Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presents a wonderful book about how to maximize your mental enjoyment — the time when you feel fully engaged with something, which he calls ‘flow.’ He describes eight conditions that can help you achieve it, and then spends the rest of the book giving examples and talking about the enjoyment that comes from it. It’s a great book that I highly recommend, and think that people would be much happier if they followed the advice he offers. I plan on incorporating as much of it as I can into my own life and actions.

The eight conditions for achieving flow are, roughly: Clear purpose; immediate feedback; balance of skills and challenge; high concentration; relief from everyday worries; feeling of control; loss of self-consciousness; time passes quickly / disconnect from time. These are conditions that most people can relate to, and happens most often when doing something enjoyable: reading a book, cooking, playing a sport, etc. While not individually groundbreaking, the idea of setting up life such that enjoyment can be the primary focus — and that enjoyment comes from activity, not passivity — is really a wonderful idea. He mentions the fact that many people, often myself included, spend their workdays doing something that is tolerable but perhaps not enjoyable, and then spend their free time passively watching television, where they neither develop new skills or improve old skills. It’s a good reminder that while relaxation can be good at times, our best selves and most enjoyable time is spent building up and creating, rather than sitting back and doing nothing. I appreciated the reminder, and am pleased that this fifty-book challenge is helping me to be more active in my life.

The big idea I will take with me from this book is that in order for life to be enjoyable, we must actively engage it. It doesn’t much matter what it is we are doing, though he does recommend finding a north star-like mission to orient your life around. He uses television as a pejorative term, like it’s something to do briefly, but is pretty useless/not engaging/almost harmful in longer periods. And yet American culture basically adores “Netflix and chill” and binge-watching seasons upon seasons of shows and following the Marvel Universe by watching all 153,459,652 different shows they’ve produced. He is essentially inviting us into a new life, one that is brighter and more glorious and more delightful than the one we inhabit now. It sounds delicious, and I hope to get there.