Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is a state of mind that is very similar to what Abraham Maslow describes as an optimal experience. This state of flow can be described as having a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound, action system that provides clear clues as to how one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. We lose our sense of self-consciousness.

The author differentiates between pleasure and enjoyment, where enjoyment is not merely the pleasant feeling we get when something is pleasurable, but we derive a feeling of accomplishment as well. This is what Csikszentmihalyi would call happiness.

Csikszentmihalyi points out that happiness is like success in that it cannot be pursued but must ensue, meaning that happiness can only happen as the result of something we are doing, something that puts us in a state of flow.

Pleasure can be experienced via external stimuli, but enjoyment and happiness can only come from inside of us, from a sense of inner harmony. This sense of harmony only exists when we feel that we are in control of our lives, our consciousness specifically.

My Take

In a nutshell, Csikszentmihalyi proposes that while we all experience states of flow at times throughout our lives, if we want to have these experiences more often or even regularly, we must become the kind of person that would have these experiences regularly. We can change who we are physically, mentally, and emotionally and become the autotelic self, which is very similar to what Maslow would describe as self-actualizing.

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