The Psychology of Optimal Experience

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Number of pages: 336

Publisher: Harper Perennial

BBB Library: Psychology and Strengths

ISBN: 9780061339202

About the Author

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist. He created the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. He is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University.


Editorial Review

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, thus, 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. Therefore, happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a course greater than oneself. Indeed we all have experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that this 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.

Book Reviews

Although Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges there are psychological and neurological impediments to experiencing "flow," he attacks 20th-Century Western culture for fostering the belief that happiness and fulfillment are materially rooted and outside the self.

"So my reactions have probably made clear that I found this book captivating. I will be re-reading it every year or so, I expect.

Flow” is much more than just a practical guide for leaders -- it’s essential.Rather than being idle, doing what you love is a pathway to greater meaning, happiness, and a self of higher complexity.Csikszentmihalyi says that it is best to think about the universe in terms of order and chaos (entropy). That healthy human beings find order pleasing is a clue to its intrinsic value, and to its role in the creation of happiness.The bringing of order to consciousness, “control of the mind,” is therefore the key to happiness.

The author claims that flow is a major key to happiness. A person in flow is a happy person, and thus directing one's life on a path to being in flow as much as possible is desirable. Clearly, flow is possible not only in computer programming. In fact, one of the author's goals is to explain how a person can and should find flow in practically every activity he's engaged in. More specifically, flow can be achieved in both physical and mental activities, both with people and alone, and both at work and during leisure. The book covers all these topics, based on interviews and research the author and his group conducted with thousands of individuals world-wide. The research quite literally asked people what made them happy and dissected their answers to common "clusters".”

“Csikszentmihalyi is fairly explicit about the nature of the activities that are most conducive to this sort of growth. They offer an opportunity for deep concentration, a sense of control and satisfaction, behavior that is goal-directed and bounded by rules, and the disappearance of concern for the self. When these conditions converge, we experience what the author calls "flow. A "flow" experience, unlike the passive experiences of shopping, watching television, taking drugs (all of which tend to numb or distract us from our feelings), generally leads to that "greater complexity of consciousness," continually expanding our sense of who we are. And it feels good, for we become the architects, not the recipients of our life's meaning.” Los Angles Times

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Wisdom to Share

People often end up feeling that their lives have been wasted, that instead of being filled with happiness their years were spent in anxiety of boredom.

In dreams, we are locked into a single scenario we cannot change at will.

We may call 'intentions' the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered.

Intentions are also bits of information, shaped either by biological needs or by internalized social goals.

Hundreds of times every day we are reminded of the vulnerability of our self.

We also value privacy and often wish to be left alone.

We are biologically programmed to find other human beings the most important objects in the world.

Unless one learns to tolerate and even enjoy being alone, it is very difficult to accomplish any task that required undivided concentration.

But in flow there is no room for self-scrutiny.

Listening to music wards off boredom and anxiety, and when seriously attended to, it can induce flow experiences.

There could be no better short description of how to build for oneself than a state of flow.