Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Book Review


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My rating: 5 Stars

Flow Review:

If you’re feeling a bit lost in a life, and really don’t know what to next, you don’t know how to find way to improve your current situation – then you might want to give this book a chance to help you out. We all live in this fast world where time passes by us too fast, and we find ourselves too often lost and we fell like we fail in so many ways in life. The title of this book suggest on which things you need to focus; and although it’s not a step-by-step guide how and what you need to do – it’s still very useful book.

I do have to say right now that I’ve been through this situation and things presented in this book I’ve applied in my life before even reading this book – and on that note I do agree with the things written in this book. There are some new things that I’ve learned, such as rethink my goals and see whether they are really attainable currently, and maybe I did put too much pressure onto myself to accomplish something that I’m unable to do, at least not for now. And I did created some more attainable goals and working on them; and that did make me more relaxed and happier at this point.

Goal of this book is to help you find Flow in your life, to find something that will fulfill your life and make you more satisfied and happier. Since like 90% of us don’t know what to do with our lives, author has suggested just by looking for everything in which we have interest for and trying it out. Start by things which require little to no money investment to do. Creating more time by cutting TV, social media and the rest of things that occupy your day and using that time to learn something that you always find interesting; maybe focus on reading some books; finding the ways to improve your current skills and learn new ones.

Also this books emphasizes on becoming less materialistic person overall, because chasing only material things will not make us more happier; by cutting TV, social media and focused on exploring yourself more, you’ll come to realize that – I know that I did. It was a struggle, but it’s not impossible and life becomes much more easier when you don’t suffer how to have better car, bigger house, expensive clothing just to impress others. Of course, you’ll still have materialistic goals in life, it’s not that you’ll go to live in forest and get away from civilization forever. But, you’ll be more focused on yourself rather than on impressing others.

Overall I suggest everyone to read this book and have something to help them to clear their minds. We live in a strange world and many people is suffering even though life is so much easier now then it was 50-100 years ago.

If you like, you can read my other reviews of Self-Help Books

Also, check out my Best Business Books List

Flow Summary:

1 HAPPINESS REVISITED

INTRODUCTION

TWENTY-THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal—health, beauty, money, or power—is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy. Much has changed since Aristotle’s time. Our understanding of the worlds of stars and of atoms has expanded beyond belief.

OVERVIEW

Although many articles and books on flow have been written for the specialist, this is the first time that the research on optimal experience is being presented to the general reader and its implications for individual lives discussed. But what follows is not going to be a “how-to” book. There are literally thousands of such volumes in print or on the remainder shelves of book-stores, explaining how to get rich, powerful, loved, or slim.

THE ROOTS OF DISCONTENT

The foremost reason that happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. It is almost immeasurably huge, and most of it is hostilely empty and cold. It is the setting for great violence, as when occasionally a star explodes, turning to ashes everything within billions of miles.

THE SHIELDS OF CULTURE

Over the course of human evolution, as each group of people became gradually aware of the enormity of its isolation in the cosmos and of the precariousness of its hold on survival, it developed myths and beliefs to transform the random, crushing forces of the universe into manageable, or at least understandable, patterns. One of the major functions of every culture has been to shield its members from chaos, to reassure them of their importance and ultimate success.

RECLAIMING EXPERIENCE

There is no way out of this predicament except for an individual to take things in hand personally. If values and institutions no longer provide as supportive a framework as they once did, each person must use whatever tools are available to carve out a meaningful, enjoyable life. One of the most important tools in this quest is provided by psychology.

PATHS OF LIBERATION

This simple truth—that the control of consciousness determines the quality of life—has been known for a long time; in fact, for as long as human records exist. The oracle’s advice in ancient Delphi, “Know thyself,” implied it. It was clearly recognized by Aristotle, whose notion of the “virtuous activity of the soul” in many ways prefigures the argument of this book, and it was developed by the Stoic philosophers in classical antiquity.

THE ANATOMY OF CONSCIOUSNESS 

AT CERTAIN TIMES in history cultures have taken it for granted that a person wasn’t fully human unless he or she learned to master thoughts and feelings. In Confucian China, in ancient Sparta, in Republican Rome, in the early Pilgrim settlements of New England, and among the British upper classes of the Victorian era, people were held responsible for keeping a tight rein on their emotions. Anyone who indulged in self-pity, who let instinct rather than reflection dictate actions, forfeited the right to be accepted as a member of the community.

THE LIMITS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

If it were possible to expand indefinitely what consciousness is able to encompass, one of the most fundamental dreams of humankind would come true. It would be almost as good as being immortal or omnipotent—in short, godlike. We could think everything, feel everything, do everything, scan through so much information that we could fill up every fraction of a second with a rich tapestry of experiences. In the space of a lifetime we could go through a million, or—why not?—through an infinite number of lives.

ATTENTION AS PSYCHIC ENERGY

Information enters consciousness either because we intend to focus attention on it or as a result of attentional habits based on biological or social instructions. For instance, driving down the highway, we pass hundreds of cars without actually being aware of them. Their shape and color might register for a fraction of a second, and then they are immediately forgotten. But occasionally we notice a particular vehicle, perhaps because it is swerving unsteadily between lanes, or because it is moving very slowly, or because of its unusual appearance. The image of the unusual car enters the focus of consciousness, and we become aware of it.

ENTER THE SELF

But what do those first-person pronouns refer to in the lines above, those we s and our s that are supposed to control attention? Where is the I, the entity that decides what to do with the psychic energy generated by the nervous system? Where does the captain of the ship, the master of the soul, reside?

DISORDER IN CONSCIOUSNESS: PSYCHIC ENTROPY

One of the main forces that affects consciousness adversely is psychic disorder—that is, information that conflicts with existing intentions, or distracts us from carrying them out. We give this condition many names, depending on how we experience it: pain, fear, rage, anxiety, or jealousy. All these varieties of disorder force attention to be diverted to undesirable objects, leaving us no longer free to use it according to our preferences. Psychic energy becomes unwieldy and ineffective.

ORDER IN CONSCIOUSNESS: FLOW 

The opposite state from the condition of psychic entropy is optimal experience. When the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly. There is no need to worry, no reason to question one’s adequacy. But whenever one does stop to think about oneself, the evidence is encouraging: “You are doing all right.” The positive feedback strengthens the self, and more attention is freed to deal with the outer and the inner environment.

COMPLEXITY AND THE GROWTH OF THE SELF 

Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow. Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others. Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas and entities beyond the self. A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.

ENJOYMENT AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE 

THERE ARE TWO MAIN STRATEGIES we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better. For instance, feeling secure is an important component of happiness. The sense of security can be improved by buying a gun, installing strong locks on the front door, moving to a safer neighborhood, exerting political pressure on city hall for more police protection, or helping the community to become more conscious of the importance of civil order. All these different responses are aimed at bringing conditions in the environment more in line with our goals.

PLEASURE AND ENJOYMENT

When considering the kind of experience that makes life better, most people first think that happiness consists in experiencing pleasure: good food, good sex, all the comforts that money can buy. We imagine the satisfaction of traveling to exotic places or being surrounded by interesting company and expensive gadgets. If we cannot afford those goals that slick commercials and colorful ads keep reminding us to pursue, then we are happy to settle for a quiet evening in front of the television set with a glass of liquor close by.

THE ELEMENTS OF ENJOYMENT 

The first surprise we encountered in our study was how similarly very different activities were described when they were going especially well. Apparently the way a long-distance swimmer felt when crossing the English Channel was almost identical to the way a chess player felt during a tournament or a climber progressing up a difficult rock face. All these feelings were shared, in important respects, by subjects ranging from musicians composing a new quartet to teenagers from the ghetto involved in a championship basketball game.

We shall take a closer look at each of these elements so that we may better understand what makes enjoyable activities so gratifying. With this knowledge, it is possible to achieve control of consciousness and turn even the most humdrum moments of everyday lives into events that help the self grow.

  • A Challenging Activity That Requires Skills
  • The Merging of Action and Awareness 
  • Clear Goals and Feedback 
  • Concentration on the Task at Hand
  • The Paradox of Control 
  • The Loss of Self-Consciousness 
  • The Transformation of Time 

THE AUTOTELIC EXPERIENCE 

The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward. Playing the stock market in order to make money is not an autotelic experience; but playing it in order to prove one’s skill at foretelling future trends is—even though the outcome in terms of dollars and cents is exactly the same.

Teaching children in order to turn them into good citizens is not autotelic, whereas teaching them because one enjoys interacting with children is. What transpires in the two situations is ostensibly identical; what differs is that when the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake; when it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.

THE CONDITIONS OF FLOW 

WE HAVE SEEN HOW PEOPLE DESCRIBE the common characteristics of optimal experience: a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.

FLOW ACTIVITIES

When describing optimal experience in this book, we have given as examples such activities as making music, rock climbing, dancing, sailing, chess, and so forth. What makes these activities conducive to flow is that they were designed to make optimal experience easier to achieve. They have rules that require the learning of skills, they set up goals, they provide feedback, they make control possible. They facilitate concentration and involvement by making the activity as distinct as possible from the so-called “paramount reality” of everyday existence.

FLOW AND CULTURE

Over the past few generations social scientists have grown extremely unwilling to make value judgments about cultures. Any comparison that is not strictly factual runs the risk of being interpreted as invidious. It is bad form to say that one culture’s practice, or belief, or institution is in any sense better than another’s.

THE AUTOTELIC PERSONALITY

It is not easy to transform ordinary experience into flow, but almost everyone can improve his or her ability to do so. While the remainder of this book will continue to explore the phenomenon of optimal experience, which in turn should help the reader to become more familiar with it, we shall now consider another issue: whether all people have the same potential to control consciousness; and if not, what distinguishes those who do it easily from those who don’t.

  • Neurophysiology and Flow
  • The Effects of the Family on the Autotelic Personality

THE PEOPLE OF FLOW

The traits that mark an autotelic personality are most clearly revealed by people who seem to enjoy situations that ordinary persons would find unbearable. Lost in Antarctica or confined to a prison cell, some individuals succeed in transforming their harrowing conditions into a manageable and even enjoyable struggle, whereas most others would succumb to the ordeal.

THE BODY IN FLOW 

“A MAN POSSESSES NOTHING certainly save a brief loan of his own body,” wrote J. B. Cabell, “yet the body of man is capable of much curious pleasure.” When we are unhappy, depressed, or bored we have an easy remedy at hand: to use the body for all it is worth. Most people nowadays are aware of the importance of health and physical fitness. But the almost unlimited potential for enjoyment that the body offers often remains unexploited.

HIGHER, FASTER, STRONGER

The Latin motto of the modern Olympic games—Altius, citius, fortius—is a good, if incomplete summary of how the body can experience flow. It encompasses the rationale of all sports, which is to do something better than it has ever been done before. The purest form of athletics, and sports in general, is to break through the limitations of what the body can accomplish.

THE JOYS OF MOVEMENT

Sports and fitness are not the only media of physical experience that use the body as a source of enjoyment, for in fact a broad range of activities rely on rhythmic or harmonious movements to generate flow. Among these dance is probably the oldest and the most significant, both for its universal appeal and because of its potential complexity.

SEX AS FLOW 

When people think of enjoyment, usually one of the first things that comes to mind is sex. This is not surprising, because sexuality is certainly one of the most universally rewarding experiences, surpassed in its power to motivate perhaps only by the need to survive, to drink, and to eat. The urge to have sex is so powerful that it can drain psychic energy away from other necessary goals.

THE ULTIMATE CONTROL: YOGA AND THE MARTIAL ARTS

When it comes to learning to control the body and its experiences, we are as children compared to the great Eastern civilizations. In many respects, what the West has accomplished in terms of harnessing material energy is matched by what India and the Far East have achieved in terms of direct control of consciousness.

FLOW THROUGH THE SENSES: THE JOYS OF SEEING

It is easy to accept the fact that sports, sex, and even Yoga can be enjoyable. But few people step beyond these physical activities to explore the almost unlimited capacities of the other organs of the body, even though any information that the nervous system can recognize lends itself to rich and varied flow experiences.

THE FLOW OF MUSIC

In every known culture, the ordering of sound in ways that please the ear has been used extensively to improve the quality of life. One of the most ancient and perhaps the most popular functions of music is to focus the listeners’ attention on patterns appropriate to a desired mood. So there is music for dancing, for weddings, for funerals, for religious and for patriotic occasions; music that facilitates romance, and music that helps soldiers march in orderly ranks.

THE JOYS OF TASTING

Gioacchino Rossini, the composer of William Tell and many other operas, had a good grasp of the relationship between music and food: “What love is to the heart, appetite is to the stomach. The stomach is the conductor that leads and livens up the great orchestra of our emotions.” If music modulates our feelings, so does food; and all the fine cuisines of the world are based on that knowledge. The musical metaphor is echoed by Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, the German physicist who has recently written several cookbooks: “The joy of cooking at home,” he says, “compared to eating in one of the best restaurants, is like playing a string quartet in the living room as compared to a great concert.”

6 THE FLOW OF THOUGHT 

THE GOOD THINGS IN LIFE do not come only through the senses. Some of the most exhilarating experiences we undergo are generated inside the mind, triggered by information that challenges our ability to think, rather than from the use of sensory skills. As Sir Francis Bacon noted almost four hundred years ago, wonder—which is the seed of knowledge—is the reflection of the purest form of pleasure. Just as there are flow activities corresponding to every physical potential of the body, every mental operation is able to provide its own particular form of enjoyment.

THE MOTHER OF SCIENCE

The Greeks personified memory as lady Mnemosyne. Mother of the nine Muses, she was believed to have given birth to all the arts and sciences. It is valid to consider memory the oldest mental skill, from which all others derive, for, if we weren’t able to remember, we couldn’t follow the rules that make other mental operations possible. Neither logic nor poetry could exist, and the rudiments of science would have to be rediscovered with each new generation.

THE RULES OF THE GAMES OF THE MIND 

Memory is not the only tool needed to give shape to what takes place in the mind. It is useless to remember facts unless they fit into patterns, unless one finds likenesses and regularities among them. The simplest ordering system is to give names to things; the words we invent transform discrete events into universal categories.

THE PLAY OF WORDS

How does one start mastering a symbolic system? It depends, of course, on what domain of thought one is interested in exploring. We have seen that the most ancient and perhaps basic set of rules governs the usage of words. And today words still offer many opportunities to enter flow, at various levels of complexity. A somewhat trivial but nevertheless illuminating example concerns working crossword puzzles. There is much to be said in favor of this popular pastime, which in its best form resembles the ancient riddle contests.

BEFRIENDING CLIO

As Memory was the mother of culture, Clio, “The Proclaimer,” was her eldest daughter. In Greek mythology she was the patroness of history, responsible for keeping orderly accounts of past events. Although history lacks the clear rules that make other mental activities like logic, poetry, or mathematics so enjoyable, it has its own unambiguous structure established by the irreversible sequence of events in time. Observing, recording, and preserving the memory of both the large and small events of life is one of the oldest and most satisfying ways to bring order to consciousness.

THE DELIGHTS OF SCIENCE

After reading the preceding section, you may find it just barely plausible that anyone could become an amateur historian. But if we take the argument to another field, can we really conceive of a layperson’s becoming an amateur scientist? After all, we have been told many times that in this century science has become a highly institutionalized activity, with the main action confined to the big leagues.

LOVING WISDOM

“Philosophy” used to mean “love of wisdom,” and people devoted their lives to it for that reason. Nowadays professional philosophers would be embarrassed to acknowledge so naive a conception of their craft. Today a philosopher may be a specialist in deconstructionism or logical positivism, an expert in early Kant or late Hegel, an epistemologist or an existentialist, but don’t bother him with wisdom.

AMATEURS AND PROFESSIONALS

Some individuals prefer to specialize and devote all their energy to one activity, aiming to reach almost professional levels of performance in it. They tend to look down on anyone who is not as skillful and devoted to their specialty as they themselves are. Others prefer to dabble in a variety of activities, taking as much enjoyment as possible from each without necessarily becoming an expert in any one.

There are two words whose meanings reflect our somewhat warped attitudes toward levels of commitment to physical or mental activities. These are the terms amateur and dilettante. Nowadays these labels are slightly derogatory. An amateur or a dilettante is someone not quite up to par, a person not to be taken very seriously, one whose performance falls short of professional standards. But originally, “amateur,” from the Latin verb amare, “to love,” referred to a person who loved what he was doing. Similarly a “dilettante,” from the Latin delectare, “to find delight in,” was someone who enjoyed a given activity. The earliest meanings of these words therefore drew attention to experiences rather than accomplishments; they described the subjective rewards individuals gained from doing things, instead of focusing on how well they were achieving.

THE CHALLENGE OF LIFELONG LEARNING

The aim of this chapter has been to review the ways in which mental activity can produce enjoyment. We have seen that the mind offers at least as many and as intense opportunities for action as does the body. Just as the use of the limbs and of the senses is available to everyone without regard to sex, race, education, or social class, so too the uses of memory, of language, of logic, of the rules of causation are also accessible to anyone who desires to take control of the mind.

WORK AS FLOW

LIKE OTHER ANIMALS, we must spend a large part of our existence making a living: calories needed to fuel the body don’t appear magically on the table, and houses and cars don’t assemble themselves spontaneously. There are no strict formulas, however, for how much time people actually have to work. It seems, for instance, that the early hunter-gatherers, like their present-day descendants living in the inhospitable deserts of Africa and Australia, spent only three to five hours each day on what we would call working—providing for food, shelter, clothing, and tools. They spent the rest of the day in conversation, resting, or dancing.

AUTOTELIC WORKERS

As long as we didn’t care how much we ate, whether or not we lived in solid and well-decorated homes, or whether we could afford the latest fruits of technology, the necessity of working would rest lightly on our shoulders, as it does for the nomads of the Kalahari desert. But the more psychic energy we invest in material goals, and the more improbable the goals grow to be, the more difficult it becomes to make them come true. Then we need increasingly high inputs of labor, mental and physical, as well as inputs of natural resources, to satisfy escalating expectations.

AUTOTELIC JOBS

Serafina, Joe, and Ting are examples of people who have developed an autotelic personality. Despite the severe limitations of their environment they were able to change constraints into opportunities for expressing their freedom and creativity. Their method represents one way to enjoy one’s job while making it richer. The other is to change the job itself, until its conditions are more conducive to flow, even for people who lack autotelic personalities. The more a job inherently resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.

THE PARADOX OF WORK 

It is easier to understand the way work affects the quality of life when we take the long view, and compare ourselves with people from different times and cultures. But eventually we have to look more closely at what is happening here and now. Ancient Chinese cooks, Alpine farmers, surgeons, and welders help illuminate the potential inherent in work, but they are not, after all, very typical of the kind of job most people do nowadays.

THE WASTE OF FREE TIME

Although, as we have seen, people generally long to leave their places of work and get home, ready to put their hard-earned free time to good use, all too often they have no idea what to do there. Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. Hobbies that demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests, and especially inner discipline help to make leisure what it is supposed to be—a chance for re-creation.

ENJOYING SOLITUDE AND OTHER PEOPLE 

STUDIES ON FLOW have demonstrated repeatedly that more than anything else, the quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people. The most detailed information about who we are as individuals comes from those we communicate with, and from the way we accomplish our jobs. Our self is largely defined by what happens in those two contexts, as Freud recognized in his prescription of “love and work” for happiness. The last chapter reviewed some of the flow potentials of work; here we will explore relationships with family and friends, to determine how they can become the source of enjoyable experiences.

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN BEING ALONE AND BEING WITH OTHERS

Of the things that frighten us, the fear of being left out of the flow of human interaction is certainly one of the worst. There is no question that we are social animals; only in the company of other people do we feel complete. In many preliterate cultures solitude is thought to be so intolerable that a person makes a great effort never to be alone; only witches and shamans feel comfortable spending time by themselves.

THE PAIN OF LONELINESS

Most people feel a nearly intolerable sense of emptiness when they are alone, especially with nothing specific to do. Adolescents, adults, and old people all report that their worst experiences have taken place in solitude. Almost every activity is more enjoyable with another person around, and less so when one does it alone. People are more happy, alert, and cheerful if there are others present, compared to how they feel alone, whether they are working on an assembly line or watching television.

TAMING SOLITUDE

Every rule has its exceptions, and even though most people dread solitude, there are some individuals who live alone by choice. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude,” goes the old saying that Francis Bacon repeated, “is either a wild beast or a god.” One does not actually have to be a god, but it is true that to enjoy being alone a person must build his own mental routines, so that he can achieve flow without the supports of civilized life—without other people, without jobs, TV, theaters, restaurants, or libraries to help channel his attention.

FLOW AND THE FAMILY

Some of the most intense and meaningful experiences in people’s lives are the result of family relationships. Many successful men and women would second Lee Iacocca’s statement: “I’ve had a wonderful and successful career. But next to my family, it really hasn’t mattered at all.”

ENJOYING FRIENDS

“The worst solitude,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon, “is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” Compared to familial relationships, friendships are much easier to enjoy. We can choose our friends, and usually do so, on the basis of common interests and complementary goals. We need not change ourselves to be with friends; they reinforce our sense of self instead of trying to transform it. While at home there are many boring things we have to accept, like taking out the garbage and raking up leaves, with friends we can concentrate on things that are “fun.”

THE WIDER COMMUNITY

A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people. In the same way, one can belong to larger interpersonal systems by subscribing to the aspirations of a community, an ethnic group, a political party, or a nation. Some individuals, like the Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, invest all their psychic energy in what they construe to be the goals of humanity as a whole.

CHEATING CHAOS

DESPITE EVERYTHING that has been said so far, some people may still think that it must be easy to be happy as long as one is lucky enough to be healthy, rich, and handsome. But how can the quality of life be improved when things are not going our way, when fortune deals us an unfair hand? One can afford to ponder the difference between enjoyment and pleasure if one doesn’t have to worry about running out of money before the end of the month. For most people, such distinctions are too much of a luxury to be indulged in.

TRAGEDIES TRANSFORMED

It would be naively idealistic to claim that no matter what happens to him, a person in control of consciousness will be happy. There are certainly limits to how much pain, or hunger, or deprivation a body can endure. Yet it is also true, as Dr. Franz Alexander has so well stated: “The fact that the mind rules the body is, in spite of its neglect by biology and medicine, the most fundamental fact which we know about the process of life.”

COPING WITH STRESS

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” remarked Samuel Johnson, in a saying whose truth applies to the cases just presented. A major catastrophe that frustrates a central goal of life will either destroy the self, forcing a person to use all his psychic energy to erect a barrier around remaining goals, defending them against further onslaughts of fate; or it will provide a new, more clear, and more urgent goal: to overcome the challenges created by the defeat. If the second road is taken, the tragedy is not necessarily a detriment to the quality of life.

THE POWER OF DISSIPATIVE STRUCTURES 

One fact that does seem clear, however, is that the ability to make order out of chaos is not unique to psychological processes. In fact, according to some views of evolution, complex life forms depend for their existence on a capacity to extract energy out of entropy—to recycle waste into structured order.

THE AUTOTELIC SELF: A SUMMARY

In this chapter we have seen it demonstrated repeatedly that outside forces do not determine whether adversity will be able to be turned into enjoyment. A person who is healthy, rich, strong, and powerful has no greater odds of being in control of his consciousness than one who is sickly, poor, weak, and oppressed. 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.

10 THE MAKING OF MEANING 

IT IS NOT UNUSUAL for famous tennis players to be deeply committed to their game, to take pleasure in playing, but off the court to be morose and hostile. Picasso enjoyed painting, but as soon as he lay down his brushes he turned into a rather unpleasant man. Bobby Fischer, the chess genius, appeared to be helplessly inept except when his mind was on chess. These and countless similar examples are a reminder that having achieved flow in one activity does not necessarily guarantee that it will be carried over to the rest of life.

WHAT MEANING MEANS

Meaning is a concept difficult to define, since any definition runs the risk of being circular. How do we talk about the meaning of meaning itself? There are three ways in which unpacking the sense of this word helps illuminate the last step in achieving optimal experience. Its first usage points toward the end, purpose, significance of something, as in: What is the meaning of life? This sense of the word reflects the assumption that events are linked to each other in terms of an ultimate goal; that there is a temporal order, a causal connection between them. It assumes that phenomena are not random, but fall into recognizable patterns directed by a final purpose.

The second usage of the word refers to a person’s intentions: She usually means well. What this sense of meaning implies is that people reveal their purposes in action; that their goals are expressed in predictable, consistent, and orderly ways.

Finally, the third sense in which the word is used refers to ordering information, as when one says: Otorhinolaryngology means the study of ear, nose, and throat, or: Red sky in the evening means good weather in the morning. This sense of meaning points to the identity of different words, the relationship between events, and thus it helps to clarify, to establish order among unrelated or conflicting information.

CULTIVATING PURPOSE 

In the lives of many people it is possible to find a unifying purpose that justifies the things they do day in, day out—a goal that like a magnetic field attracts their psychic energy, a goal upon which all lesser goals depend. This goal will define the challenges that a person needs to face in order to transform his or her life into a flow activity. Without such a purpose, even the best-ordered consciousness lacks meaning.

FORGING RESOLVE

Purpose gives direction to one’s efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one’s actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.

RECOVERING HARMONY 

The consequence of forging life by purpose and resolution is a sense of inner harmony, a dynamic order in the contents of consciousness. But, it may be argued, why should it be so difficult to achieve this inner order? Why should one strive so hard to make life into a coherent flow experience? Aren’t people born at peace with themselves—isn’t human nature naturally ordered?

THE UNIFICATION OF MEANING IN LIFE THEMES

Instead of accepting the unity of purpose provided by genetic instructions or by the rules of society, the challenge for us is to create harmony based on reason and choice. Philosophers like Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty have recognized this task of modern man by calling it the project, which is their term for the goal-directed actions that provide shape and meaning to an individual’s life. Psychologists have used terms like propriate strivings or life themes. In each case, these concepts identify a set of goals linked to an ultimate goal that gives significance to whatever a person does.


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  • Series: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1 edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061339202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061339202
Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Author Rating
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