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The most satisfying and memorable happiness comes with comparative mastery of something that’s just tricky enough. Not so hard we are left frustrated; not so easy we are bored. Just enough challenge to absorb the attention, capture our interest and give us a sense of success, skill or mastery.

Try something too hard and we are easily defeated and disappointed. Repeat something too simple – including many of life’s most addictive pleasures – and our taste buds are no longer so titillated; the enjoyment diminishes, ultimately to naught.

If you want the evidence Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s great insight is that ‘flow‘ is a state of perfect concentrated absorption but which requires the delicate balance of mastery and difficulty.

But the problem is that fulcrum is always moving. And there’s the rub. What brings ‘flow’ today: a new flavour, finding a simple tune on a musical instrument or indeed landing a tough presentation in a boardroom – only continues to do so if the complexity continues to challenge; and your skills and appreciation of them are developing too.

And here’s where my theory ‘Relevant Complexity’ comes in. Some things we enjoy, we will choose to make a life’s work of. Some things we just do to sustain our working lives. But many of the most enjoyable and satisfying things we do follow a common pattern – discovery, initial struggles, then learning, enjoyment, mastery and ‘flow’.

But then, subtly and imperceptibly, sometimes even the things we enjoy the most, tail off into familiarity, ennui and finally boredom.

It seems tragic. But the answer is simple – try new things. Once you are a connoisseur of anything, your palate risks becoming jaded. But there’s always a world of something else which awaits.

Once you can cook a great Bolognaise, try a Masala; the perfection of properly fried spices and onions awaits. Tiring of Da Vinci and the Dutch Masters; try Street Art or the great photographers.

The answer lies, in recognising any and all of life’s pleasures are conditioned by Csikszentmihalyi’s simple equation. So the way to keep them fresh is to keep seeking, finding and joyfully exploring new forms of ‘relevant complexity’ – and the new experiences, conversations and friendships they bring.

This blog explores my own forays into ‘relevant complexity’ – from food to philosophy and the Arts – there’s a menu top right; I’d start with the Chapters and Past Times & Pastimes, that’s what I did…

But most of life’s pleasures are best shared. So please add your own recommendations to the reading lists, recipe books, drinks, recordings and videos in the ‘Comments’ boxes at the bottom of each chapter – with ‘relevant complexity’ the more things there are to try, the better.

‘Relevant complexity’ is a life’s work – and once you see the pattern, anyone and everyone has great discoveries to share.

Relevant Complexity Link

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