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Finding Flow. By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Relationships and the Quality of Life


There is no doubt that well-being is deeply attuned to relationships, and that consciousness resonates to the feedback we receive from other people.  (p. 78)


Some cultures have the view that the individual is nothing until shaped and refined through interaction with others. (p. 79)


An extensive study of family dynamics found that when both parents are employed, husbands moods are low at work, but improve when they get home, while the opposite is true for wives who have to face household chores when they return from the outside job, thus creating opposite cycles of emotional well-being. (p. 88)



















Changing the Patterns of Life


Even if we dont want to admit it, the ability to overcome most obstacles is within our hands.  We cant blame family, society, or history if our work is meaningless, dull, or stressful.  In terms of the bottom line of ones life, it is always a better deal to do something one feels good about than something that may make us materially comfortable but emotionally miserable. Such decisions are notoriously difficult, and require great honesty with oneself (p. 102)


Minute changes can result in great discoveries and small adjustments can turn a routine job one dreads into a professional performance one can look forward to with anticipation each morning. (p. 105)


Being able to create order among the various demands that crowd upon consciousness will go a long way toward preventing stress. (p. 107)


Businessmen know that even the most successful company needs constant attention, because external and internal conditions are always changing, and need to be adjusted to.  Entropy is a constant factor, and if it not attended to, the company will dissolve.  


The Autotelic Personality


Autotelic is a word composed of two Greek roots:  auto (self) and telos (goal).  An autotelic activity is one we do for its own sake because to experience it is the main goal.  (p. 117)


An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding.  (p. 117)


Autotelic persons are less concerned with themselves, and therefore have more free energy to experience life with.  (p. 123)


If you are interested in something you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it.  (p. 128)


To control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life.  Information reaches consciousness only when we attend to it.  Attention acts as a filter between outside events and our experience of them.  How much stress we experience depends more on how well we control attention, than on what happens to us.  (p. 128)


The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over ones attention.  (p. 129)


The Love of Fate


The chief obstacle to a good life is oneself.  (p. 134)

 symptoms, such as headaches and backaches, on weekends and at times when they are not studying of working.

Even the pain of women with cancer is tolerable when they are with friends, or involved in an activity; it flares up when they are alone with nothing to do.  Apparently when energy is not committed to a definite task it is easier to notice what goes wrong in our bodies. When attention is focused, minor aches and pains have no chance to register in consciousness (p. 46-47)


The excellence of daily life depends not on what we do, but on how we do it. (p. 47)


The Paradox of Work


A person who grows up experiencing most of the day as neither important nor enjoyable is unlikely to find much meaning in the future. (p. 56)


Work has severe drawbacks, but its lack is worse.  When idleness is forced on someone without a handsome income, it just produces a severe drop in self-esteem, and general listlessness.  (p. 58)


Without the goals and challenges usually provided by a job, only a rare self-discipline can keep the mind focused intensely enough to insure a meaningful life. (p. 59)


Work is much more like a game than most other things we do during the day.  It usually has clear goals and rules of performance.  It provides feedback either in the form of knowing that one has finished a job well done, in terms of measurable sales, or through an evaluation by ones superior.  A job usually encourages concentration and prevents distractions and its challenges generally match the workers skills.  Thus work tends to have the structure of other intrinsically rewarding activities that provide flow.  In comparison, much of the rest of life lacks these elements.  When spending time at home with the family or alone, people often lack a clear purpose, do not know how well they are doing, are distracted, feel that their skills are underutilized, and a as a result feel bored or anxious. (p. 59)


John Reed, former CEO of Citicorp claimed that the best investment he ever made was the year he took off from his successful career to spend with his children as they were growing up.  He said raising kids is far more rewarding than earning money for a company, in terms of a sense of satisfaction. (p. 63)


The Risks and Opportunities of Leisure


The evidence suggests that free time is more difficult to enjoy than work.  Having leisure at ones disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically. (p. 65)


The average person is ill equipped to be idle.  Without goals and without others to interact with, most people begin to lose motivation and concentration.  The mind begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems that cause anxiety.  In order to avoid this, without necessarily being aware of it, one will seek out stimulation that will screen out the sources of anxiety from consciousness.  This might be watching TV or engaging in obsessive gambling, getting drunk, etc.  These are quick ways to reduce chaos in consciousness in the short run, but usually the only residue they leave behind is a feeling of listless dissatisfaction.  (p. 65) 


Most activities that produce flow also have clear goals, clear rules, immediate feedback  a set of external demands that focuses our attention and makes demands on our skills.  Now these are exactly the conditions that are most often lacking in free time. (p. 66)


People who view television more often than the average tend to have worse jobs and worse relationships.  In a large-scale study in Germany, it was found that the more often people report reading books, the more flow experiences they claim to have, while the opposite trend was found for watching television.  The most flow was reported by individuals who read a lot and watched little TV, the least by those who read seldom and watched often. (p. 69)


The record seems to suggest that a society begins to rely heavily on leisure  and especially passive leisure  only when it has become incapable of offering meaningful productive occupation to its members. (p. 70)


How can the danger of polarizing life into work that is meaningless and leisure that has no purpose be avoided?  By following the example of creative individuals whose lives have the work and play components largely indistinguishable.  They use the best knowledge from the past and the present to discover a better way of being in the future.  Work itself becomes as enjoyable as leisure and when one needs a break from it, leisure is likely to be true recreation instead of a scheme for dulling the mind.  (p. 77)

[These notes are quotes taken from, and paraphrases of the book itself.  Chapter titles are underlined.]




The author looks at the question of What is a good life? by trying to stay as close to reasonable evidence as possible by focusing on the events that people typically encounter throughout a normal day.  (p. 2)


The Content of Experience


Emotions refer to the internal states of consciousness.  Negative emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, or boredom produce psychic entropy in the mind, that is, a state in which we cannot use attention effectively to deal with external tasks, because we need it to restore an inner subjective order. (p. 22)


Without a consistent set of goals, it is difficult to develop a coherent self.  It is through the patterned investment of energy provided by goals that one creates order in experience. (p. 23)


Emotions focus attention by mobilizing the entire organism in an approach or an avoidance mode.  Goals do it by providing images of desired outcomes. (p. 25)


To pursue mental operations to any depth, a person has to learn to concentrate attention.  Without focus, consciousness is in a state of chaos.  The normal condition of the mind is one of informational disorder:  random thoughts chase one another instead of lining up in logical causal sequences.  Unless one learns to concentrate, and is able to invest the effort, thoughts will scatter without reaching any conclusion. (p. 26)


A flow experience is a moment that people may describe a sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives.  This is like being in the zone. (p. 29)


Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses, like in a game of chess where they have goals and rules for action that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how.  Activities that induce flow could be called flow activities because they make it more likely for the experience to occur.  In contrast to normal life, flow activities allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible.  (p. 30)


Other characteristics of flow activities:  they provide immediate feedback by making it clear how well you are doing by showing if you have improved your position or not; they fully involve a persons skills in overcoming a challenge that it just about manageable.  (p. 30)


When goals are clear, feedback relevant, and challenges and skills are in balance, attention becomes ordered and fully invested.  A person in flow is completely focused.  There is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings.  (p. 31)


It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life.  When we are in flow, we are not happy, because to experience happiness we must focus on our inner states, and that would take away attention from the task at hand.  If a rock climber takes time out to feel happy while negotiating a difficult move, he might fall to the bottom of the mountain.  Only after the task is completed do we have the leisure to look back on what has happened, and then we are flooded with gratitude for the excellence of that experience  then, in retrospect we are happy. (p. 32)

So how does a person get into flow? By increasing challenges.  Arousal and control are very important for learning.  (p. 32)


How We Feel When Doing Different Things


The first step in improving the quality of life consists in engineering daily activities so that one gets the most rewarding experiences from them.  (p. 40)


One interesting finding is that people report significantly more physical 


Engaging with Everyday Life


The average person is ill equipped to be idle.  Without goals and without others to interact with, most people begin to lose motivation and concentration. 

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