This is the 2nd part of the summary of “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You can find the 1st part here. As I mentioned in the previous post, this book explains how to enjoy life more and how to reach a state of fulfillment and satisfaction in daily activities. Because I believe that we don’t all have the time to read every single useful bestseller, and not everyone is an avid reader (I’m not!), I am summarizing this amazing book in a few posts to make it easier for you to learn and apply this concept to your life. Hopefully it will brighten up your life a little bit like it did for me. 🙂
So here we go…
ORDER IN CONSCIOUSNESS
In the last chapters, Csikszentmihalyi started talking about optimal experience. Optimal experience is defined as situations in which attention can be freely invested to achieve a person’s goals. This state is called the flow experience. Those who attain it develop a stronger, more confident self, because more of their psychic energy has been successfully invested in goals they themselves have chosen to pursue. When a person is able to organize his/her consciousness to experience flow as often as possible, the quality of life is inevitably going to improve because even the usually boring routines become purposeful and enjoyable.
To give you an example from Csikszentmihalyi’s research, a well-known West Coast rock climber explained concisely his experience of flow: “It’s exhilarating to come closer and closer to self-discipline. You make your body go and everything hurts; then you look back and awe at the self, at what you’ve done, it just blows your mind. It leads to ecstasy, to self-fulfillment. If you win these battles enough, the battle against yourself, at least for a moment, it becomes easier to win the battles in the world.”
But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.
THE GROWTH OF THE SELF
Flow helps to integrate the self because, in that state of deep concentration, concentration is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows. Flow is thus important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind. Even though there is no easy shortcut to flow, it is possible, if one understands how it works, to create more harmony in life and to liberate the psychic energy that otherwise would be wasted in boredom or worry.
ENJOYMENT AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE
There are 2 main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The 1st is to try making external conditions to make them ft our goals better. The 2nd is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better. Neither of these strategies is effective when used alone.
Csikszentmihalyi writes: “The waiting rooms of psychiatrists are filled with rich and successful patients who, in their forties and fifties, suddenly wake up to the fact that a plush suburban home, expensive cars, and even an Ivy League education are not enough to bring peace of mind. Yet people keep hoping that changing the external conditions of their lives will provide a solution. If only they could earn more money, be in better physical shape, or have a more understanding partner, they would really have it made. Even though we recognize that material success may not bring happiness, we engage in an endless struggle to reach external goals (see my post on Internal vs. External Motivation for a more detailed explanation of this concept), expecting that they will improve life.
The quality of life does not depend directly on what others think of us or on what we own. The bottom line is, rather, how we feel about ourselves and about what happens to us. To improve life one must improve the quality of experience.
Research on happiness and satisfaction suggests that in general there is a mild correlation between wealth and well-being. In Csikszentmihalyi’s very large study, the majority agreed with the statement “Money can increase or decrease happiness, depending on how it is used”. In a comprehensive survey entitled The Quality of American Life , the authors report that a person’s financial situation is one of the lest important factors affecting overall satisfaction with life.
PLEASURE VS. ENJOYMENT
Pleasure is the feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or by social conditioning have been met. Pleasure is an important component of to quality of life, but by itself it does not bring happiness. Enjoyment is characterized by a forward movement: a sense of novelty, of accomplishment. Playing a close game of tennis that stretches one’s ability is enjoyment, as is reading a book that reveals things in a new light, as is having a conversation that leads us to express ideas we didn’t know we had. Closing a contested business deal, or any piece of work well done, is enjoyable. After an enjoyable event we know that we have changed, that our self has grown: in some respect, we have become more complex as a result of it. It is important to realize, however, that it is impossible to enjoy a tennis game, a book, or a conversation unless attention is fully concentrated on the activity.
To gain personal control over the quality of experience, one needs to learn how to build enjoyment into what happens day in, day out.
That’s all for this post. In the next part (part 3) we will discuss what makes an experience enjoyable and provide examples that all of us can use to enhance the quality of life…
Again, feel free to comment below or ask me for clarifications if something doesn’t make sense.
Happy flowing ❤