Book Review: ‘Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’

Flow

If there was one book that was consistently quoted in the books that I read last year, it was ‘Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.’ So I had this book on my ‘To Read’ list for quite some time. Even after I have finished reading this book, I still have trouble pronouncing the author’s name. The book is also not a breezy read kind of book and it takes a few pages to get used to the author’s style of writing. Some of the words and phrases that I came across in this book are completely new to me. But the concept that the book deals with has had so much appeal that as per the author it has been translated into 14 different languages.

The basic premise of the book is that happiness is not something that happens to a person. The author argues that Happiness is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended by each person. This book summarizes decades of research by the author on the positive aspects of human experience — joy, creativity, and the process of total involvement with life that the author describes as Flow. To put it simply Flow is nothing but the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

The author lays out the common characteristics of optimal experience, i.e. Flow: a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-hound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. The author also addresses through individual chapters on how one can achieve Flow in activities that require physical skill, in intellectual and artistic pursuits, in one’s current vocation as well in interpersonal relationships. Towards the end of the book the author also handles how one can integrate discrete Flow activities in life into one unified Flow experience. It would be worth paying extra attention to the last chapter, ‘The making of Meaning.’

Some of my favorite lines from the book are:

Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos.

A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening “outside,” just by changing the contents of consciousness.

‘Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it.

The reality is that 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.

Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality.

Purpose, resolution, and harmony unify life and give it meaning by transforming it into a seamless flow experience.

Overall the book would need extra investment in attention and time but it’s worth the effort. After all the book deals with how any journey can be worth pursuing for its own sake and there is no better place to start following the idea than in reading this very book that espouses the idea. The central idea of the book is so important that following it if not mastering it will greatly enrich our life.

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