on October 31, 2001
`What is a good life?', is basically the question addressed by this book. Well, isn't a good life just about being happy? Ok, but that is not the complete answer. For how do we become and stay happy? Not by watching TV, eating, or relaxing all day! In small doses these things are good and improve your daily life, but the effects are not additive. In other words: a point of diminishing returns is quickly reached. Also you don't become happy by having to do nothing. Csikszentmihalyi's research shows that both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something) and extrinsic motivation (having to do something) are preferable to not having any kind of goal to focus your attention.
Csikszentmihalyi argues that a life filled with `flow activities' is more worth living than one spent consuming passive entertainment. He says, the point is to be happy while doing things that stretch your goals and skills that help you grow and fulfil your potential. In other words: the content of your experiences over a lifetime determines the quality of your life. Then what exactly ìs `flow'? Is it just some vague new New Age concept? Not at all! It is precisely defined and well-researched. The experience if flow is the sense of effortless action we feel in moments that we see as the best in our lives. In order to have flow experiences you need clear goals/demands, immediate and relevant feedback and a balance between your skills and the demands. Then your attention becomes ordered and fully invested. Because of the total demand on you psychic energy you become completely focused, your self-consciousness disappears, as does your sense of time, yet you feel strong and competent. When in flow, you are not exactly happy, because you are not focused on your inner states (that would take away your attention from the task at hand). But looking back you are happy. Having flow experiences leads to growth and learning and improving your life becomes a question of making flow as much as possible a constant part of your everyday experience.
Csikszentmihalyi describes how you can find flow in several important life domains. One domain is work. Often we short-sightedly spend a lot of energy to take the easy way and cut corners, trying to do as little as possible in our jobs. If we would spend the same amount of energy trying to accomplish more we would probably enjoy our work more and be more successful as well. To improve your work you can try to take the whole context of your job into account. Doing this you can better understand your contribution to the whole and understand and value your role more. This enables you to invest more energy and withdraw more meaning from your work. Further, to use flow at work you can try to establish a situation in which your job (an other people's jobs) provides clear goals, unambiguous feedback, a sense of control, few distractions and challenges that match your skills. Just as much as in work you can create flow in your family and other relationships according to Csikszentmihalyi. He says it is particularly important to give attention to building harmony between participant's goals and to find ways to balance the meaningfulness of the rewards you get from work and relationships.
This book is definitely worth reading. Csikszentmihalyi's answer to the question `What is a good life?' is practical and convincing.
on January 16, 2000
Csikszentmihalyi defines "flow" as the feeling of effortlessness of action we experience at the best moments in our lives. People in flow are completely focused; self-consciousness and the awareness of time give way to full immersion in the moment. We usually attain flow when faced with clear and challenging goals that stretch our abilities without overtaxing them. Most often people have "flow experiences" when they engage in their favorite activities, whether playing or working. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that by paying close attention to what we do every day, and how we feel doing it, we can learn to maximize these positive moments and thus improve our psychic well-being.
FINDING FLOW is not a sappy, vacuous self-help book for the masses--it reminds us intelligently, without cheerleading or condescension, that complaining about a lack of time is a common excuse for not taking control of our lives. It also tells us something we have often heard, but love to forget: flow comes when we have goals, not because achieving them is necessarily important, but because a lack of goals leads to a struggle to concentrate and avoid distractions. This passage reminded me of what my favorite classics professor once told us: "Without Ithaka, there is no Odyssey."
Many great thinkers of the past (Homer, Carlyle, Dr. Seuss) have one way or another said what Csikszentmihalyi says; few have focused on happiness as happiness so successfully, and in so few pages. Find your flow!
on December 20, 2005
Several books have been written on the subject of happiness, good life, meaningful life etc. Typically, writers unravel their "philosophy of life" without backing up their theories with facts. Most of the self help books are full of clichés like "Have a positive attitude", "Never give up" etc. Mihaly takes a very different approach. Armed with a scientific approach to measure experiences (ESM - Experience Sampling Method) Mihaly goes on to show the correlation between the choices people make and the quality of their lives. Again, what is propounded by the author is not "coffee table philosophy" but inference drawn on the basis of statistical data collected in several experiments. ESM study clearly shows that people feel at their best when they indulge in high- challenge, high skill activities (like demanding work, playing a game, pursuing a hobby) and feel at their worst when they indulge in low challenge - low skill activities (like watching TV). As one of the reviewers has written, some argue that this can be deduced from "common sense". There is a huge difference between the conventional wisdom attributed to common sense and inferences drawn on the basis of research. As one of the experiments described by Mihaly indicates a myth (attributed to "common sense") that people "know" how to use leisure falls flat on its face. (More on this in next paragraph)
The book touches upon a variety of interesting and important topics. Of all the topics discussed in the book, the one I that I like best is the chapter on Risks and Rewards of Leisure. As Mihaly points out, we are some how supposed to possess skills required for the effective use of leisure. As the ESM based research indicates, people feel good when they do things they want to do or do things that they have to do. People feel at their worst when they do certain things because there is nothing else to do - mostly in their leisure. It turns out that we are not really all that skilled in using leisure effectively. Mihaly then goes on to show how the people who have been successful in leading a meaningful life use their leisure.
What sets this book apart from the league of self help books is the presentation of scientifically collected data in conjunction with the insights of a brilliant psychologist.
The book provides a great value for what it costs in dollars.
This is a simpler, more practical book than Csikszentmihalyi's other popular work on the subject (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience). He explains how you can apply the insights from his teams' experiments at the University of Chicago. They've been studying enjoyment for over thirty years -- what it is and how people create it. They are not studying simple pleasure, but real, enjoyable absorption in a task.
Csikszentmihalyi originally studied artists and noticed it wasn't the end-product most good painters were after, it was the process of painting. He was surprised to see painters finish a painting and immediately set up another canvas to continue painting -- without even looking at the masterpiece they had just created. This intrigued him and so he has spent his lifetime exploring this interesting and enjoyable state he calls "flow", and he knows something about how we can have more of it in our lives.
I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I'm an expert on what is effective. Csikszentmihalyi's work is in that category. You can apply his insights and truly experience more enjoyable flow in your life.
on December 20, 2000
Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written in common laymen's language about applying simple psychology to lead more meaningful everyday life. His analysis of where time goes, gave me an opportunity to look at how I could use time more meaningfully. In fact, he has devoted two chapters on time management. This book is based on very extensive research and therefore provides much meaningful information. Subjects covered include self-esteem, goal setting, paradox of work, use of leisure, relationship management and managing personal transition. By applying some of the principles and concepts to your life you can use your psychic energy to achieve peak performance and happiness in your life. There are even suggestions to manage the stress and pressures of everyday living. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to improve the life they lead.
on September 10, 2001
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MC from now on) is a Psychologist based at the University of Chicago who has extensively studied what makes people happy and fulfilled. Through his Experience Sampling Method (ESM), MC asks his subjects at random times (through a beeper) to record what they're doing, how they feel about it, whether they feel happy and so on. Through these studies he has come up with the concept of 'flow'. 'Flow' is when we are at our most fulfilled and it is usually at times when we are using our skills to the maximum and at the same time being challenged - its that simple.
Not having read MCs other books the whole flow thing is new to me but by the end of the book I was starting to get the idea. MC also offers some ways you can spend more time in 'flow' activities. It has the faults of many self help books - mainly constant repetition and those hard to believe anecdotes from 'real life' but there's a practicality about this book that saves it. It's also mercifully short, which means you'll get through it quickly and I don't think MCs erratic conversational style would survive a longer publication. I can't agree with the criticism of MC lacking scientific rigour. Being a scientist I don't think he made claims that went beyond his research which is all referenced should you like to follow it up and it's obvious when he is offering opinion ahead scientific analysis.
While I wasn't totally inspired the concept of 'flow' has stuck with me and I'd recommend you at least find out what 'flow' is about.
on August 14, 2000
"Finding Flow" is an easy-read paperback subtitled "the psychology of engagement with everyday life". The thesis cut back to its core is that optimal experiences happen when you are highly challenged and have the skills to match, and that too many people spend their lives of quiet despiration being frustrated, anxious, apathetic or bored when the tasks that fill their day don't match up. Mihaly describes this state of "Flow" as a period of complete focus on the task, no distractions or irrelevant feelings, and a distorted sense of time. "In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own".
You would hope that a book like this would be a pretty engaging read, or else it would have failed its stated purpose, and for the most part I was engaged while reading it. It tries to be a self-help book too, which I suppose is fair enough -- if you believe that this state of being is superior to being lazily happy sitting on the couch watching TV, then you might well want to preach its virtues.
"Finding Flow" is the popular presentation of the author's academic research into what he calls "flow" - the state of being absorbed in an activity; be it work, a hobby or a relationship - and how such experiences form the basis of a rich life.
Csikszentmihalyi goes over the nature of what we experience and classifies them according to the level of challenge vs. the skill we can bear upon them. He then discusses how we feel when doing these different types of activities. The two core chapters cover work and leisure. Csikszentmihalyi shows how engagement with ones job and pursuing active hobbies provide more personal satisfaction than passive entertainment and mere lounging. It is this notion that will clash with many people's belief in what makes them happy; happiness being something that Csikszentmihalyi considers a fleeting emotion and different from true contentment. As has been noted by the philosopher A.C. Grayling, if we are after happiness alone, then we can just self-medicate.
Other chapters examine how relationships are better if you engage in them, rather than merely meet material obligations to loved ones, and what kinds of personalities are better suited to achieving flow. There is a chapter, as well as some discussion throughout, on how to increase flow in your own life. This gives the book an additional self-help angle (which is what the back cover is trying to market it as.) The final chapter begins with some light philosophizing and quickly degenerates into an off-topic discussion of religion, lacking a thesis and coming across as the ramblings of a stoned first-year college student. This is unfortunate in that it mars an otherwise very strong treatment of what constitutes a good life.
on October 31, 2011
Does it matter to you? Do you care if your job is boring or alienating? I ask, because I believe you do care. I believe that, while job security and decent pay are nice to have, you have a desire - a desire to work in a job with meaning. A job that engages you, challenges you, and gives you an opportunity for growth.
In his 1997 book, "Finding Flow," Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi teaches us that it is not only possible to engage and be passionate in some jobs, but that virtually any work can produce enjoyable states of mind if we can only learn to harness a few basic skills.
In case you don't recognize the name, Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "chick-SENT-me-high") is the man responsible for defining the concept of "Flow"; that trance-like state you can enter when doing something you really enjoy. The state where time slips by, and you get lost in the activity. From Dan Pink's "Drive" to Chip Conley's "Peak," Godin in "Linchpin" and Sir Ken in "The Element," the concept of Flow has been cropping up with increasing frequency lately, so we decided to dive right into Csikszentmihalyi's research, ourselves.
Effectively, what the book says is that while we all yearn for more free time in our lives, the majority of our "flow" experiences in life come during our working hours. At first blush, it may seem counter intuitive to believe that we would have our most engaging moments at work, and not during our selected leisure activities. After all, if we have complete autonomy over our leisure activities, wouldn't it make sense that we'd do things that make us most happy?
FAVOURITE TAKEAWAY: According to Csikszentmihalyi, we are truly happy - and most likely to enter a state of flow - when the challenge of a particular task matches our level of skill for that task. (Pink talked about this in Drive.) While we might assume that leisure activities make us happiest, it's important to acknowledge the fact that very few of our leisure activities actually challenge us. Certainly, rest is an important aspect of a balanced life, but passive activity doesn't require any skill. Changing channels on the television is hardly an engaging activity, and therefore unlikely to produce this state of flow that, if we're honest with ourselves, we know to be the pinnacle of good life experiences. It is only through tackling challenging activities that we get the rush of accomplishment and the high from being at the top of our game. We only experience flow when we are actively engaging in an activity. Which is exciting. Because this means we have control over how often we experience flow.
Experiencing Flow is a choice. A choice to engage. A choice to get off the couch and actively seek out tasks that challenge us.
The opposite of flow is Stress. Anxiety. Worry. Interestingly enough, all of these negative emotions come about when we relinquish control over a situation. When we let problems overcome us, rather than actively work to solve them. These problems come from passivity. From doing LESS, not more.
I love "Finding Flow" for the fact that it addresses one of the most abstract elements of life - how to live a more enjoyable life - from a stance of science. Drawing from decades of research and study in the psychology and engagement of human life, Csikszentmihalyi has given us a road map for creating our own more satisfying existence. "Finding Flow" is a dense book, and certainly not for everyone, but the messages are universal, and the suggestion is simple: Choose to actively engage in the activities that give you energy, while maintaining a general sense of curiosity and playfulness. Simple lessons for a better life.
Visit ActionableBooks for over 170 summaries, author video interviews and easy ways to implement the concepts for managers and their teams.
on September 24, 2000
In "Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience" Dr. Csikszentmihalyi explores and explains his perspective on life's most engaging moments. While this tome is largely overly explanatory in a circuitous manner it aids in shaping the concept of "Flow". In "Finding Flow : The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life" the foundation for "Flow" is at best confusing. The benefits of a worthy life are engaged in a meandering philosphic manner. The point of the book is ??? A more worthwhile effort is his book "The Evolving Self : A Psychology for the Third Millennium". I believe that this will be a more rewarding adventure.