Library / Personal Development | Human Psychology

Date of review: May 2020
Book author: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Вook published: 2002

Flow. The Classic Work on how to Achieve Happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2002)

This book is about feeling happy. The central idea is that the process is more important than the end goal.

What is flow

Distraction is a major negative factor from achieving happiness (can be in different forms, including thoughts about other issues that prevent us from focusing).

Flow is the state a person achieves when attention can be freely invested to achieve his goals because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat for the self to defend against. In flow we are in control of our psychic energy, and everything we do adds to the order of consciousness.

Besides focusing on individuals activities and state of flow, the book also has useful pieces for advice for parents.

Key notes

  • 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.

  • In fact, they tend to stress the issue of control even more than practitioners of activities where skills obviously allow greater control. Poker players are convinced it is their ability, and not chance, that makes them win; if they lose, they are much more inclined to credit bad luck, but even in defeat, they are willing to look for a personal lapse to explain the outcome. Roulette players develop elaborate systems to predict the turn of the wheel.

  • Many people feel that the time they spend at work is essentially wasted—they are alienated from it, and the psychic energy invested in the job does nothing to strengthen them. For quite a few people, free time is also wasted. Leisure provides a relaxing respite from work, but it generally consists of passively absorbing information without using any skills or exploring new opportunities for action. As a result, life passes in a sequence of boring and anxious experiences over which a person has little control.

  • [Key attributes of activities that allow achieving the state of flow] - They have rules that require the learning of skills, they set up goals, they provide feedback, they make control possible.

  • …competition improves experience only as long as attention is focused primarily on the activity itself. If extrinsic goals—such as beating the opponent, wanting to impress an audience, or obtaining a big professional contract—are what one is concerned about, then competition is likely to become a distraction rather than an incentive to focus consciousness on what is happening.

  • One of the most ironic paradoxes of our time is this great availability of leisure that somehow fails to be translated into enjoyment.
  • less drastic obstacle to experiencing flow is excessive self-consciousness. A person who is constantly worried about how others will perceive her, who is afraid of creating the wrong impression, or of doing something inappropriate, is also condemned to permanent exclusion from enjoyment.

  • We don't usually notice how little control we have over the mind because habits channel psychic energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch.

  • But if control of consciousness is judged to be at least as important as the ability to get things done, then learning complex patterns of information by heart is by no means a waste of effort. Some of the most original scientists, for instance, have been known to have memorized music, poetry, or historical information extensively.

  • 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.

  • ability to take misfortune and make something good come of it is a very rare gift. Those who possess it are called "survivors" and are said to have "resilience" or "courage."

  • those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves and emerge stronger from the ordeal.

There are three main steps that seem to be involved in such transformations

…belief that their destiny was in their hands.
Focusing attention on the world. [Happy people] spend very little time thinking about themselves. The focus is still set by the person's goal, but it is open enough to notice and adapt to external events if they are not directly relevant to what he wants to accomplish.
The discovery of new solutions. [Important to look at the bigger picture and not being fixed on specific narrow goals, be ready to change goals and adapt].

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