Author: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Published in: 2008
Legendary 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, unlock our potential, and greatly improve the quality of our lives.
Takeaway #1: The roots of discontent
We seek happiness more than anything else in our life. We chase things like money, power, health in the hope that they will make us happy. But even after achieving it we feel empty and discontent because it doesn’t lie in the outside events.
Even a small child who breaks his previous records feels happy. People who were in concentration camps experienced happiness when they heard the voice of birds or we notice happiness in our struggles and hard times as well.
Happiness lies in the inner experiences and how we interpret them. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives.
In the man’s search for meaning author Victor k. Frankl said that “Don’t aim at success the more you aim at it the less you get it: success like happiness must ensue not pursue.
Have you ever saw the people who have a hell lot of wealth still they are not happy? I have seen and probably you as well. Happiness is not something that comes to us from outside events it always comes from our inner consciousness.
Takeaway #2: Control of consciousness determines the quality of life
What is consciousness? We are conscious when we can control our thoughts, feelings, sensations, intention, and act upon them. In the dream, you might see the accident of your friend in the dream but you do anything about it that’s why we do not conscious about our dream. Thus we can say the consciousness as the intentionally ordered information.
A person who is in control of consciousness can focus his attention on his goals at any time he wants. When you are in the order of consciousness, you feel the flow.
Flow is a state in which you lose yourself in the task you are doing. In the flow you become aware of every moment. Usually flow happens when you work towards a goal and you involve yourself so that you are aware of everything happening in your mind. In this state you feel the most happiness.
To achieve this happiness you should focus desperately at every moment of a good and bad situation of life. You should enjoy the process.
Takeaway #3: Enjoyment and pleasure are two different things
The third lesson is that enjoyment and pleasure are two different things. People assume that a series of pleasurable activities like traveling to exotic places, watching Netflix, etc. bring happiness, but that does not happen.
You get pleasure from activities when you don’t need to put mental effort or when your bodies need to fulfill. You get pleasure from activities like sex, sleep, eating food, or watching Netflix.
Whereas enjoyment is something when you put your mental efforts like reading novels which has twist after every 10 pages or playing chess, accomplishing something beyond your expectation. You might not feel good while going beyond your limitations but later you enjoy those experiences
While pleasure plays an important role but it does not bring happiness directly. When a child born he act like a learning machine he uses his brain to learn and adapt to new changes that’s why he remains happy. But as we grow old we run after pleasurable things and lose the happiness from our life.
The elements of enjoyment:
- A challenging activity that required skills
- Clear goals and feedback
- Concentration on one task at hand
- Loss of self-consciousness
- The transformation of time
Takeaway #4: How to create the conditions of Flow
When you start playing tennis, the main challenge in front of you was to just hit the ball. The challenge and your skills meet and you go into the flow zone. You feel good about just hitting the ball.
Over time you become good at hitting the ball and just hitting the ball seems boring. This is a state of boredom. Also if you meet the competitor who is good at tennis then you feel anxiety and you might give up the game. Both anxiety and boredom are not good for us. So how to get into the flow?
You can get yourself out of boredom and anxiety by increasing your skills. If you increase the challenge so little and you met them you go into the flow again.
We can apply this to your work as well. Just increase your skills or set the challenges that are just beyond your reach you can go into the flow.
We can increase the quality of our life by we feel good about ourself/ increase the quality of experience.
Takeaway #5: Use free time for flow activities
We usually feel good at work as there is a system that gives challenges, feedback, and rewards and to meet the expectation we work hard and we go beyond the limitations by using our mental energy.
But we get confused about what to do in the free time that we get after work. We end up consuming media. Instead, we should cultivate hobbies or any art that we can actually enjoy.
People who learn to enjoy their work, who do not waste their free time, end up feeling that their lives as a whole have become much more worthwhile.