What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly is possibly one of the best self-improvement books I’ve read in a while. While not intended to be a typical self-help guide, the book certainly provides an extraordinary insight into the ecstasy of living a life full of complementary optimal experiences. I particularly loved the real-life anecdotes that the author uses as examples in the different chapters to elucidate how people in some of the most trying circumstances were able to channel their ‘psychic energy’ towards a rewarding life experience.
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The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.
The ability to convert any mundane routine task into an enjoyable activity is something which most people deem as rather impossible to cultivate or rarely found. Leisure is always seen as more desirable than any form of work. Yet statistics prove that people are often more anxious and unhappy while relaxing in the company of friends or vacationing in a luxury island than they are when engaged in meaningful work. While not all work is equally complex, challenging or fulfilling, it is an individual’s ability to improve one’s own internal experience of the work which determines his level of satisfaction with it. To some, such ability may be innate from birth; for the rest of us, this book illustrates the process of achieving this in lucid clarity.
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The autotelic experience, or flow, lifts the course of life to a different level. Alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control, and psychic energy works to reinforce the sense of self, instead of being lost in the service of external goals.
The author uses the concept of flow in context of a gamut of topics ranging from achieving excellence in one’s physical and mental performance as in the case of athletes and astrophysicists, to regular human tasks of making small talk with the neighbour, forging lasting social relationships and raising children.
The book is an enjoyable read for anyone looking to improve one’s quality of life and to develop an understanding of how to create meaning in one’s everyday actions.
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