It was very unclear what to expect from this book when I first picked it up. I’ve been hearing about this book off and on for a while now. When it showed up in the ‘further reading’ section of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I thought maybe it was time to actually give it a read.
I’m not disappointed but I didn’t find this work as life changing as I’d been lead to believe.
I was first surprised by the fact that this book is old. Published in the same year I was born (1990), both this book and I have reached one quarter of a century. And while I am relatively obscure, this book has had 25 years to permeate the culture in which we live.
It has, and I believe that is part of the reason this book was so difficult to get through. When people say Seinfeld isn’t funny, they mean that the things which made Seinfeld novel and groundbreaking as a sitcom, have all been used and perhaps over-used by other shows which came after. Themes and techniques which Seinfeld brought to the scene, have been improved on, or even perfected by other comedies later on. New things have emerged.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience seems to have suffered a bit in the same way. While it was interesting to have certain terms coined (ex. psychic energy, flow etc.), and defined with exacting precision, it seemed to me that the main thesis of this work was no longer novel.
For example, Csikszentmihalyi describes conditions which need to be met in order for Flow to occur. Essentially, we need to find a task which a) matches/pushes our ability, b) brings us closer to some goal we’ve set. He goes on to state that if the activity is too easy, we’ll grow bored and if it is too difficult, we will give up. I wouldn’t call this discovery earth shattering but it also isn’t completely irrelevant either. Useful to consider if seemingly a bit obvious. Much of the wisdom in Flow can be ascribed as such.
I suppose, what we are meant to take away from this work is that we are happy when our abilities are tested, and we succeed. For Csikszentmihalyi, when we’ve found a task that matches/pushes our ability, and brings us closer to something we value, our consciousness expands. We become more complex and in doing so, achieve greater happiness.
What Flow is useful for, is prompting introspection. What activities do you perform (whether at work, or leisure) that generate flow? Which don’t? Can they be made to? How do they bring you closer towards your goals? What are your goals? Why? What activities do you do simply for the sheer enjoyment of doing them?
I won’t lie, thinking about all that is a bit like staring into the abyss. But it’s worth a look. For me, it was very useful to look at my activities and really isolate my motivations. Some activities I started for seemingly external reasons (ie the wrong reasons) but continue because I’ve found that I really do enjoy them.
Hmm. Maybe I learned something from this book after all 😉
Until next time . . .