Adventures in Flow

Risk and adventure add excitement to play and life by providing a sense of novelty, challenge, and uncertainty. Engaging in new and exciting activities can create a rush of adrenaline and excitement, leading to increased feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Participating in adventurous activities can also provide a sense of accomplishment, as individuals push themselves beyond their comfort zones and test their abilities.

Williams (2009) describes a group of BASE-jumpers in western Colorado and examines why some people are drawn to extreme sports and others are not. The author observes the group as they prepare to jump, noting the differences in their personalities and backgrounds; highlighting Ted Davenport, a champion extreme skier and BASE-jumper, as an example of someone who feels called to live on the edge.

Williams (2009) also touches on the science behind thrill-seeking behavior and the role genetics play in a person’s inclination towards risk-taking. The author interviews neuroscientist Russell Poldrack and observes Ted, as he undergoes an fMRI brain scan while playing a risk-tolerance-testing video game. The article discusses the three major emotional ingredients to risk-taking – desire for adventure, relative disregard for harm, and impulsivity – and how they relate to each other in determining the level of risk-taking behavior. The article also highlights the role of the ventral striatum, a part of the brain known to be one of the centers of the reward pathway, in providing a sense of novelty and pleasure to adventurers (Williams, 2009).

A similar group to BASE-jumpers are Mountaineers. Mountaineer adventure tourists experience a range of emotions, including contrasting emotions, flow, and peak experiences. Although mountaineering has become a popular form of adventure tourism, there is a lack of research on the participants. Pomfret (2006) contributed a theoretical framework of mountaineer adventure tourists by analyzing previous research on mountaineering, mountaineers, adventure, recreation, and tourism. The framework considers a range of factors, including push elements like risk and mastery, pull elements like the natural mountain environment and conditions, personality attributes such as sensation seeking, and lifestyle factors like previous mountaineering experience (Pomfret, 2006). 

Csikszentmihalyi defines happiness as a state of consciousness called “flow”, which occurs during structured activities that require a skill level slightly higher than one’s current abilities (Choi, 2018). This creates a challenge that motivates the person to focus their energy and attention on the task at hand, resulting in a seamless and empowering experience. The experience of flow is influenced by both objective conditions and the person’s interpretation of those conditions, including their awareness of challenges and their perception of their own skills. In addition to challenging activities, flow is also facilitated by clear goals and immediate feedback, which keep the person fully engaged in the present moment (Choi, 2018). 

However, human consciousness is constantly bombarded by external stimuli and can struggle to maintain order. To make flow experiences easier, Csikszentmihalyi suggests a psychic exercise or brooding of a personal trait, while Husserl proposes a radical method of reduction called transcendental-phenomenological reduction. Husserl’s method involves suspending one’s general judgment of the world and seeing it as a phenomenon derived from the consciousness of the self as the transcendental Ego. While originally designed for epistemological purposes, Husserl’s phenomenology can be aligned with positive psychology to explore happiness studies (Choi, 2018).

It is plausible that Husserl would not reject the idea of using transcendental phenomenology as a foundation for positive psychology and deep hermeneutics in happiness studies. In this sense, deep hermeneutics could be seen as a part of this type of reduction, allowing us to uncover hidden corners of the world through rich discoveries provided by empirical science. In his later phase, Husserl expanded the scope of intentional experiences to include not only the cognitive, but also the aesthetic and instinctual. Additionally, he made an ontological distinction between the transcendental sphere and the factual world, arguing that the former grounds or constitutes the latter and can also ground any sciences belonging to the latter. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Husserl would agree that transcendental phenomenology can provide a foundation for positive psychology (Choi, 2018).

When seeking out adventurous opportunities, individuals might believe that they will gain a sense of accomplishment, or grow personally from new experiences. They may also believe that by taking risks and pushing their boundaries, they will become more confident and resilient. Ultimately, the benefits of risk-taking and adventure-seeking will vary from person to person, but can include increased happiness, satisfaction, and personal fulfillment.


Williams, F. (2009) This is Your Brain on Adventurelink Outside

Pomfret, G. (2006). Mountaineering adventure tourists: a conceptual framework for research. Tourism Management (1982), 27(1), 113–123.

Choi, K. (2018). Transcendental Phenomenology and the Way to Happiness: Husserl’s Reply to Csikszentmihalyi. JBSP. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 49(2), 126–138.

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