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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

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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 left to chance. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness, unlock our potential, and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

303 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

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About the author

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

66 books2,113 followers
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, in terms of pronunciation for non-native speakers of the Hungarian language, but is best known as the architect of the notion of flow and for his years of research and writing on the topic. He is the author of many books and over 120 articles or book chapters. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world's leading researcher on positive psychology.

Csikszentmihalyi once said "Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason." His works are influential and are widely cited.

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Profile Image for Andy Mitchell.
274 reviews59 followers
Read
August 9, 2011
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: parents' interest in the child in that moment
3. choice
4. commitment
5. challenge: parents provide appropriate challenges for their children

Quadrants of flow:

Goal: High challenge, high skill
Low challenge, high skill = boredom
Low skill, high challenge = anxiety

Roger Callois: Four kinds of play

1. agon: competition
2. alea: games of chance
3. ilinx: vetigo, disorienting pleasures
4. mimicry

Yoga

1. yama: restraint
2. niyama: obedience
3. asana: sitting
4. pranayama: breath control
5. pratyahara: withdrawal; ability to see, feel, and hear at will
6. dharana: holding on; concentrate on single stimulus (opp. of 5)
7. dhyana: intense meditation (sans external object of 6)
8. samadhi: self-collectedness

The goal of loss of self is opposite of flow, but the first 7 steps yield greater self-control similar to flow. These 7 steps can be applied in various contexts, with other ultimate goals.

Music, Food: Consume passively or savor actively?

Memorize facts not to memorize, but to gain understanding and contextualized knowledge.
Applying scientific reasoning, mathematical thinking, is viewed as a pleasurable game by experts in the field. How can I encourage this intrinsic enjoyment in my students???

Question: The Bible states that work is a punishment for sin. Is our current ability to specialize jobs a gift of systemic cooperation? Maybe for fortunate people like me who love my work, but certainly not for everyone.

Transformational (not regressive) coping:" "If one operates with unselfconscious assurance, and remains open to the environment and involved in it, a solution is likely to emerge."

Autotelic self:

1. Setting goals
2. Becoming immersed in the activity
3. Paying attention to what is happening
4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience

How does someone stay relaxed under extreme pressure? "There is nothing to it. We don't get upset because we believe that our life is in God's hands, and whatever He decides will be fine with us."

Significant childhood pain can lead to a well-adjusted adult's lifelong theme of service to correct the injustice.

This book appears to assume an intrapersonal learning style (NF?)
Profile Image for Meg Sherman.
169 reviews411 followers
April 16, 2010
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 the book, I immediately begged my dad for his extra copy--just so I could go back through and underline the passages I will need to revisit from now until the day I die.

If you are unhappy, anxious, or generally dissatisfied with the direction of your life, follow this pattern: (1) read the book's scientific assessment of happiness (or at least my summary below), (2) determine what element of "flow" is missing in your life, and (3) fix it! Thanks to this reading experience, I'm on to step #3 now. I feel enlightened with a unique self-understanding, convinced of the possibility of attaining happiness, and determined to eventually experience constant "flow."

If you don't have the time and energy the book requires, read my gross oversimplification of Mr. C's genius below:

WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

A human being experiences happiness to the extent that he can mentally order his consciousness and fight off chaos (what Mr. C refers to as "psychic entropy"). This explains why animals (and people who fight daily for their own basic survival) experience almost constant flow. The meaning of their lives, the focus of their energy, is simple. It might not be enjoyable, but it's simple. We spoiled, idle folk are the ones whining on couches about the lack of fulfillment and happiness in our lives. Why? Because we are overwhelmed by so many complicated concerns that we don't know where to focus our psychic energy.

WHAT IS FLOW?

Here's the crux of the book. While it examines overall "happiness" briefly, it is more concerned with how to truly enjoy the everyday moments of life. Mr. C refers to the process of “losing yourself” and experiencing Buddha-like enlightenment/self-actualization as a state of “flow.” Everyone—from professional athletes to chess masters and punk street kids—recalls a moment in which they seemed to disappear as a person, entirely immersed in the activity in which they were engaged (this differs greatly from drug use and other chemically altering activities, which are temporary fixes for those desperately needing to experience “flow”). Mr. C collected data from various cultures, professions, socio-economic conditions and stages of life, then discovered certain conditions present during “flow,” including:

(1) engagement in an activity that is both challenging and attainable (if the activity is too easy, we’re bored; if it’s too difficult, we’re anxious)
(2) the ability to keep concentration focused on the activity (so… THAT’S the problem I had as a stay-at-home-mom :)
(3) clearly defined goals that are within the individual’s control ("winning the Pulitzer Prize" is not a self-contained goal, for example, because you personally do not choose who wins the Pulitzer)
(4) immediate feedback (our psychic energy tends to atrophy without some verification we’re on the right track)
(5) deep, effortless involvement in the activity-which removes from awareness the worries/frustrations of everyday life (during flow, you “get lost” in what you are doing because so much of your psychic energy is engaged)
(6) sense of control over your own actions (more of that fighting-against-chaos definition of happiness)
(7) non-self-conscious individualism (paradoxically, you lose yourself in what you are doing and eliminate all self-criticism, yet when the process is complete you are actually a “more complex” individual. Mr. C states that “loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of the self, and certainly not a loss of consciousness, but rather, only a loss of consciousness OF the self.” THIS IS SO TRUE! As an actress and musician, my worst performances are always the ones in which I am self-conscious about the performance I am giving. There is no room for selfish awareness in flow!)
(8) some alteration of time (either “hours feel like minutes” or vice versa)

According to Mr. C, the reason most of us classify ourselves as unhappy is that we “keep widening the gap between jobs that are necessary but unpleasant, and leisure pursuits that are enjoyable but have little complexity… To fill free time with activities that require concentration, that increase skills, that lead to a development of the self, is not the same as killing time by watching television or taking recreational drugs.” Once we learn to replicate these essential characteristics of flow, Mr. C contends that we can experience flow in every daily activity—whether performing brain surgery or washing the dishes.

I especially appreciated the sections on how to create a meaningful “flow” relationship with your children, as well as his postulations about the flow experience through writing. His ideas on the correlation between attention disorders and depression are amazing. Only one downer—he occasionally spoke in a deprecating and somewhat condescending manner about religion. As a scientifically-minded individual who finds great purpose and opportunities in my faith, I found his comments too generalized. Other than that, he was intoxicatingly brilliant!

We can experience flow in our home, work, personal relationships, daily activities, everything! We just glance down the list, discover what condition is missing, and get creative. When situations challenge our happiness, we address the problem in a healthy, proactive way and again free up our psychic energy to work toward our life goals.

Bottom line—those who control their inner experience determine their quality of life.

Preach it!

FAVORITE QUOTES:

There are literally thousands of [self-help books:] in print… explaining how to get rich, powerful, loved, or slim… Yet even if their advice were to work, what would be the result afterward in the unlikely event that one did turn into a slim, well-loved, powerful millionaire? Usually what happens is that the person finds himself back at square one, with a new list of wishes, just as dissatisfied as before. What would really satisfy people is not getting slim or rich, but feeling good about their lives. In the quest for happiness, partial solutions don’t work.

Contrary to the myths mankind has created to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs… A meteorite on a collision course with New York City might be obeying all the laws of the universe, but it would still be a damn nuisance.

There is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way.

Mowing the lawn or waiting in a dentist’s office can become enjoyable provided one restructures the activity by providing goals, rules, and the other elements of enjoyment.

“The purpose of flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow… It is a self-communication.” (a mountain climber on “flow”)

Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself. Material conditions are secondary.

Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.

Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal.

If goals are well chosen, and if we have the courage to abide by them despite opposition, we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won’t have the time to be unhappy.







Profile Image for Nathan Maharaj.
59 reviews80 followers
June 11, 2020
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 have been an excellent 10 000 words, but I'm now 3 chapters in without any idea of what his plan is or how he can tell one chapter or sub-chapter from the next.

I get what "Flow" is and it's great and I'm all-in. But this is diarrhea.
Profile Image for Moeen Sahraei.
29 reviews23 followers
July 20, 2021
I’ve read this book for the second time and it is still fascinating. The author of the book and his colleagues have done a comprehensive research on the concept of “happiness” more than 20 years in various countries. From those innumerable researches they theorized this idea named “Flow”.
Flow is a special condition of mind which you use all of your attention and focus intensely on some specific activity with clear goals and immediate feed back.in flow you are unaware of passing time because you are completely absorbed in what you are doing as if you are in unity with it. These enjoyable activities are miscellaneous in their type, a surgeon, a mountain climber, an Olympic swimmer or a simple assembly line worker in a factory can experience flow. People who are in control of their concentration can do what they want in the most optimal way because they use all of their skills and attention, in this process they experience flow and this experience is their primary source of happiness. flow activities are autotelic, which means that you should do any activity for its own sake not for some extrinsic motives like money and etc.
with controlling your attention you can control the content of your mind, and if you control the content of your mind you can align any information with your goals and values, which this process leads to a happier experiences and therefore, a happier life.
If you seek permanent happiness and satisfaction in your life, I highly recommend this book to you
Profile Image for Krishna Chaitanya.
68 reviews122 followers
November 24, 2020
Flow - The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

The quality of one's life can be determined by the control one has on their consciousness. So, how can one control their consciousness? By developing an autotelic personality, with this one can transform an ordinary experience into flow state. Be cautious about the qualities,
self-conscious: What others think about me? Do I make a good enough impression?
self-centered: Everything and everyone should go by my way.
If you have these qualities then drop them at this instant because these personalities invest most of their psychic energy on themselves and has nothing left to invest in flow.


The above image illustrates how one can maintain flow state to perform an activity and complete a task. Your task needs to be challenging enough so you would enjoy while performing the activity, if the task is too easy for you then you would get bored, on the other hand, if the task is too complicated then you would get anxious.

Let's say a person is new to tennis and the objective is to drop the ball on the other side of the court, if he learns to do that and becomes ecstatic(A1). He continues to practice that for a few days, the task isn't challenging enough and becomes bored(A2). Now, if he faces a tough opponent he gets anxious(A3). The task is to practice more, cross new hurdles and match the opponent and he becomes ecstatic again(A4).

Auto means self and telos means goal. The autotelic experience is the enjoyment that is derived by doing the task rather than the outcome of the task. It can be achieved by breaking up the task into 4 phases.

1 - Set specific goals
2 - Be immersive in the activity
3 - Pay attention to what is happening
4 - Enjoy the immediate experience by getting feedback
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,410 followers
March 27, 2014
"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 and found him very insightful. I was definitely not disappointed.

The author defines flow as "the process of achieving happiness through control over our inner life." It's funny because I was talking to someone who was pro-cosmetic surgery and they were surprised that I was so against it (barring for reconstructive use). My argument was people do it because they believe they will be happy and it can eventually become an addiction. Maybe my argument was under-developed but I think this book supported my view.

A link to the author's TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csiks...
Profile Image for Amir Tesla.
161 reviews654 followers
May 28, 2020
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 personality.

This concept of flow, or to put it more precisely, this framework, ended up being something far more than just a productivity tool. It bestowed me with a framework for both a productive and happy life. A framework that if you tap into, robs you of all the anxiety and boredom and fills the void with pleasure, joy, and growth.

When it comes to flow, the ultimate goal is to cultivate a personality which makes you capable of entering the flow whenever you desire. Such a person is called autotelic.
Autotelic people can enjoy situations that ordinary persons would find unbearable.
Autotelic people can manage to be happy even if lost in a desolate island or confined to a prison cell. They transform their agonizing conditions into a manageable and even pleasurable struggle and unlike other people, they do not succumb to the ordeals.

An autotelic person can turn a boring party into a vibrant one, a plateaued sex-life into a passionate one, a dull career into an engaging one, and a dreadful situation into a tranquil one.

Broadly speaking, as an autotelic person, you can invoke the flow as an antidote to any circumstances that might be plagued by boredom or anxiety.

To cultivate an autotelic personality, you have to first, know what flow is, and what are the comprising elements.

What is Flow?
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.

While you’re in the flow, self-consciousness disappears and you lose the sense of time, you are unaware of any stress or anxiety, and the experience itself fills you with delight.

In addition, flow-activities are intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice them, the more you seek to replicate similar experiences.

Flow, a productive antidote to anxiety and boredom
I have experienced all sorts of uncomfortable emotions for a prolonged duration of time, and anxiety has been the most torturous one.

There can be many reasons behind anxiety. But, all those reasons share the same root; that is, the human’s ability to think about the future. This projection into the future, psychologists suggest, makes the mind chaotic. To alleviate anxiety, then, is to establishing order in consciousness.

The Elements of Flow
An activity has to have three elements to provide a room for the flow. These elements are:

1. A Vivid Goal or Challenge — If you want to enter the flow through an activity, it has to have a specific and vivid goal. If you are trying to play the Piano, you know that the goal is to master a specific note. Or when you are practicing shooting, you know the ultimate success is to hit the bulls’ eye. But having just a goal doesn’t guarantee you to reach the flow which takes us to the second element.

2. Feedback and Measuring — For the goal you chose, you have to specify a way to measure your progress towards that goal. Having this feedback is essential to create the flow. In the case of shooting, gaining feedback is as simple as looking at the score panel. In the case of playing the Piano, you are constantly noticing how close you are getting to figuring out the note.

3. Matching the Challenge with Skills— If the challenge of reaching the goal you have chosen is far beyond your current skills, it will cause you anxiety. For instance, if as an amateur, you choose to play a complex Piano note, instead of entering the flow, you will be repelled by anxiety and frustration. If, on the other hand, the challenge of achieving the goal is far below your skills, it will cause you boredom. As a way of illustration, if you choose to play football with kids, the lack of challenge would soon drift you into boredom.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
You can visit my blog to learn how to use flow as an antidote to anxiety and bordom.

Profile Image for Trevor.
1,278 reviews21.3k followers
January 19, 2020
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 to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In that book, Aristotle says that the point of life is to be ‘happy’ – or rather to achieve eudaimonia, which I guess means to be ‘good souled’. To achieve this state involves, in part anyway, achieving Arete – developing your own personal excellence. For Aristotle, actively doing what you are good at doing is what makes life worth living.

This book refers to the experience as ‘flow’ as basically doing whatever it is that is your arete. But this is a book of psychology, so flow is also defined as a mental state with very particular characteristics. For example, you are likely to become less aware of the passage of time when you are in flow (unless the passage of time is a key aspect of whatever it is that you are doing – where getting things done in a particular sequence at just the right time is what is important). All the same, the overall passage of time, in the sense that you look up after starting the task only to be surprised that most of the day has gone, is a key idea here. Other than time-flying, another key idea is that when you achieve a flow-like state you stop thinking about yourself – and this is something I really do agree with. Spending a lot of time thinking about yourself could easily be the definition of a wasted life.

We might as well learn some more Greek – Autotelic is a word that is used throughout this. It means a self-contained activity whose practice is its own end. As such, if you are engaged in an autotelic activity it is likely to feel meaningful for its own sake. For instance, you might be practicing your golf swing. Your desire to be a better player is likely to be the thing that makes this activity so all-consuming. Flow, then, is when your desire to achieve something that is meaning to you consumes the totality of your concentration and being.

I guess my problem with the idea of ‘flow’ is that it seems to me to be a version of Vygotsky’s ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development), if one that is not quite as clear or useful. So, the rest of this review is going to look at my understanding of the relationship of the ZPD to flow.

For Vygotsky, we humans could be known as Homo-Cognita – the learning man – since learning is utterly central to what it means to being human. I think happiness, in the Aristotelian sense, can only be achieved when we still have something left to learn. So, it is lucky the world is constructed in such a way that there is always something else to learn. To really learn we need material that is presented to us in a very particular way. It needs to be directed just over the edge of what we are currently able to do, but not so far over that edge that we fail with every attempt. There is nothing to learn if what we are being taught is too far beyond our current abilities, since if we are never successful, we will be crushed by our inabilities and failings. But this is also true if what we are seeking to achieve is something we already know how to do, since if it is so easy that we succeed with every attempt, we have nothing to learn in that case either and our engagement will be crushed by our own ability.

All of which means that the point of ‘teaching’ someone is for the 'teacher' to help them find what is too easy and what is too hard, and then teach within the zone between those two extremes. That zone what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development – well, sort of, this is all something of an oversimplification, but then, most things are.

One complicating factor here is that Vygotsky believed that we generally learn from someone who already knows how to do the ring we are seeking to learn. And so, learning is about being in contact with a person who already knows and being open to learn from them, as well as them seeking to teach us things that are a stretch for us to grasp.

This is part of the reason why I think Vygotsky’s idea of the ZPD is a better way to understand ‘flow’ than Csikszentmihalyi’s. I think notions that are as vague as arete (although he doesn’t use that word himself, I think he does use the concept) struggle to compete with the clarity of Vygotsky’s idea of the ZPD. For Vygotsky, flow is an expected outcome of being in the ZPD – where one is learning and being constantly challenged by what is there to be learnt. In fact, Vygotsky helps to explain why we find the challenge that comes with being in the ZPD so compelling. Something that I think is harder to understand with the flow concept, or rather, seems to me to be taken for granted in flow. I read something recently that questioned whether it was possible to be in flow if you are not already an expert in the activity. I think this is a confusion that isn’t possible if ‘flow’ is contained within the notion of the ZPD. Within the ZPD, and so at all stages of learning, there are challenges that are just at and slightly beyond the boundaries of your ability, and if what you are learning is meaningful to you and is just beyond your current ability, then you are likely to be in ‘flow’ - a highly engaged and productive learning state.

This is part of the reason why computer games are so compelling and why people might start playing one at 7pm only to realise with a shock that it has suddenly become 2am. Such games are structured so as to present you with a series of challenges that are always just beyond your current abilities and then to feed you lots of rewards for meeting the various components of those challenges as your skills develop. But I think this is also part of the reason why playing computer games can be ultimately depressing. Because, in the end you might well have built a remarkable civilisation or a whole Minecraft world – but even so it will remain a rather barren place, and the skills you have learnt are unlikely to be of much relevance to any other aspect of your life. Computer games, then, can leave you feeling crushed when you finish them, because in the end the esoteric skills they expect you to develop hardly mean anything at all to any other aspect of your life, and once the game is over, well, it's over. Which is hardly Aristotle’s idea of happiness.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this book or not, to be honest. I guess it is a classic, and so, for that reason alone it is good to have read. But really, I think more people should know about Vygotsky and his ZPD, and so, perhaps reading Mind in Society would be a more productive way for you to spend your time. Hard to know.
Profile Image for Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly.
755 reviews330 followers
March 2, 2016

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, I’d see them still going at it seemingly still with full energy and attention, as if they have just begun their sessions.


I never learned to play mahjong. But I got into my father’s second favourite game: chess. I’ve experienced playing chess games starting Saturday noontime and stopping only at noontime of the next day, Sunday. Never feeling any discomfort, tiredness or the lack of sleep. This is called THE FLOW—the secret of happiness, a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.

Expand the scope of this “flow” and prolong it. Imagine yourself being in the “flow” until the day you die. Then you could say—regardless of your station in life—that you’ve lived life to the fullest. A quote from the book:


“…happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside event, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

“Yet we cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it. ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy,’ said J.S. Mill, ‘and you cease to be so.’ It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarised it beautifully in the preface to his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: ‘Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
Profile Image for Jeff.
209 reviews15 followers
Shelved as 'books-i-didn-t-finish'
November 20, 2011
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 concept. Two might be helpful, but any more than that and you've reached the point of diminishing returns.

Another issue I had with the book was the way research was presented. C insists early in the book that he's not writing an academic work. For that reason he explains that research won't be cited in the usual way. The idea is that he'll spare lay readers the boredom that comes from a lot of high-handed academic jargon. One problem with this approach is that it makes "Flow" come off sounding much more fluffy and self-helpy than I expect it really is.

Another problem with this approach is that today's readers have come to expect a certain amount of academic rigor in their pop-psychology and sociology books. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Jonah Leher, Steven Johnson and a host of other have found effective methods of integrating academic studies in a manner that's neither too daunting nor too pedantic. "Flow", by contrast, eschews this approach and suffers for it. In C's defense, "Flow" was written almost two decades ago, long before many of the aforementioned authors were even through grade school.
Profile Image for Grant.
90 reviews2 followers
April 20, 2011
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 the first chapter, which was as much as I could stomach, would have been only 1/4 of its current length if he had spent it talking about his own research and not trying to denegrate other philosophical viewpoints.

And that's really what it comes down to: I don't mind too much if an author - particularly an author of research material - toots their own horn just a little. Good research should be praised, striking conclusions should have a little oomph, and boring research material should have a little flair. But to unjustly and overbearingly declare every other viewpoint on a topic completely and utterly wrong is foolish and offensive.

Read the Wikipedia version of Flow - it cuts things a little more down to size and you don't have to deal with an author who's own self-esteem appears to be tied to how much he puts down every other viewpoint.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,090 reviews135 followers
August 21, 2007
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 of flow. Doing work or an avocation we love, or -- for some of us, reading a really good book :) -- creates flow, where the experience is just challenging enough that it pulls us beyond our usual limits.
Profile Image for Carl Audric Guia.
47 reviews29 followers
February 14, 2021
I may be too young to say this: Flow is life-changing. [I swear my mental age is not 15 y.o. anymore.]

Ever since starting this book I've learned to find happiness even in the small things. When you feel that your life is in chaos, Flow will guide you to order. Not lying.

More importantly, it's a great book on redefining your purpose, both to the self and the universe. To do so in a meaningful way is achieving this optimal experience.

I saw a review that it can be considered a "Handbook on Happiness". I believe that "Handbook on Life" gives it more justice.
Profile Image for Diem.
448 reviews132 followers
June 28, 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 because in order for humans to experience the full measure of life they must find the balance between external challenges and their own skill sets. In pursuing challenges that match your skill set you will continually add to your skill set and thus seek new challenges. This harmony will both be created by and result in what he calls flow: the full immersion of the attention in each moment and action of life.

Well written throughout, I found the end of the book the most compelling. Here, Mr. C shows us the long view and addresses the synthesis of the various aspects of flow into a harmonious life. He focuses one section on life's meaning.

Now, if your life has been infused with meaning by or through religion, you might not find this section as compelling as the others. Me, I've struggled to see the meaning of life. And by struggled, I mean that in my post-adolescence I've been largely satisfied to answer the question, "What is the meaning of life?", with a shrug and a mumble and a, "Please pass the jelly." I don't know and I don't care.

But my kids keep harping on about it. And when they were younger I could get away with things like, "The meaning of life is it is time for your nap." Or, "The meaning of life is pick up your sh!t. I just stepped on another Lego." But now they are getting older and these things don't work. So, it is nice to have options.

Mr. C presents an interesting one. The meaning of life is meaning. Life doesn't come with a universal meaning. But that doesn't mean you can't give it one. So the purpose of your life is to give it some meaning.

I dig that. It speaks to the part of me that likes to do it myself. My kids liked it. Everyone was happy. Then I stepped on a Lego and the moment was over but in that moment the seed of an idea was planted.

I've presented the tiniest fraction of what the book contains. It is worthy of anyone's time and I can't think of a type of person who wouldn't benefit from reading it. Also, there are vampires and they fall in love. See, something for everyone.

Profile Image for Fipah.
220 reviews39 followers
April 19, 2019
This was so bad and so very dated... it's like, oh, I mean.. thank u, next

1.) First of all, is extremely repetitive, I mean he made repetitiveness an art form. The whole book just repeats the exact same thing: people are happy when they get invested in an activity that provides them with constant feedback, has rules and realistic goals. Millions of examples of Katies and Johns who do this are provided, though it is not really discussed how to actually do those activities and stay happy. We have a birds-eye overview of the status quo throughout the whole book. It almost feels insulting, like the author spends almost 300 pages describing that people like hobbies and structure and a sense of purpose. They do this for example via hobbies, sports, education, science and arts. Wow really? Take Miranda who loves knitting (6 pages on Miranda) or Sarah who is a mountain climber (2 pages on Sarah) or chess master Harriet (3 pages on Harriet). Omg.

2.) The interesting bits are always just briefly mentioned but no real solution is provided apart from structuring our free time (like why we always desire more free time but when we have it we often fail using it well and desire out hated jobs again). I was super interested in why we are not happy, why almost everyone fails at being happy in our brief lives. The solution? Invest yourself in anything really, take up a hobby and it is gonna be all good. Like really?

3.) What I absolutely detest is that Mihaly time and time again argues that basically regardless of our outer situation and conditions, we should find happiness in our hardship. The problem is always us. Never the outer environment. For this, he uses the examples of varied people that despite extreme hardship found inner peace and happiness such as prisoners, concentration camp captives (during their time at camps) or factory workers doing extremely inhuman and dangerous labour twelves hours a day. I understand there is some point to be made about our psychology that is so incredible that it allows us to find some rewarding structure in our daily lives despite the hardship such us mental games, counting things, creating fictional worlds - anything we focus on that has some rules, rewards and progress. However, he does not end there, he uses these examples on and on to state that the problem is always us. He never addresses the environment like the fact that maybe the system that locks people in their jobs of extremely hard and repetitive labour is to blame. Such people are stuck in such jobs due to missing education and often get, naturally, stuck in the vicious circles of drugs/alcohol and their jobs. He never discusses the facts that we come from different socioeconomic backgrounds that have a profound influence on our happiness, he never talks about privilege. We are always the ones to blame because if prisoners can be happy/find meaning, why can't you?

4.) At one point he even suggests that young boys that do not engage in gang fights are missing out because these fights give their lives structure compared to those bored kids in safe environments. WTF. I don't even know where to start or even if I should bother. He does not address the horrendous toxic masculinity at all. He really praises this toxic behaviour. Overall the book is of course super dated, stereotypical with regards to genders and sexual identities - the boy "hunts the girl" and the girl "receives the boy". LGBTIQA sexualities/identities/families do not exist in this book.

5.) At p. 270 he kind vaguely/weirdly defended Nazi Adolf Eichmann's behaviour by saying he probably was not aware of his heinous acts because of the flow state he was in. I mean, IDK, but this is dangerous to leave this vague statement just like that. There might be some evidence behind this, I don't know, but this a such a general statement that screams bias.

6.) He is amazing at asking questions like "why some people are happy and some not despite having the power to change their lives?" without providing answers. Except for "find a hobby and do it or stay in your hated job and find something you like in it, because, naturally, you are the problem."

7.) He is so patronising - according to him watching TV equals being brainless and dumb (always, in every scenario and for every child). Also, we should not listen to music, that is a waste of time, we should rather make music only. Here he contradicts his ideas from several chapters before where he praised listening to music - but only in the state of critical flow, never just passively of course.

Absolutely not recommended, this is full of dangerous stereotypes, extremely repetitive, does not create any solutions and always blames the reader for our happiness and life situation. Also very little citations are used this feels like a biased opinion piece rather than well-researched writing!
Profile Image for Lars.
27 reviews4 followers
February 22, 2016
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 self-contradictions [e.g. hating on religion in the beginning of the book, saying it was delusional, and later on acknowledging that there are different things/concepts/modes you can have tuned your mind to resulting in different realities, (which would imply that you cannot judge someone elses reality from your own, since you might be tuned to a different perception)]. What really annoyed me was that he is basically copying Aristotle and throwing in some stoicism. Of course he paints it in the colors of 'scientific research' and smart sounding words. Yet he is utterly careless in his vocabulary. This book was definitely not worth my time.
Profile Image for Tomio.
4 reviews8 followers
June 11, 2009
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 large portion of the book is dedicated to examples of how one can achieve this state in all aspects of life and how this can lead to a more pleasant and fulfilling life, from a game developer perspective I found the requirements for such a state much more interesting than the anecdotal evidence.

Csikszentmihaly describes eight aspects of an enjoyable experience, though in terms of requirements, there are really four:

1) Skill must match challenge, and vice versa. From my own experience, this is utmost in creating a state of flow. If skill exceeds the challenge of the task, then one falls into boredom and distraction, and if the challenge is too great for one's skill, there is only frustration. Attaining goals, therefore, must be difficult, but not impossible.

2) Goals must be clear. Without clearly defined markers of achievement, an activity can easily fall into frustration. They grant direction and purpose to the task, and a way of knowing when one is done. The goal need not be anything more than completing the task at hand (such as hiking a mountain), so long as the goal is well defined.

3) Feedback. There must be feedback that one is approaching one's goals. One needs feedback frequently enough to gauge how well one is doing, so that one can either feel good about the progress, or adjust tactics, depending on the content of the feedback.

4) Concentration. If a task can be accomplished without explicit attention, then it is merely a distraction. The feedback should always guide attention to the next task.

The other four aspects the author presents (that the activity removes awareness of factors outside the task, that one feels in control of the activity, that one's sense of self dissipates during the activity, and that one's sense of time is altered) to me all seem like effects rather than causes of flow.

Csikszentmihaly was fairly strongly against "passive" flow activities like watching television, because he argued it required no skill and did not improve the self. However, having read Everything Bad is Good For You I'm not sure I can entirely agree. If you accept his posit that social interactions can also be valid flow activities, then there is no particular reason observing and analyzing the interactions of others (televised or not) would not also be enjoyable and beneficial, if not always pleasant, per se. There must be a reason we watch bad television even when we know it to be bad.

So, round about, it is a decent book, and the first half at least is well worth the read for anyone working in interactive media.
Profile Image for Will.
87 reviews16 followers
February 8, 2010
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 just careless with his words? Having slogged through this book, I'd vote for the latter.

Flow is full of oversimplification, intellectual infantilism, and Freudian pseudoscience, but if that's your cup of tea. Feel free to drink.
Profile Image for Mario Tomic.
159 reviews299 followers
October 4, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Sato.
36 reviews11 followers
February 27, 2019
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 then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.

Flow as a state of optimal experience generates what we refer to as happiness and enjoyment. Enjoyment in turn appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act. This is what we've already experienced in our life. The relationship between our performance and the task we perform predominantly determines our stance. If the situation presents a great challenge which our performance can't tackle, frustration or anxiety takes over but if the challenge demands a tiny fragment of our performance, boredom takes over. Flow is a state in between.

Body in flow: How flow presents itself in movements and activities is well elaborated in this book.Today there are several representation of body in flow from finding flow in sex to martial arts, music and etc. I want to present a clear indication of flow based on my own observations. I'm mainly interested in soccer and players like Zidane, Prilo, Iniesta are my favorite players. These players to a great extend share something in common. They exert their own extraordinary tone on the play regardless the external pressure. Keeping this serene style demands a different level which is a clear indication of Flow in their performance.

Thought in Flow:
Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment.
Setting an internal order out of ubiquitous external orders in our mind is a challenging and at the same time interesting step to turn the tragedy of being primed by any possible external order into the triumph of setting our own internal orders.
Whenever the outside world offers no mercy, an internal symbolic system can become a salvation. Anyone in possession of portable rules for the mind has a great advantage. In conditions of extreme deprivation poets, mathematicians, musicians, historians, and biblical experts have stood out as islands of sanity surrounded by the waves of chaos.
This is what Cal Newport in Deep work refers to as Productive Meditation. Try to set your own internal orders to have an edge over external orders.

Flow of body and flow of thought are almost identical flows in different frames. By the time author elaborates over how easy we pass our train of thought under
external stimuli like TV. Today by presence of ubiquitous stimuli to train thought over their own desired tones, the importance of this subject is more highlighted. One who can't stand five minutes with himself by not checking his cell phone or not listening to music needs to take care crucially.
Far from setting flow in their life, they need to arrange some orders in their consciousness to avoid sliding over external stimuli in a matter of seconds.

Embrace solitude:Keeping order in mind within is very difficult since we've set an externally stimulated mindsets over time. We've got plenty of potential distractions on periphery
of our minds. Resorting to external orders in solitude is also a dangerous point. What Drugs and Drinking, Pornography, TV and social media present account for losing the requisite order to set in our minds. They bring forward a variety of external orders for our disordered mind.
If a person does not know how to control attention in solitude, he will inevitably turn to the easy external solutions: drugs, entertainment, excitement—whatever dulls or distracts the mind. When a person is able to call upon such activities at will, regardless of what is happening externally, then one has learned how to shape the quality of life.

Cheating Chaos
In this process, we shall examine some of the strategies people use to cope with stressful events, and review how an autotelic self can manage to create order out of chaos.
Attributing the ability to make a prosperous performance out of a chaotic situation only to courage without further elaborations seems so primitive to give the original fact in fuller sense. The ability to capture chaos and destructive structures and shaping them into steppingstone in our life demands more elaboration and dissipative structures.
Autotelic self: The “autotelic self” is one that easily translates potential threats into enjoyable challenges, and therefore maintains its inner harmony. A person who is never bored, seldom anxious, involved with what goes on, and in flow most of the time may be said to have an autotelic self.
What it takes to have an autotelic self is presented in a sequence of steps and strategies. Happiness to some extent is by-product of having an autotelic self and as the author states:The difference between someone who enjoys life and someone who is overwhelmed by it is a product of a combination of such external factors and the way a person has come to interpret them—that is, whether he sees challenges as threats or as opportunities for action.

The making of Meaning
What this step involves is turning all life into a unified flow experience.
It is relatively easy to bring order to the mind for short stretches of time; any realistic goal can accomplish this.But it is much more difficult to extend this state of being through the entirety of life. For this it is necessary to invest energy in goals that are so persuasive that they justify effort even when our resources are exhausted and when fate is merciless in refusing us a chance at having a comfortable life. And then we shall directly feel a sense of order in the warp and the woof of life
that fits every thought and emotion into a harmonious whole.
Profile Image for Karan Bajaj.
27 reviews286 followers
February 1, 2016
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 presented the thesis was.
Profile Image for Herbie.
198 reviews69 followers
Read
July 28, 2008
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 that the book has an aura of scholarly dryness, it is not afraid to reference, in a loose and almost associative way, everything and anything - modern life, ancient cultures, philosophies from every corner of the world, sports, games, etc. The ubiquity of the television is often discussed. I would like to put this book's perspective on TV up against Don't Let Me Be Lonely and see what ensues.

Some quotes:

"The largest part of free time - almost half of it for American adults - is spent in front of the television set... although watching TV requires the processing of visual images, very little else in the way of memor, thinking, or volition is required. Not surprisingly, people report some of the lowest levels of concentration, use of skills, clarity of thought, and feelings of potency when watching television. The other leisure activities people usually do at home are only a little more demanding. Reading most newspapers and magazines, talking to other people, and gazing out the window also involve processing very little new information, and thus require little concentration." (30)

"Olympians do not have an exclusive gift in finding enjoyment in pushing performance beyond existing boundaries. Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow to be a little stronger. The joy of surpassing the limits of the body is open to all." (97)

On the "institution of 'drinking buddies:'"

"In the congenial atmosphere of tavern, pub... they grind the day away playing cards, darts, or checkers while arguing and teasing one another. Meanwhile everyone feels his existence validated by the reciprocal attention paid to one another's ideas and idiosyncracies. This... keeps at bay the disorganization that solitude brings to the passive mind, but without stimulating much growth. It is rather like a collective form of television watching, and although it is more complex in that it requires participation, its actions and phrases tend to be rigidly scripted and highly predictable." (186)

"When average people are asked to name the individuals they admire the most, and to explain why these men and women are admired, courage and the ability to overcome hardship are the qualities most often mentioned as a reason for admiration." (200)

"The future will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely." - C.K. Brightbill, quoted on p 163.
Profile Image for Alex Hasha.
29 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Saeed.
173 reviews51 followers
April 5, 2017
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 can be applied to physical, mental and social activities.

اگر در گوگل اسکولار نگاه کنید متوجه می شوید که مقاله هایی زیادی به اسم نویسنده در این زمینه به چاپ رسیده است، در حقیقت فلو یک تبلیغ لایف استایل است که من بهش میگم لایف استایل کند

slow life style (Levin) versus fast life style (Vronsky) in Anna Karenina

مثلاً این سوال مطرح می شود که آیا خوردن شکلات لذت بخش تراست یا شستن ظرف های کثیف
واقعاً خیلی جالبه که این نویسنده کار را وسیله ای برای شادی معرفی کرده است
می توان گفت که خوردن شکلات نماینده‌ی سبک زندگی تند و شستن ظرف‌ها نماینده‌ی سبک زندگی کند است
(یا مثلاً تلویزیون دیدن (تند) در مقابل کتاب خوندن (کند

نمی دونم نویسنده مفهوم فلو را تعریف می‌کند بعدش من توقع داشتم که فرمول رسیدن به فلو را هم بیان کند ولی کتاب راجع به این موضوع صحبتی نکرده و در عوض به بیان سبک زندگی فلو می پردازد


برای من این جوری بود که خواندن کتاب از یک جایی به بعد سخت و خسته کننده بود مخصوصاً دو فصل آخر کتاب که نویسنده به کل از مفهوم فلو فاصله می گیرد و شروع می کند به باز گویی کتاب «انسان در جستجوی معنای» دکتر فرانکل
به نظر من کتاب
deep work Cal Newport
نسبت به کتاب فلو دلچسب تر و بهتر است

درسی که آموختم: هرگز تنبلی نکنم

اگر از سبک نویسندگی نویسنده و خسته کننده بودن کتاب بگذریم، چیزی که واقعاً من بعد از مطالعه این کتاب و کتاب «کار عمیق» و همچنین کتاب «راه ثروت» بنجامین فرانکلین متوجه شدم، ارزش مند بودن و لذت بخش بودن سبک زندگی است که انسان با کار بدست می آورد. تفکری که من نداشتم، مخصوصاً بعد از خواندن کتاب‌هایی مثل کتاب «پدر پولدار» کیوساکی و«میلیونر فست‌لین» مارکو که برای من این طور شده بود که من دید خوبی نسبت به کار کردن نداشته باشم؛ جوری شده بود که من فکر می‌کردم که هر کسی کار می‌کند درون «رت ریس» قرار دارد
Profile Image for Pradnya K..
250 reviews94 followers
October 23, 2017
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 one can find?

The crux of the book is what the writer describes as Flow, the action which takes our mind off the goal, time, worries and every other thing except the current moment. This Flow act commands attention and bring a sense of achievement and control. Every person has his own set of flow moments, like a mountaineer while climbing mountains, a dancer while dancing or a player in the act of play, provided the complexity of the act and his skills do match.

I remember my bicycle learning experience when I think of this. It made me forget everything accept a pedal at a time and maintaining balance. The mind was focused on only one pedal at a time and rest of the world was just out of context. That's one act. The book also speaks of the occupations and how the one following his favorite vocation seems radiating in spite of the hard work. I recalled my dedicated, diligent surgeon friends who always seem to be having the best times of their lives. I ask them how was the day and I always get the answer, "it was a beautiful day." I never thought it was made-up answer but after reading the book I see why they enjoy their work.

It seems like a lifetime of research went in writing this book. There is study of philosophies, of religions, of history. It's one of those books that should lie on the top of the book shelf and one should return to, every now and then.
Profile Image for Chris Shank.
162 reviews126 followers
August 1, 2013
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 truly think everyone who is serious about living life to its fullest should read this book. However, that is not to say that I think everyone is ready to read this book, partly because it is slow-going in parts and one would probably need to be accustomed to reading in general just to get through it; or a person’s life may be too busy to really soak it in; or it may be outside the range of understanding until some other foundation is laid. It’s a relatively short book (about 230 pages), but it could take some time to assimilate the revolutionary concepts.

I can hear the question now, “What’s so revolutionary about it?” Well, wipe that sneer off your face (and the piece of brownie on your chin…a little lower…to the right…there…got it) and let me tell ya! It claims that we can be most happy when we encounter problems; that we are often unaware of how unfulfilled we are during our free time, or vice versa, how fulfilled we are when working; that we can enjoy ‘optimum experience’ in any employment at any pay rate; that we often miss out of fulfilling experiences because we don’t know how to identify and pursue opportunities for ‘flow’; and a meaningful life can be lived with satisfaction on a variety of levels, with potential for adjusting and redirecting goals/action at any moment.

Hear me when I say, this book really helps to clear up the ideas of happiness, enjoyment, purpose, and meaning in life. It isn’t a tired self-help book or the latest insipid leadership bestseller. It’s ground-breaking in psychology and sociology, bringing new light to the meaning of work and suffering, and explaining why and how we can enjoy life as a result from—not merely in spite of—difficulty. “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

And, for what it’s worth to some, I found this to be an exquisitely phrased and very nicely illustrated response to the rise of relativistic inertia (aporia) in postmodern worldviews that some feel will inevitably bankrupt the morality of future generations. This book, however, would indicate otherwise, namely that a lifestyle of meaning, happiness and moral stability is possible with a postmodern mindset. What’s more, a person who is free from the constraints of antiquated rules and traditions that are no longer relevant or helpful in our world have more opportunities, not less, to enlarge his sense of meaning and happiness in the universe.

To begin with, the author uses the word “flow” to mean that state of naturally confident and euphoric being we sometimes describe as being “in the zone,” or enjoying a attitude of absolute positivity and a sense of accomplishment. It is where one feels like there is a strong and steady flow to the process of one’s experience of life that produces a sense of overall purpose and rightness. We all know that feeling. We sometimes describe it as feeling like we’re doing something that we were “born to do.” It’s the thrill of mastery over chaos, the moving of a mountain, or trailblazing a new territory which brings intense focus and elation. “Flow [is] the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” It’s not the restful state of not-being-bothered, but exercising control and exerting oneself with positive results, including a new sense of order in one’s actions and, what’s further, a sense of knowing one’s place in the universe.

To study people’s widely varying experiences of flow, the author and his research team at the University of Chicago tried something ingenious. They sent home beepers to thousands of people all over the world: aging women in Korea, adults in Thailand and India, teenagers in Tokyo, Navajo shepherds, farms in the Italian Alps, and workers on the assembly line in Chicago. The beepers went off at random times throughout the week, and participants had to stop what they were doing to journal a few things inluding what they were doing, what they were feeling, what they were thinking about, and what they would rather be doing.

What they found was a pattern of experiencing flow that was consistent with people in all places, occupations, and stages of life. The research team’s study found—as illustrated in a graph where the x axis represents difficulty, and the y axis represents skills—that for most people if difficulty in tasks increased, but their skills did not increase, the result was anxiety; while increasing skills without increasing difficulty/challenges resulted in boredom. (See graph at http://www.gamasutra.com/db_area/imag...)

Enjoyment, or “flow”, became evidenced as the vector between the two that revealed a balance of difficulty/skills that were continually increasing in complexity. The possibility of experiencing flow was pretty much, across the board, attainable by anyone in any situation. The research also concluded that flow might even be more often present in situations where a person may not have been conscious of the potential for flow, like at work or during an arduous task; while, ironically, they reported experiencing less flow during their vacation, weekends, or free time. Even so, the experience of flow appeared to be largely unacknowledged by participants in the study when it wasn’t anticipated, and they still reported a desire to be somewhere other than work even when experiencing flow, chasing that ever-elusive, difficulty-free pastime that would be thrilling and fulfilling with the least amount of work. This is explained by the author as a culturally ingrained expectation, a desire for some type of easy-Eden that appears in every culture’s mythos.

Evidently, enjoyment far outweighs pleasure in most people’s values. “Enjoyment occurs when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire [pleasure]; but has gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before.” In this sense, enjoyment is a transcendent becoming of more than one was, an expansion of being; or what Nietzsche would describe as life “which must ever surpass itself.” The author lists and gives excellent treatment of the conditions and symptoms of this enjoyment, which are:

1. Confronting achievable tasks
2. Concentration
3. Clear goals
4. Immediate feedback
5. Deep and effortless involvement that crowds out other worries
6. Sense of control over actions/environment
7. Loss of self-awareness, but stronger awareness after activity ends
8. Loss of sense of time

But lest someone think that enjoyment sounds too strictly formulaic, we must keep in mind that enjoyment might indeed occur accidentally, but the author is mostly interested in helping people learn from, so as to repeat, their experiences of enjoyment in life, which enjoyment is always a possibility in any circumstance since everything we do is potentially a source of enjoyment. Not only can we find enjoyment in any situation, but the author concludes that the mind can be exercised as a ‘dissipative structure’, which is a system that actually feeds off chaotic or destructive energy and channels it in positive ways. “Without [dissipative capabilities] we would be constantly suffering through the random bombardment of stray psychological meteorites” calculated to reduce our focus and effectiveness. Enjoyment, then, is not only a creation of meaningful experiences (‘autotelic’—self purposing) from static factuality, but it can also be a transformation of negative energy into positive energy (‘dissipative’).

Order in the mind is something we take for granted. When the ideas inside our head about the world are ordered well, the world outside our head is better managed and adapted to. When disorder arises, so do frustration, confusion, anger, and fear. The author hits this emphasis of cognitive structure pretty hard. Order in the mind offers better choices and paths in the world, and helps to sort and sharpen our skills as difficulty increases. “Everything we experience—joy or pain, interest or boredom—is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to control this information, we can decide what our lives will be like.” Any professional without an accurate internal map of the world or sophisticated gear developed by an internal plan is not going to be as effective. Language, music, poetry, memory, internal dialogue, and creative games are all discussed by the author as ways to utilize our ability to encode the external world in a downloadable ‘binary’ of abstractions and symbols which help to order and evolve this inner world.

Games are given no trivial role here. Everything in life is a potential game-- as one philosopher put it, “everything that happens to us is a chance”—and every challenge can cultivate skills and increase complexity with regular feedback and rewards. I am reminded of Thoreau’s words, “Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.” Small games incorporated into daily life are dubbed by the author ‘microflow’, small games which help us find enjoyment and create ‘play’ out of the mundane. I especially loved the author’s comparison of culture with game. “The difference [between culture and game] is mainly one of scale…both consist of more or less arbitrary goals and rules that allow people to become involved in a process and act with a minimum of doubts and distractions…culture as a whole becomes a ‘great game’.” He sees religion, law, customs and traditions to be ways to set manageable, though perhaps sometimes narrow and abortive, parameters on an otherwise infinite host of options and information. “Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos…Cultures prescribe norms, evolve goals, build beliefs that help us tackle the challenges of existence. In so doing they must rule out many alternative goals and beliefs, and thereby limit possibilities; but this channeling of attention to a limited set of goals and means is what allows effortless action within self-created boundaries.”

Religion and custom even of the most primitive nature can optimize “life-space” (my words), exploring and exhausting the possibilities of a limited sphere of thought and existence, although it becomes quickly detrimental when cultural space is optimized but there is no growth towards increasing complexity or extending the boundaries outward. A checker’s game has only so many moves; new chess pieces and rules increase the possibilities and skills involved with the same board; a different board altogether allows for a larger variety of games and therefore skills developed. The goal of flow is enjoyment through optimized practice and growth, and this is facilitated by respecting the rules of culture and game, but also being willing to change the rules and even the game when the time comes.

The author bear-hugs some big topics for such a little book, including the nature of consciousness and the ‘meaning of meaning’, the latter actually being an excellent application of his ideas to the bigger questions of life. He breaks down the semantics of the word ‘meaning’ into three categories: 1) Meaning as a ultimate goal or purpose (“the meaning of food is give us energy”), 2) Meaning as personal intention and resolution (“he was meaning to take the trash out”), and 3) Meaning as a personal ordering of impersonal information, identities and events (“the sound of ambulance sirens means that someone is in need of medical attention”). He goes on to expound on these senses of meaning as applied to our desire to discover the meaning of life, and he actually does a fantastic job on the topic, even if the results may seem initially anticlimactic to theistic worldviews.

To the question, “How do we learn which goals are worthwhile to pursue with the antiquation of many traditional values and goals?” he answers by, “Through trial and error, through intense cultivation, we can straighten out the tangled skein of conflicting goals, and choose the one that will give purpose to our action.” Not as comforting as it may be true. Consciousness has brought some boons (though the author was a bit obscure on this point when he compared human consciousness with animal behavior which apparently is “always in a state of flow”) as far as more nuanced enjoyment and complexity of being through tackling more difficult goals and struggling towards the light of understanding and mastery; but there’s no denial that problems become more complex too, and often challenges and skills are out of balance for a time, inducing anxiety or boredom.

Now, to be fair, and I feel like someone should say it at this point, so it might as well be me, despite the overwhelmingly positive tenor of the book and the proposition that enjoyment is achievable by all people in all situations; still, some people’s lives suck, and that’s all there is to it. Take, for example, children exploited in forced labor, abuse, or neglect; people with mind-crippling illnesses or disabilities; or anyone in situations that endure unimaginable cruelty or agony emotionally, mentally, or physically. Granted, the author says that “stress exists only if we experience it; it takes the most extreme objective conditions to cause it directly”, but those extreme conditions do exist for some people, and the only way out is a cure and not merely a new way to look at the problem. But the author’s point is that extreme, volition-crippling circumstances and suffering are the exceptions, not the rule; and it would behoove us to prepare for what we can fix, not what we can’t fix. And, as a rule, we are able to experience enjoyment much more than we often tend to believe, as our dissipative, autotelic capabilities are much more vast and near to hand than we often assess them to be.

Overall, I found this author to be extremely reasonable and balanced in his approach, and I began to trust him the more I read. He used a multitude of real life vignettes, staying grounded in reality by widely varied anecdotes. He never drifted too far into theory before he snapped back to real life. It seemed very fair and considerate towards differing viewpoints, especially regarding the value of historical events and belief systems which have helped to shape humanity. He doesn’t claim to offer a final weltanschuuang—an answer to everything—but he does offer something…that works! So, there’s that. It seems that a universal practice—not a uniform, formally expressed praxis—has worked pretty well for people throughout all time and places to produce flow and enjoyment; and still seems to be, at bottom, what makes people most happy. At the very least this is a good fix until we find what we are looking for.

Well done, Csikszentmihalyi! Bravo!
Profile Image for King.
80 reviews5 followers
March 1, 2011
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 Action and Awareness
3. Clear goals and feedback
4. The activity has structure
5. Focus
6. The loss of self consciousness
7. The loss of the awareness of time

To be honest I was disappointed with this book. After reading Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis," I had such high expectations for one of the pioneers of the Positive Psychology movement. I can see why some critics claim the movement is merely neo-humanism. A rehashing of what Adler, Maslow, Erickson et al have said.

To be fair though, he did write in the preface that he had written this edition in laymen's terms. I think he watered it down too much. It read like a run of the mill self-help book, with the usual "its not the situation, it's your interpretation of it," that determines your feelings, etc. etc. etc.

I feel like the book merely points out things that, on some level, we all intuitively know already. The book is content in merely observing and categorizing human behavior, an attribute of popular psychology, which I feel gives psychology demerits in credibility. The book is content with saying aim for this but barely touches the surface of the important thing which is: how?

I also have qualms in C's method of data collection. He uses a method he calls the ESM or Experience Sampling Method. The method involves giving subjects a pager that will sound at certain points of the day. The subject is then suppose to write down their feelings at that time. Basically a sporadic interviewing of the subjects. This poses a problem as what people write are not really what they mean. For example, in Cacioppo and Patrick's "Loneliness," they presented a subject who overtly showed and expressed that he was a happy person. But when the subject was asked to answer a questionnaire used to determine if someone is depressed, his answers revealed that he was indeed the opposite of what he was telling people. He was depressed and he agreed to the findings of the questionnaire. Of course in any science, our measurements are only as good as the tools we use to measure with. In psychology, this becomes convoluted.

I do however, think of the postulates much. Particularly when I am working with my client who is cognitively impaired, I think, "How can I get this person into flow?" So there is definitely something there. I just wish he hadn't buried the paradigm with glitter.
Profile Image for Catalina.
25 reviews
June 15, 2019
*long sigh* fuck me, where do I even begin. It took me ages to get through this boring dumpster fire, and I feel none the wiser for it. I only read it because it was mentioned in Kahneman’s excellent “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, the concept sounded interesting to me and I wasn’t expecting to encounter this infuriating ProtoPeterson drudgery. There may be people out there who might be enlightened by the contents of this book, but I’m not one of them.

Up until the 200th-ish page I was set on giving it two stars, because I felt like maybe a condensed description of the state of flow and how to achieve it might have some value (you know, without ALL. THOSE. FUCKING. EXAMPLES; for every concept he introduces, Mihaly has to quote 10 different Karens on the flow state they achieve while making “Live Laugh Love” cross-stitching projects), but then I got to the point where he talked about the merits of holistic medicine and self healing pseudoscience and I felt the strong urge to hurl it into the wall. I only finished it because I was suffering from a bad case of sunken cost fallacy (also the fact that I tend to stubbornly insist on finishing even those books I loathe).

Mihaly’s obnoxious peacocking - he seemed more interested in showing off his general knowledge and what a man of culture he is than in explaining the science backing his claims - didn’t help the book either. Oh, and he makes it abundantly clear that HE DOESN’T OWN A TV Y’ALL TV IS FOR UNCULTURED SWINE AND OFFERS ZERO OPPORTUNITIES FOR FLOW EXPERIENCES.
Profile Image for امیرمحمد حیدری.
Author 1 book44 followers
April 29, 2022
ترجمه‌شده تحت عنوان «تجربه‌ی اوج». سیصدچهارصد صفحه خزعبل. مثبت‌نگریِ کورکورانه. هیچ‌چیز دیگری برای عرضه ندارد و اتلاف وقت محض است.
Profile Image for Du Nguyen.
215 reviews16 followers
March 20, 2016
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a book expanding on the author's research. The original research article posited the theory of flow which is a mental state characterized by 8 components, including, a task with clear goals, a task which provides immediate feedback and so on. The theory of flow has been crucial in research and my entire master's thesis was based on the theory. So going into this book I perhaps had an expectation that I would like it.

I didn't. Csikszentmihalyi writes about almost everything else but flow. He equals flow with happiness but doesn't build on this in any way. Instead it is just a quite comprehensive, but ultimately personal account into what makes people happy. None of the statements about happiness is really backed up by any research or at least the author doesn't try to justify any of the claims made in the book.
The structure of the book is also lacking. Csikszentmihalyi divides the book into aspects of life and with chapters devoted into work, family life, friends and so on. Reading each chapter is however just jumping back and forth between viewpoints, anecdotes and once and a while some research. The loose structure makes it quite difficult to see how the author thinks that happiness can be gained.

The theory of flow is groundbreaking and an extremely interesting research topic. The problem is that the book does not measure up at all and seems to be the author's opinions instead of being backed up by research or any kind of evidence. I've also read research papers that gave a better introduction to the theory of flow that what Csikszentmihalyi provides in the book. Skip this book and instead find a paper that explains the theory.
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