Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Book Summary)

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This fascinating book is all about happiness and how to find it. Cziksentmihalyi is an
authority on the subject. As he explains, happiness is not something that happens, that
money or power can command. Happiness is a condition that must be prepared for,
cultivated and defended privately by each person. It is only by controlling our inner
experience that we can become happy. Happiness cannot be reached by consciously
searching for it. As J S Mill once put it, “Ask yourselves whether you are happy and you
cease to be so”.
Optimal Experience
The author uses the term “optimal experience” to describe those occasions where we
feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment, which we cherish for long and
that becomes a landmark in our lives. These moments are often not passive, receptive
relaxing times. They tend to occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its
limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something that is difficult or worthwhile.
Everything we experience is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to
connect this information, we can determine what our lives will be like. Optimal states
result when there is order in consciousness. This happens when we are focused on
realistic goals with our skills matching the opportunities for action. Goals allow people
to concentrate attention on the task at hand, forgetting other things temporarily.
The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. It may be
undertaken for other reasons but the activity soon becomes intrinsically rewarding. It is
autotelic. (Auto means self and teleos means goal). An autotelic experience lifts life to a
different level.
Building Inner Harmony
Our level of happiness ultimately depends on how our mind filters and interprets
everyday experiences. Happiness depends on inner harmony, not on our ability to exert
control over the great forces of the universe. There are people who regardless of their
material conditions are satisfied and have a way of making those around them more
happy. On the other hand, there are people who despite being blessed with so much
money and power, are unhappy.
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