- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Rider; New Ed edition (1 Aug. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0712657592
- ISBN-13: 978-0712657594
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 117 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness Paperback – 1 Aug 2002
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"[He] has done more than anyone else to study this state of effortless attending" (Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow)
"Elegantly written...it is more relevant than ever" (The Times)
"Mr Csikszentmihalyi illuminates the accuracy of what philosophers have been saying for centuries: that the way to happiness lies not in mindless hedonism but in mindful challenge" (The New York Times)
What really makes people glad to be alive? What are the inner experiences that make life worthwhile? For more than two decades Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied those states in which people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. His studies revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is 'flow' - a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to complete absorption in an activity and results in the achievement of a perfect state of happiness. Flow has become the classic work on happiness and a major contribution to contemporary psychology. It examines such timeless issues as the challenge of lifelong learning; family relationships; art, sport and sex as 'flow'; the pain of loneliness; optimal use of free time; and how to make our lives meaningful.See all Product description
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The book goes through every type of activity and how to find flow in these. It even explores personal relationships such as talking with friends.
I'd highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a different approach to find meaning in our chaotic lives.
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 fulfilment 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) a 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.
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 afterwards 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.
This book took a long time to read and is quite long winded but the author writes well and I found the content engaging and I stopped reading often to contemplate the meaning of certain passages.
The author could have improved the book by making the content more succinct and summarising the key points more clearly.
Here are some of the ideas that I took away from the book:
• Happiness is a choice
• Our ability to be happy depends on how we interpret events. i.e. control over our consciousness
• A person that has control of their consciousness can focus for as long as necessary to achieve their goals and not be distracted by what the world throws at them in terms of thoughts and other distractions
• The pursuit of material goals does not enhance our ability to control consciousness.
• We should therefore spend more time learning to control consciousness than pursuit of material goals
• The key to flow is growth of the self through a sense of discovery and redefined consciousness
• It’s not what we do that makes us happy, it’s how we do it
• Focus on activities that can create flow
• If you can train your mind well enough then it can entertain you in any moment
• Flow can be diminished if choice is removed and people feel a necessity to complete a certain activity rather than using it as a hobby
• Simply investing psychic energy in an otherwise meaningless task can make it meaningful
• If you lack the ability to control your consciousness then try changing your activity to make it more like a game with inherent rewards
• Hobbies that are most conducive to flow should include skill, goal setting and require discipline
• Invest your time in real challenges rather than watch other people on TV
• Passive entertainment is a waste of time
• Quality of life depends on our work and our relationships
• Flow in relationships can be maintained by constantly finding new challenges
• The value of education is equipping students with the ability to understand and produce flow throughout their lives
• When in a stressful situation do not focus attention on your self but try to focus attention on others and the wider world
• Transform stressful activities into flow activities by setting goals, immersing yourself in the activity and focusing
• The meaning of life is to have a meaning, whatever it is
• Ideally your life’s meaning should transcend the changing conditions of life so that when events unfold you are able to adapt.
• In all aspects of your life choose a goal and go for it.
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