Happiness! is what we all are in search of everyday and every moment. To be contented is a challenge for all of us. I recently read the book – Flow: The psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Pronounced: “cheek-sent-me-high-ee”). Well, I should say, this is the best book I have ever read on Psychology. Not just because it gave me deeper insights, but also, it kept me in flow throughout my read. I would like to read this book again after 6 months.
I took a bit longer time in reading the book because it requires a lot of patience, understanding and great deal of thinking while you read. As Mihaly says early in the introductory chapter, to understand this book completely, one requires a lot of patience. After all, he has written it so well that all the readers will be in the state of flow for sure. Flow is a concept created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. The author has been extensively working on this concept since 30+ years. Flow is a state of mind of involved enchantment that lies between boredom and anxiety. It is the joy, creativity and the process of total involvement with life.
While I was reading this book, I even made a lot of notes on good number of interesting concepts. One can read them here. I enjoyed reading every page and every chapter. The book starts with a saying from Aristotle that ‘every person, more than anything else, they seek happiness’. Beating the phenomenon that reflects the irony in pursuit of happiness, many people make their mind unexciting and suppress its search for meaning. In doing so, people give up those activities that gives them the deep satisfaction. In the book, there are stories of lot many people those were studied and interviewed on all the aspects. Each example opens up a new realm of possibility.
We have always experienced joy and freedom in pursuing our hobbies; we have seen how musicians lose themselves in their tunes, how a painter becomes a painting herself; and how a poet enjoys playing with his words. Even I used to ask myself some questions like: why am I enjoying what I am doing right now? Why is it that I find that particular job not challenging and hence not exciting? Why is it that people tend to do the activity that keeps them happy? What exactly is the satisfaction in doing any activity? Why are people attracted to new challenges? Why do people go on trekking? Why do I like taking a long vacation for my hiking trips?
The answer for all the questions raised above is Flow. A person in flow is mentally involved in the challenge and intrinsic pleasure of the activity, yet lacks self-consciousness and fear about performance. There are many stories of rock climbers, artists and musicians given as examples in the book that speaks about their state of mind. When exactly a person will be in flow? What exactly happens when a person is in flow? How can he or she enjoy so much in that state?
Flow involves a lot of energy and effort. The challenges one keep taking and the skills that requires pursuing the goal creates the path for the flow. As long as I am learning and growing in any activity, I am in full control and hence in flow.
I believe contentment is certainly a hard work and to achieve that, one has to control their consciousness. When a person is able to control his or her consciousness, they can succeed in achieving their goal without any distractions from the internal or the external factors. The chapters Happiness Revisited, Enjoyment and Quality of life, the flow of thought, the body in flow, Enjoying solitude and other people, and finally the making of the meaning are an absolute pleasure to read. I was in flow and I learnt a great deal. The author has covered every aspect of one’s life that can contribute to the state of flow and hence to pursue their happiness.
The author says, “Flow doesn’t require education, income, high intelligence, good health or a spouse. It requires a mind: one that is willing to set challenges for itself and make the effort to meet them”. The book ends with the chapter on making of meaning which gives a lot of insights on how to set a life theme that is in flow. It was magical to read and very truthful to believe. I strongly recommend this book to everyone.
Having read this book, my mind is revolving around the concept of flow. Everything that I see, every activity that I do, I know what exactly I need to look for to keep myself reach the optimal experience. And those hiking trips that I take are now even more exciting to think and plan!
It is better late than never; the book was first published in 1990. There are a lot of books on the concept of flow itself.
My rating: 9/10
PS: For more detailed analysis on the concept, refer the review on my blog.