A man dances and paints the air with his eyes closed as music notes float around

Flow to Happiness

For many people with Parkinson’s, the idea of joyful living stands in complete opposition to where they are now forced to exist. This seems logical since the idea of jubilation vanishes with the abilities that Parkinson’s takes away. However, perhaps we need to adjust the term "happiness" to find a better definition of an overall state instead of moments of grandeur.

Experts on happiness

To me, this redefinition is logical for anyone (Parkinson’s or not) since perfection doesn’t exist for anyone. Thus, a better definition to see happiness as a conscious state of being, instead of some bouncy clown house party or orgasmic moment of (all-too rapidly) fading glory has to be our baseline.

Here, I give you Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is an "expert" on happiness, if ever there was one. While he has the academic research credentials, his real resume is built from his observations on himself and his community, all of which were caught in Hungary during World War II. As a good researcher, he wanted to know what trait was in people who remained positive and what everyone else lack.1

Thinking about his life like this, I can’t help but think about Laurence Gonzales’ dynamic duo of books Deep Survival and Surviving Survival. In those, Gonzales asks a similar question to what helps a person stay calm and find purpose to survival. The same applies to other great books by Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), Harold Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People), and Albert Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus).

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What is the flow?

As for Mihaly, he looks at the concept of flow as the answer to life’s meaning, purpose, and happiness. Simply put, flow is the concept of performing actions, which place a person in a smooth path of creative, positive accomplishment. Here, hours feel like minutes as we produce greatness automatically.1

That said, total time in the flow zone isn’t necessarily everything. Instead, this could be normal sessions of Rock Steady Boxing, dancing, piano playing, or any other activity that we enjoy.

In the end, we control the task, though it can’t be a time-waster like video games. Nevertheless, it could be how we interpret art, music, books, or television. That said, it wouldn’t be endless binge-watching of mindless train-wreck unreality TV.

Finding my own state of happiness

I decided to make a list of 10 things that put me in the flow state. They are all things that I can do with my current level of Parkinson’s.

Art museums

Going to art museums with my wife Heather. Recently, we’ve gone to Philadelphia and Baltimore, but we also went to Paper Moon Diner in Baltimore, which was an artistic wonderland all on its own. And yes, I took a million pictures there.

Walking our dog

Going on walks with Sparky. Unless it’s cold and wet or I have to go to work shortly, we go wherever he wants, however he wants to get there. It’s always a good time when we’re together!


Taking pictures of the chapel in the Convent of Christ (Tomar, Portugal). I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel or inside Meteora’s chapel, but there was no rule against that here, so I took as many pictures as I could from all angles, including while lying on my back. I could have stayed there all afternoon; it was that beautiful.


Ironing clothes while listening to music. This truly relaxes me. Additionally, the music blends into my motion as I perform my favorite household chore. Okay, so it’s not climbing waterfalls, but it does let me unwind. Sunday morning jazz has been working well with that, but almost any genre will suffice if it feels inspired.


Obviously, I love writing, especially when my fingers cooperate. Being able to journal for an appreciative advising class I’m taking has set my mind on fire. Just like our Parkinson’s bodies need to stay loose, so does the mind.

Driving and music

Driving to work this morning, I was really feeling the jammed out seoncd disc of Iron Maiden’s Senjutsu. The last 4 songs last about 40 minutes and they made my morning commute feel like nothing. Music and the highway open me up and empty out my clutter nicely. This is a large part of why I loved those youthful cross-country road trips.

Organizing baseball cards

Finding ways to organize and display my baseball cards creates a sense of history, art, and nostalgia for me, too. I can work for hours, with or without music. That said, if I do listen to music, it tends to be mellow background music like Fleet Foxes’ A Very Lonely Solstice.

Making mix CDs

Making mix CDs can still be an all-day creation event. Yes, I have more mix CDs than many people have CDs.

Photo albums

I’ve been re-organizing photo albums lately, too. Memories and travel inspiration go a long way.

Admiring nature

While I can’t get out in nature like I used to do, I still like seeing the outdoors between the trees, even if it’s only a flat "rails to trails" or an indoor greenhouse like at Longwood Gardens. Beauty is still beauty, even if Parkinson’s removed rugged wilderness from the options.

How about you? What keeps your mind flowing and brings you happiness?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ParkinsonsDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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