiness when we are fully absorbed by an activity that challenges all our skills.

Mountain climbing

According to Csikszentmihalyi, the challenges we face and the skills we can use are the key to flow. Think of a mountain climber that is using all his forces to get around a challenging rock in a difficult climb. He is high on a mountain, fully concentrated and using all his energy to get grip. This is clearly not a relaxing or pleasing activity. The climber does not enjoy the cold wind or the difficulty of the situation he is facing.

Yet, when the climb is going well, it’s likely that he’ll experience flow. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow, or ‘optimal experience’, as an intense moment of concentration where you are fully focused on your present activity. Your self-consciousness disappears. Sense of time becomes distorted. Your hands and feet automatically find their path over the cold rocks. And when you make it to the top, there is a great sense of achievement. All these experiences are so gratifying that you want to climb the rock even if it’s difficult, dangerous, or without a real purpose.

The flow of music, sex… and work!

Thus it is moments of flow, or optimal experience, where happiness lies. The pretext is that if we want to be happy, it is not about being relaxed, but bored, for instance when we are watching TV. Instead, flow-inducing activities are those that require us to be active and to use our skills. Flow can be achieved by sports, by creative activities like music or writing, by sex… and even by work!

The interesting thing is that flow is something different for everybody. Even if I can’t climb mountains or compose music, I can experience it in another way. For me writing is such an area. Sometimes writing my blog articles is a pain. At times, I don’t know exactly what I want to say about the topic I choose. I might be anxious that my ideas aren’t original. But when I get in a good flow, my hands fly over the keyboard. Sentences appear magically on the screen, as if they wrote themselves. And I have the gratifying feeling of having created something that didn’t exist before.

The model of flow - and all other emotions experienced at various combinations of challenge and skill. Image: Wikipedia.

The model of flow – and all other emotions experienced at various combinations of challenge and skill. Image: Wikipedia.

Challenge your skills

The lesson from Csikszentmihalyi is simple. Be active. Work on your passion. Keep discovering and developing your talents. Challenge your skills. That is how you create the conditions that foster your flow.