Book review: Flow – The psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

My review

 This book explains that true happiness is obtained by achieving an optimal state of mind called Flow.This state of mind can be best described as one where the participant’s consciousness is so involved in its activity that self-consciousness disappears, in a way similar to meditation.This state can be attained by encouraging situations where a goal that participant(s) feel skilled to achieve is set clearly, and for which constant feedback on how close participants are getting.Such Flow experiences lead to personal growth and true happiness. These very simple recommendations can be applied to one’s life, to educating children, to manage people in a corporate environment, or to define a country’s policies. 

Some quotes I found interesting

If we assume, however, that the desire to achieve optimal experience is the foremost goal of every human being, the difficulties of interpretation raised by cultural relativism become less severe. Each social system can then be evaluated in terms of how much psychic entropy it causes, measuring that disorder not with reference to the ideal order of one or another belief system, but with reference to the goals of the members of that society. A starting point would be to say that one society is “better” than another if a greater number of its people have access to experiences that are in line with their goals. A second essential criterion would specify that these experiences should lead to the growth of the self on an individual level, by allowing as many people as possible to develop increasingly complex skills.

The Isé Shrine [south of Kyoto, Japan:] was built about fifteen hundred years ago on one of a pair of adjacent fields. Every twenty years or os it has been taken down from the field it was standing on and rebuilt on the next one. By 1973, it had been reerected for the sixtieth time. The strategy adopted by the monks of Isé resembles one that several statesmen have only dreamed about accomplishing. For example, both Thomas Jefferson and Chairman Mao Ze-dong believed that each generation needed to make its own revolution for its members to stay actively involved in the political system ruling their lives

Things that go against Flow:

  • “Anomy: the norms of society have become muddled”
  • “Alienation: people are constrained by the social system to act in ways that go against their goals.”

Family context promoting optimal experience could be described as having five characteristics. The first one is clarity: teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them – goal and feedback in the family interaction are unambiguous. The second is centering, or the children’s perception that their parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, in their concrete feelings and experiences, rather than preoccupied with whether they will be getting into a good college or obtaining a well-paying job. Next is the issue of choice: children feel that they have a variety of possibilities from which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules – as long as they are prepared to face the consequences. The fourth differentiating characteristic is commitment, or the trust that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to set aside the shield of his defenses and become unselfconsciously involved in whatever he is interested in. And finally there is challenge, or the parents’ dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children

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