Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous 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. In this new edition of his groundbreaking classic work, Csikszentmihalyi ("the leading researcher into ‘flow states’" —Newsweek) 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 and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

"Explores a happy state of mind called flow, the feeling of complete engagement in a creative or playful activity." Time

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061339202
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/01/2008
Series: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 17,582
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a professor at Claremont Graduate University and former chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. His previous books include The Evolving Self and the national bestseller Flow.

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The Psychology of Optimal Experience


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. The gods of the Greeks were like helpless children compared to humankind today and the powers we now wield. And yet on this most important issue very little has changed in the intervening centuries. We do not understand what happiness is any better than Aristotle did, and as for learning how to attain that blessed condition, one could argue that we have made no progress at all.

Despite the fact that we are now healthier and grow to be older despite, the fact that even the least affluent among us are surrounded by material luxuries undreamed of even a few decades ago (there were few bathrooms in the palace of the Sun King, chairs were rare even in the richest medieval houses, and no Roman emperor could turn on a TV set when he was bored), and regardless of all the stupendous scientific knowledge we can summon at will, people often end upfeeling that their lives have been wasted, that instead of being filled with happiness their years were spent in anxiety and boredom.

Is this because it is the destiny of mankind to remain unfulfilled, each person always wanting more than he or she can have? Or is the pervasive malaise that often sours even our most precious moments the result of our seeking happinessin the wrong places? The intent of this book is to use some of the tools of modern psychology to explore this very ancient question: When do people feel most happy? If we can begin to find an answer to it, perhaps we shall eventually be able to order life so that happiness will play a larger part in it.

Twenty-five years before I began to write these lines, I made a discovery that took all the intervening time for me to realize I had made. To call it a "discovery" is perhaps misleading, for people have been aware of it since the dawn of time. Yet the word is appropriate, because even though my finding itself was well known, it had not been described or theoretically explained by the relevant branch of scholarship, which in this case happens to be psychology. So I spent the next quarter-century investigating this elusive phenomenon.

What I "discovered" was that 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 events, 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 detall of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarized 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."

So how can we reach this elusive goal that cannot be attaitied bya direct route? My studies of the past quarter-century have convinced me that there is a way. It is a circuitous path that begins with achieving control, over the contents of our consciousness.

Our perceptions about our lives are the outcome of many forces that shape experience, each having an impact on whether we feel good or bad. Most of these:forces are outside our control. There is not much we can do about our looks, our temperament, or our constitution. We cannot decide--at least so far how tall we will grow, how smart we will get. We can choose neither parents nor time of birth, and it is not in your power to decide whether there will be a war or a depression. The instructions contained in our genes, the pull of gravity, the pollen in the air, the historical period into which we are born--these and innumerable other conditions determine what we see, how we feel, what we do. It is not surprising that we should believe that our fate isprimarily ordained by outside agencies.

Yet we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffered by anonymous forces,we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.

This is what we mean by optimal experience.It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when theboat lunges through waves like a cblt--sails, hull, wind, and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor's veins. It is what a painter feels when the colors on the canvas begin to set up a magnetic tension with each other, and a new thing, a living form, takes shape in front of the astonished creator.

The Psychology of Optimal Experience
. Copyright © by Mihaly Csikszent. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Preface     xi
Happiness Revisited     1
Introduction     1
Overview     5
The Roots of Discontent     8
The Shields of Culture     10
Reclaiming Experience     16
Paths of Liberation     20
The Anatomy of Consciousness     23
The Limits of Consciousness     28
Attention as Psychic Energy     30
Enter the Self     33
Disorder in Consciousness: Psychic Entropy     36
Order in Consciousness: Flow     39
Complexity and the Growth of the Self     41
Enjoyment and the Quality of Life     43
Pleasure and Enjoyment     45
The Elements of Enjoyment     48
The Autotelic Experience     67
The Conditions of Flow     71
Flow Activities     72
Flow and Culture     77
The Autotelic Personality     83
The People of Flow     90
The Body in Flow     94
Higher, Faster, Stronger     96
The Joys of Movement     99
Sex as Flow     100
The Ultimate Control: Yoga and the Martial Arts     103
Flow through theSenses: The Joys of Seeing     106
The Flow of Music     108
The Joys of Tasting     113
The Flow of Thought     117
The Mother of Science     120
The Rules of the Games of the Mind     124
The Play of Words     128
Befriending Clio     132
The Delights of Science     134
Loving Wisdom     138
Amateurs and Professionals     139
The Challenge of Lifelong Learning     141
Work As Flow     143
Autotelic Workers     144
Autotelic Jobs     152
The Paradox of Work     157
The Waste of Free Time     162
Enjoying Solitude and Other People     164
The Conflict between Being Alone and Being with Others     165
The Pain of Loneliness     168
Taming Solitude     173
Flow and the Family     175
Enjoying Friends     185
The Wider Community     190
Cheating Chaos     192
Tragedies Transformed     193
Coping with Stress     198
The Power of Dissipative Structures     201
The Autotelic Self: A Summary     208
The Making of Meaning     214
What Meaning Means     215
Cultivating Purpose     218
Forging Resolve     223
Recovering Harmony     227
The Unification of Meaning in Life Themes     230
Notes     241
References     281

What People are Saying About This

Howard Gardner

Documents a set of scientific discoveries about human nature that actually illuminates the life experiences of all persons.

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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Besides having more vowels in his name than any other researcher in the field of positive psychology, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is probably best known for his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". So what exactlty is flow and what does it have to do with finding happiness?

There are short and long ways to define the concept of flow. The short way is to tell you that flow is roughly the equivalent to what most people refer to as being "in the zone" or "in the groove". More elaborate definitions might be that it is "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 do it even at great cost, for the sheer state of doing it."

Being such a desirable state, flow is naturally linked to happiness. The book feels that the path to happiness is a circuitous one that begins with one achieving control over the "contents of our consciousness". I'm taking that to mean that if I learn to find flow experiences, it will lead to greater happiness.

Know from the get-go that "Flow" is NOT a step-by-step book that gives you tips on how to be happy. Instead, the book summarizes years of research, so what you get when all is said and done, are general principles along with examples of how people have used them to transform their lives. The hope, then, is that you will have enough information in the book to make the transition from principles and theory, to actual practice.

In a nutshell, "Flow" is a unique and interesting book that examines the process of achieving happiness through the control of one's inner life. I didn't find it as easy to read as some books written by academic individuals, such as David Myer's "The Pursuit of Happiness: Discovering the Pathway to Fulfillment, Well-Being, and Enduring Personal Joy", but it's definitely a "digestable" read for the general audience.

I'll tell you, though, after reading a lot of positive psychology books, you start to see some common threads. In "Flow", one of the conditions that makes flow occur is that you have a clear goal. And in the book "Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World", it reveals that one proven way to increase long-term happiness (according to controlled trials cited in the book) is to set intrinsic/self-concordant goals. With much happiness research coming to similar conclusions, perhaps an important take-home message is this: the kinds of things we choose to spend our time on can have a HUGE impact on how happy we are. Happy trails!
shoyu More than 1 year ago
This is the first "Flow" book and the least expensive. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow through examples instead of direct instruction for most of the book. The book is slow for the first half, but picks up after that. There is a bit of repetition, but that is common in nonfiction. The idea of flow is to open yourself enough to experience an event to its fullest potential, such as when running a marathon or reading a book. You probably don't need to read the whole book to understand the concept, but the rest can serve as reinforcement. One thing I like about this book is it pulls highlights from other books such as "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read Flow once and I've listened to the CD countless times. The author is right on the mark and better than that he backs his information up with research. It's also fun to read and listen because he presents so many stories instead of simply facts. The book has made a real difference in the way I go about accomplishing my goals. I take many more and much smaller steps than I used to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to learn about Flow, what it is and its benefits, this is a great place to start. A true scholar, this author gives a great presentation and it is very well written. Highly recommended. Also, to gain a better sense of states like flow, see 'Effortless Wellbeing' because it is more of a how-to book and really helps to experience a flowing state.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book has created so much creativity for my clinics. I work extensively with women going through transition who are in search of more'flow' in their lives. This book is filled with so much meaning and substance and can only add more value to the life of the reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cziskszentmihalyi introduces an experiential concept that he calls ¿Flow¿. He suggests that this experiential state is intricately related to our happiness and explores the central factors that are associated with the phenomena. By comparing various examples of moments of ¿Flow¿ and others not of ¿Flow¿, the author provides an in depth investigation into this subjective state of mind. Some of the author¿s scientific research on this topic is also discussed. It is clear that the author is onto something very interesting and important just from the fact that this concept has crept into many books on Psychology in the past few years. The writing is not too technical and is understandable for people who are not experts in the field. Highly recommended! If you are interested in a fascinating book that takes this even one step further and places these experiences in a larger context, I suggest ¿The Ever-Transcending Spirit¿ by Toru Sato. It is an incredible book that explains the connection between consciousness, relationships, life, spirituality, human development and evolution in such a simple way that it will astound you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent demonstration of hot to write the results of psychological research in comprehendible language. As a professor of psychology, I plan to require this book as reading for my students in sport psychology. If you are someone interested in the psychology of optimal experience in sport or other domains of experience, and how to experience it yourself, you must read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You don't see many profound, significant books that are, at the same time, practical. This book is one of the few. The first three chapters take an unflinching look at our human condition and ask the question, 'Given that, how can you enjoy life?' The rest of the book is an answer to that question. And Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-ZENT-me-high) is not being philosophical. He answers the question scientifically. He's done an unusual kind of research for about 35 years, strapping pagers on thousands of people. The pagers go off randomly during the day and the volunteers stop what they're doing and fill out a questionnaire measuring their mood, their level of involvement in what they're doing, etc. He's gotten more than 100,000 of these snapshots of people's lives and discovered a state of mind he calls FLOW. And he tells you what conditions are the most conducive to creating a state of flow. The flow state is not only enjoyable, but a person in flow is at her best. Her mind is concentrated, she's using her capabilities close to the maximum, and she's INCREASING her capabilities the most (people learn fastest and improve the best in a state of flow). It's a fascinating book. I'm the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I'm an expert on what kind of information really makes a difference. This book is in my top five list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book to me, and before reading it I was not sure if I would understand the psychological writtings of what 'flow' is. I was incorrect in my assuption. Mihaly's writting is very understandable and insightful. I was amazed at the extensive data collection from hundreds of thousands of different people where they similarly described what 'flow' experiences meant to them. Where their everyday lives became more satisfying. If you enjoyed this book another book you might like is called 'WORKING ON YOURSELF DOESN'T WORK' by Ariel and Shya Kane. Eventhough I wasn't not sure what 'flow' meant before reading Mihaly's book, after reading it I can honestly say I have many 'flow' experiences in my life and that is a direct result of reading the Kanes' book, listening to their audio tapes (check out the PRINCIPLES OF TRANSFORMATION-it's great) and attending their seminars. For me the Kanes' book is a practical guide to living in the moment where life has become miraculous and satisfying on a day in day out basis.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Good ideas. Flow is good. Really it is about living your life with totality. Sometimes a bit over-intellectual. Also - read a book about Living in the NOW( read 'Flow') by two masters of teaching people how to do it, Ariel & Shya Kane. Great book. Really teaches you HOW TO LIVE IN FLOW, Practically as opposed to conceptually...
novawalsh on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Incredible ideas about happiness, productivity and the way people work and motivate themselves. I recommend this book to everyone. And I will read it again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great tool to maintain energy for life
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