Flow

A book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, about controlling your focus and energy to enjoy the optimal psychological state. Happiness is a choice we must make, not an entitlement or a side effect of anything.

Notes

xi In the introduction, Mihaly emphasizes that you cannot make a recipe for a joyful life; it is a very individual thing. But perhaps you can customize the recipe so it is individual, as The Experience Economy suggests?

1 Aristotle concluded 2300 years ago that people seek happiness more than anything else; but this seems to conflict with the “selfish gene” approach of seeking survival and reproduction most. For details, check Nichomachean Ethics, Vol. I and IX (from endnotes).

2 Due to technology, we have better lives than even the “Sun Kings” of Egypt millenia ago; but are still often unhappy. Could this be because technology, as well as extending our reach, also extends our desire as we can see better what others have?

2 Possible Big Thought? Happiness is an individual responsibility, acquired only by learning to control inner experience.

3 The best experiences come from times when our bodies or minds are stretched to the limit, because we are trying to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

5 You must train Flow, because it is not a one-time choice, but a continual series of decisions.

9 We spend most of our time trying to master the physical environment; Flow is about mastering the inner self and consciousness itself, which is the only way to change how we feel or reduce the chaos in our lives.

11 Why do I feel that if Mihaly had really discovered the secret of happiness he wouldn’t be stuck writing about it? Does this mean that writing is the best flow activity?

12 Common dissatisfaction comes from expecting too much from something that cannot possibly deliver it–i.e. expecting happiness from adulthood and jobs, expecting it from any outside source (churches, people, anything but your own choices).

13 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has self-actualization as the highest goal; the same as Mihaly’s Flow. Once we’ve gotten everything else, we are not happy without it.

14 Mihaly is anti-religion–but only against religion in its current form. He believes that religion may adjust to consider individual happiness.

Definitions

4 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.

5 Experience Sampling Method: People wearing pagers for a week and noting how they feel and what they are doing whenever it goes off (about 8 times/day).

Quotes

xi “A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.”

2 “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.”

4 Comments

  1. Bob
    Posted November 22, 2003 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Fast Company article on the power of focus steering a person or product past normal status into something special, by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Leadership Lessons of a Rock Climber (link could be wrong).

    Sara Little Turnbull:

    “That’s when breakthroughs happen. You have to be on the brink of failure and then surprise yourself. You just go to a different level…If you don’t stretch, you don’t know where the edge is.”

  2. Bob
    Posted November 22, 2003 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    NYTimes on the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death (overshadowed by JFK on the same day):

    “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next,” he wrote in “Mere Christianity,” one of his best-known works. “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

    Motivation of a kind Csikszentmihalyi discredits…

  3. Bob
    Posted November 23, 2003 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    John Perry, my favorite philosophy professor, talks about “Structured Procrastination”, the act of doing something somewhat productive to justify not doing something more pressing.

    Structured Procratination

    (via Aaron Swartz

  4. Bob
    Posted December 12, 2003 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Could flow be trained through computerized automatic feedback? Steven Johnson reviews a biofeedback video game at Discover Magazine:

    I catch my breath, pull the bow up, and then release. The arrow sails across the virtual terrain and lands with a small flash at the center of the bull’s-eye. Here’s the catch: I’m not aiming that arrow with a joystick, or a keyboard, or a mouse. I’m aiming it with my mood. Technically, I’m directing the arrow by altering my physical state-the electrical resistance at the tips of my fingers and my heart rate. I’m hooked up to a biofeedback system: three sensors worn like rings around my fingers and wired into an ordinary personal computer.

    And he pontificates about what other applications could use biofeedback:

    What kind of software tools could be developed if the computer could sense a stressed-out, drowsy, or razor-sharp operator? Your to-do list might expand or contract based on how much energy you had that morning, and your e-mail program might caution you against sending out harsh messages if you were stressed. Biofeedback game website – warning, crashes Safari browser.