While this book was in my essential reading list for a while, the urge to take it up soon came after reading Daniel Pink's book "Drive" a couple of months ago. The question of 'what drive people' has its roots to this very book. It had come out two decades ago, and the concept 'flow' has been in discussion ever since. Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi, discusses exactly the same point from a psychological and philosophical angle. What makes people to do what they do. How did the quest for eternal happiness continued through the generations and how has it not been changed significantly over the centuries.
Men ( and women) strives to seek happiness in whatever they do. It is also evident that while they are at it, they seems to be in 'flow' with the universe, with themselves, often oblivious to external surroundings. Calling his theory as 'Optimal Experience' , he says it is "the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement".
"In our studies, we found that every flow activity.. provided a sense of discovery , a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushes the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex."
Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi, builds his concept beautifully through the book. Looking at what is happiness and what constitutes to the 'optimal experience' that we as humans observe, helps us define the concept. From the early ages of civilizations to the present day, the definition of happiness varied through the ages. The concept of community, the culture and religion shaped the early days.
Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience. Cultures prescribe norms, evolve goals, build beliefs that helps us tackle the challenges of existence.
And he also says quoting examples 'It is probable that many cultures disappeared, because they were no longer able to provide the experience of enjoyment". It is known that the population growth reduced during the war time, the spend on leisure and other activities that provide 'enjoyment' takes a back seat during crisis.
Defining 'flow' as a state of consciousness, he looks at the eastern civilisations and check at the Yoga from India and the Martial art forms of East Asian countries, as a great influencers in the lives of people seeking meaning of life.
When it comes to learning to control the body and its experiences, we are children compared to great Eastern civilizations. In many respect, what the West has accomplished in terms of harnessing material energy is matched by what India and far east have achieved in terms of direct control of consciousness. ... The perfect society would be able to strike healthy balance between the spiritual and material worlds.
The similarities between Yoga and Flow are extremely strong; in fact it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity...Their main divergence is that, whereas flow attempts to fortify the self, the goal of Yoga and other Easter techniques is to abolish it.
Dividing at the 'flow' activities as physical (bodily and through other sensory organs) , he classifies sports, yoga, martial arts, sex , music, tasting food. Continuing the discussion to mental aspects, he looks at science, mathematics, crosswords and other word games are discussed.
Work of art that I personally respond to ...have behind them a lot of conceptual, political and intellectual activity. .. What a person sees in a picture is not just a picture, but a 'thought machine' that include the painter's emotions, hopes, and ideas as well as the spirit of culture and the historical period in which he lived.
Flow is also extended to the hob and work, which is of my interest. Daniel Pinks book 'Drive' looks at this area in detail looking at the motivational aspects in detail. The family, friends and other social setting has an equal and important role in individual. Many a times, being with family or friends are described as the best 'flow' activities by lot of people. The discussion will not be complete unless you look at the derailment factors. The factors that work against the 'flow' or optimal experience. It is amazing to see people finding or seeking flow despite personal , physical tragedies.
This book indeed a result of long drawn experiment and research. While this subject of 'eternal happiness' has been a topic of varied interest and discussion, Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi brings it up all together and gives his own definition to the concept. A concept, for the past two decades have been subject to many discussion and interpretations at different psychological, spiritual and business topics. The subject is deep and engrossing, and to make it accessible to a layman's knowledge , is some task, and one should give credit to the writer. There are umpteen references, and explanations for those who need deeper understanding. He has also written sequel to this book for those who are interested.Flow ( 1990)
Flow, Ted Talk on Flow