Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was one the early psychologists to study positive psychology. This book is an explanation of his years of findings in the subject, all put into practical terms for everyone instead of academics.
The premise of the book is that humans are happier overall when they spend more of their time in a state of “flow.” Precisely defining that state is a good portion of the book; for the sake of a brief blog post it can be helpful to think of it with the following visual aid.
The situations that create a state of flow are when the challenge of the situation matches up perfectly with an achievement in our skill. Too easy a challenge on something you’re competent in leads to boredom. A high challenge with no training? Anxiety. High challenges in something you’re very skilled? Flow.
While in flow, our experiences become “autotelic.” We do the thing for the thing’s sake. We master our chess match only because we want to. We climb the mountain because it’s there. Not out of boredom or worry, but because it matches with what we’re skilled to do and it’s a challenge to overcome.
If you’ve not already seen it, you should watch this TED talk before reading the book.
I’ve seen this video more than once and I still found value from the book. But if you watch this and say “meh,” I think you’ll not enjoy it or find it useful.
Once you agree that this flow state can bring about a more systemic joy to your life, the question begins to turn to how you can and can’t control bringing more flow states to your life. Not every job lends itself well to flow, but you may not be so quick to rule yours out. The errands and chores of family life may be boring to you in some ways, but changing your perspective and the system of those actions might help you find flow in commonplace activities.
I’m working through a lot of issues right now. Having a young family and managing a career have both tested me a great deal on their own; combined I’m often amazed I’m still standing. But some notions from this book really strike a chord with me. Finding the situations that I can turn into a flow state are worth my while, and I think it an obtainable goal for many hours of my day that currently tend to land in boredom, apathy, or anxiety.
Such systemic changes would lead to good things, I think.
Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, part of my 2017 Reading