When we strike a balance between the challenge of an activity and our skill at performing it, when the rhythm of the work itself feels in sync with our pulse, when we know that what we're doing matters, we can get totally absorbed in our task. That is happiness. The life coach Martha Beck asks new potential clients, "Is there anything you do regularly that makes you forget what time it is?" That forgetting - that pure absorption - is what the psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls "flow" or optimal experience. In an interview with Wired magazine, he described flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." In a typical day that teeters between anxiety and boredom, flow experiences are those flashes of intense living - bright against the dull. These optimal experiences can happen when we're engaged in work paid and unpaid, in sports, in music, in art. The researchers Maria Allison and Margaret Duncan have studied the role of flow in women's lives and looked at factors that contributed to what they call "antiflow." Antiflow was associated with repetitive household tasks, repetitive tasks at work, unchallenging tasks, and work we see as meaningless. But there's an element of chaos when it comes to flow. Even if we're doing meaningful and challenging work, that sense of total absoprtion can elude us. We might get completely and beautifully lost in something today, and, try as we might to re-create the same conditions tomorrow, our task might jsut feel like, well, work. In A Life of One's Own, Marion Milner described her effort to re-create teh conditions of her own recorded moments of happiness, saying, "Often when I felt certain that I had discovered the little mental act which produced the change I walked on air, exulting that I had found the key to my garden of delight and could slip through the door whenever I wished. But most often when I came again the place seemed different, the door overgrown with thorns and my key stuck in the lock. It was as if the first time I had said 'abracadabra' the door had opened, but the next time I must use a different word. (123-124).