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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  54,745 ratings  ·  2,833 reviews
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's investigations of "optimal experience" have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just ...more
Paperback, 303 pages
Published January 1st 1990 by Harper Perennial
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Joshua R. Taylor There are large "notes" and "references" sections at the back of the book listing many legitimate research papers, suggesting that the contents of the…moreThere are large "notes" and "references" sections at the back of the book listing many legitimate research papers, suggesting that the contents of the books are fairly legitimate. If you're skeptical about anything you read in the book you can look up the research paper that supposedly proves it.(less)
Jered Linares He is clearly a subject matter expert, but does a great job making it easy enough for a layman to read while also making it possible for the enthusias…moreHe is clearly a subject matter expert, but does a great job making it easy enough for a layman to read while also making it possible for the enthusiast to follow his provided references. (less)

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Andy Mitchell
My notes, including liberal use of direct quotes:

8 elements of enjoyment:

1. confront challenging but completable tasks
2. concentration
3. clear goals
4. immediate feedback
5. deep, effortless involvement (lack of awareness of worries and frustrations)
6. sense of control over actions
7. concern for self disappears (paradoxically awareness of self is heightened immediately after flow)
8. sense of duration of time is altered

5 elements of happy teenagers' growing up:

1. clarity
2. centering: pare
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is quite possibly the most important book I have ever read. Consider it the official "Handbook on Happiness." Part science and part philosophy, it essentially defines happiness itself, then proceeds to explain in detail how we can attain it every waking moment of our lives (hypothetically at least). Although far from a "light read," I found the intense mental concentration the book demanded to be almost physically pleasurable (yes, I am in fact the very definition of a nerd). When I closed ...more
Nathan Maharaj
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
You know that uncle you have, who doesn't have any kids and loves to talk your ear off every Thanksgiving, and he's a really nice guy, and he seems to know a lot of stuff, but when you look up the stuff he quotes he seems to always have it a bit off, and he never seems to have a book with him so maybe he did all his reading when he was young, but there's no point calling bullshit on him, and you get a sense he's not really listening anyway -- well, this book is written by that guy.

This could ha
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
"While humankind collectively has increased its material powers a thousandfold, it has not advanced very far in terms of improving the content of experience."- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

I found this book very intriguing. It made me think a lot, especially on what it means to be happy and satisfied. This is not a self-help manual and the reason I picked it up despite it's self-helpy title and cover is because I had read some of Csikszentmihalyi's stuff in my developmental psychology course an
Amir Tesla
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Flow is the state in which you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the concentration is so intense that there is no attention left to think about anything else, or to worry about any problem.
Full summary of flow: the psychology of optimal experience

I consider myself an obsessive maniac when it comes to productivity. On the pursuit of ways and tools to optimize it, I stumbled on this marvelous book flow: the psychology of optimal experience , and autotelic personal
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

How must you live your life?

Live it in happiness. But how to be happy? When I was a small boy I would often be missing my father for two straight days only to find out that he had been playing mahjong with friends nonstop for 48 or so hours, not getting tired, or sleepy or even hungry (despite the lack of proper meals). The game is played by a group of four, and when my mother would send me to check my father out from wherever part of the neighbourhood they’ve set up their mahjong table to play,
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, psychology
I have meant to read this book for years, but then, there are lots of books I’ve meant to read for years – and the longer I seem to have ‘meant to’ read a book, it seems the less likely I am to actually get around to reading it – a case in point is Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The inspiration to finally read Flow came from my current interest in the gamification of work, where other books I've read around that topic keep mentioning it.

This book is consciously a kind of footnote
Nov 13, 2011 marked it as books-i-didn-t-finish
Given the attention this book has received I had some pretty lofty expectations. Sadly, those expectations weren't met. Part of the problem is that "Flow" is widely cited by the current crop of pop-pscyhology books. For that reason I felt like I got the idea of "flow" long before I even cracked C's book. My "heard it all before" feeling wasn't helped by the redundancy that C builds into his text. Authors and editors take note, one really good example or analogy is usually enough to illustrate a ...more
Aug 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi created the notion of "flow" to describe the experience which we have all had -- but all too rarely for most of us -- of becoming so immersed in and challenged by an experience that we lose track of time, our own self-concsciousness and feel most fully engaged in life. Interestingly, he found, this has little to do with people's most enjoyable leisure activities. Folks love to watch TV and movies, eat dinner with friends and so forth, but rarely does that achieve a state ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Csikszentmihalyi's seminal work in the field of positive psychology reveals a man with a ridiculously hard to spell last name. I can't be the first person to posit this as the reason why he became so interested in how people overcome mental chaos (psychic entropy as it is called in the book) to achieve harmony and, I almost typed satisfaction but that would be missing the point. Csikszentmihalyi (hereafter referred to as Mr. C) actually prescribes against a state of perpetual satisfaction becaus ...more
Mar 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
I love the idea of Flow - I was introduced to it as a college student performing in a large auditioned choir, and while I feel that the idea of flow is very real, I am completely put off by the way in which the author chose to discuss it.

He spends way too much time belittling other groups opinions of how to achieve happiness. If Dr. Csikszentmihalyi's method is so scientifically superior, then he should have the confidence to let his methods and viewpoints stand on their own merit. The whole of
May 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poppsych
Flow was a interesting look into the titular state, that of being "in the zone" or the slightly more dated "on fire". Flow is the mental and physical state of being where one is completely absorbed in the task at hand, and so well matched to the task, that everything else disappears from awareness. Csikszentmihaly makes a distinction here between "fun" and "enjoyment", claiming that something does not have to be fun to be enjoyable, and the latter is ultimately preferable to the former. While a ...more
Feb 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
It took months to finish this book because there's only so much of Mihaly's BS that I can take at a time. The last chapter is a real piece of work, containing (a) an apology for Adolf Eichmann and (b) a call to eugenics as a foundation for a new religion: "The reality of complexification [sic:] is both an *is* and an *ought*: it has happened...but it might not continue unless we wish it to go on. The future of evolution is now in our hands." Is Csikszentmihalyi an insidious repressed Nazi or jus ...more
Mario Tomic
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books you will ever read, if you can pick only 5 books to read in your life this would be one of those! The author simply asked "What makes a life worth living?" It's clearly nothing that money can buy. The book is about how people find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring them in a state the author calls "flow." Super interesting book, can't recommend it enough.
Recipe for self-help book:
1. Use big words that sound smart
2. Make lists of what people are supposed to do
3. Tell them why modern life sucks (bad TV, etc.)
4. Compile anecdotes from 'happy' people
5. Throw in quotations from a lot of smart people
6. Be repetitive (why tell people just once how 'happy' surgeons are, or how bad TV is)

To be fair to Csikszentmihakyi, I have to say that writing to a general audience about such topics is never easy. But this book is riddled with oversimplifications and s
Jul 10, 2008 added it
I read this for a class called "Human Pursuit of Euphoria" during the winter of 2003 at Exeter. That was my senior year, and I was primarily concerned with finding other outlets for my desire to do drugs. Now I am re-reading it. It helps me think about the nitty gritty of everyday self-motivation. I really like this book, even though it seems like a cheesy self-help book. The footnotes in the back and the constant references to psychology research disarm my usual skepticism. At the same time tha ...more
Apr 05, 2017 rated it liked it
A good book but can be more condensed.
After reading this book, I hardly got more than the above points. I was looking for a "how to" book about creating the flow experience. However, this book is really a life philosophy book, which uses "flow" as a paradigm to describe various aspects of life. The general point is very good: we need to create order in mind. And the way is to have a goal and an "autotelic mindset", mainly, focus on the effort, not on external reward or punishment. Such mindset
Karan Bajaj
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a lot of parallels with Eastern mysticism which I've studied for some years. I love the fundamental thesis: your only true moments of transcendental happiness in life are when the "I"--the mind-intellect-ego complex--is completely dissolved. You're so absorbed in an activity that you forget yourself. This is consistent with Eastern thought where the complete dissolution of the self is the goal of human endeavor. I was very impressed with how well researched and how clearly presente ...more
Pradnya K.
It's been some time I was reading it. It's one of those books that read focus and makes you not feel but think. The book gets condensed at times, compelling the reader to think, sometimes ponder on his personal life and on human behavior throughout the history. (whatever we know of that) Many a times it brings back solutions or rather a promise to the nagging questions like what is happiness? Why I'm feeling something is amiss in my life though everything is in order? What is the greatest joy on ...more
Alex Hasha
Jun 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This book has a sometimes annoying pedantic tone, but is basically an interesting repackaging of Buddhist ideas with a view to providing concrete recommendations for how to enjoy your life more. I don't think the author specifically aligns himself with Buddhism, but the parallels are clear to me.
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cal Newport's reference to Flow state in Deep work was a potential motive to pique my curiosity. Although if you've already read Deep Work, you may find identical premises all along this book and Deep Work in different terms. I try not to elaborate further but share some of my interesting parts instead.

It is this dynamic feature that explains why flow activities lead to growth and discovery. One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-improvement
This book is filled with insight. The author explains the personality type possessed by those who experience flow often, the "autotelic" personality. He says that these individuals interpret their negative circumstances in a positive way, continually challenge and enrich themselves, and take ownership of their choices making them more dedicated to their goals. He discusses how to experience flow - that one must become immersed in the activity and perform it for its own sake, in a manner that is ...more
Chris Shank
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every once in a while I read a book that I think some people I know might like or should read, and other times I read a book that I think everyone should read. This is one of those books. It can profoundly change or fortify the way you look at life and happiness…in a good way! I am SO impressed. I wasn’t two chapters in when I was buying a copy for my wife, starting a weekly video-chat with my brother as we read through it together, and telling other friends about it. It did not disappoint. I tr ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Flow is the state where all mental energies are concentrated on an event which results in the person attaining "optimal experience," which is basically happiness. C(I refuse to spell this authors insane surname), states that to be happy we need to lessen our mental chaos by providing/creating a structure for our mental energies to play in. He identifies certain conditions required to achieve flow:

1. The person must be engaged in an activity that requires skill.
2. There is a convergence of Acti
Katherine Addison
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: creativity
I'm a little disheartened to learn that Csikszentmihalyi has gone on to become "the world's foremost producer of personal development and motivational audio programs," because that makes his work sound like exactly the kind of self-help bullshit that he says, in Flow, doesn't do any good. But I can see where, from what he wrote in 1990, he could have become a proselytizer for his theory, and, yeah, that is going to lead you into "personal development" and similar dreadful sounding things.

This book explains that true happiness is obtained by achieving an optimal state of mind called "Flow".

This state of mind can be best described as one where the participant's consciousness is so involved in its activity that self-consciousness disappears, in a way similar to meditation.

This state is most commonly achieved in situations where a goal that participant(s) feel skilled to achieve is set clearly, and for which constant feedback on how close participants are getting. Such Flow experien
Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: just about anyone
this book makes a lot of sense. it's about happiness, consciousness, work, relationships, and purpose--and basically, the thesis is that people are happiest when they have clear goals and well-defined perimeters to work within to achieve those goals.

sounds a little dry, but I found it both interesting and relevant. as someone who is still working out what my "ideal" career or life model looks like, I enjoyed seeing my typical questions examined by a research psychologist, and applied to a large
Lisa Butterworth
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brain-books
I swear i hear this book referenced in half the books I read, it was nice to finally read the source. Lots of good information here, and interesting ways to reframe my approach to setting and acheiving goals.
First Second Books
I know this is an old book but I dusted it off the other day when I was downsizing my bookshelf and gave it another read. I usually find pyschology books a total snooze, but another artist suggested it to me years ago when we were talking about the state of hyperfocus you get when you're "in the zone" with a project and the feeling of happiness you get from accomplishing it.

Since reading, I've come to seek out ways to improve concentration and performance to achieve this state in more areas of
Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was too long. The theme, the main thought was good, but it could have been explained with not so many words.
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A Hungarian psychology professor, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 22. Now at Claremont Graduate University, he is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College.

He is noted for both his work in the study of happiness and creativity and also for his notoriously difficult name, i

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