I hope all who celebrated had a fun and safe 4th of July Independence Day Celebration!! Control.
That is the first word that comes to mind after reading Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Please don’t ask me to pronounce his name.
Mr. Csikszentmihalyi has spent a quarter of a century studying what makes people happy. While happiness itself is sought for it’s own sake, every other goal—health, beauty, money, or power—is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy. Despite the fact that we are now healthier, live longer, the least affluent among us are surrounded by material luxuries undreamed of even a few decades ago, people end of feeling that their lives have been wasted. That instead of being filled with happiness, their years were spent in anxiety and boredom.
What he discovered through his research is that happiness is not something that just happens, is not the result of good fortune or random chance, money can’t buy it, and power can’t command it. Happiness is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.
People who learn to control their 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.
You can’t pursue happiness or search for it. It is by being fully involved with every detail of your life, whether good or bad, that we find happiness.
As Victor Frankl summarized it so eloquently in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “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.”
It starts by having optimal experiences. Those times when we feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate, a sense of exhilaration, and a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in our memory for what life should be like.
The best moments in our lives are not passive, receptive, relaxing times according to Mihaly. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is something we make happen.
From his studies of trying to understand as best he could how people felt when they most enjoyed themselves and why, Mihaly came up with his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow.
So what is flow?
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 will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
With this theoretical model of flow he found that with people across genders, generations, and cultures globally, optimal experiences were described the same way.
People just want to feel good about their lives.
The book examines the process of achieving happiness through control over one’s inner life.
His studies found that when people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, one or more of eight components are found.
- the experience occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing
- we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing
- and 4. are together below
- the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback
- one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life
- enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions
- concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over
- the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes
The combination of all of these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.
This is not a how-to book because it can’t be. You have to discover for yourself where you already find flow in your life. But the many examples Mr. Csikszentmihalyi uses can show you how others have found it, then you can figure out a way to create it for yourself.
This is a book that takes some time and thoughtfulness to read. What I love about it is the message that my happiness is in my hands. And your happiness is in yours.
To buy or just read an excerpt from the book Flow, click here.
If you've read the book, let me know what you thought. If you've found flow in your life, I'd love to hear how you did it. Join the conversation on the blog by leaving a comment below, or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org
I am grateful to be able to spend some time with you virtually today. Thank you.
As always, take from here what works for you, share with your friends if you think they might benefit, and the rest you can leave behind.