Flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Essentially, this book is about achieving happiness (or flow) and explores the conditions under which it thrives.
The first few chapters concern the nature of happiness and consciousness. For me, the most interesting chapters were on finding flow in the mind, the body and in work. Really, there’s potential for flow in all activities! Whether walking to the grocery store, playing a game of chess, climbing a mountain or practicing the piano, finding flow is dependant on structuring these activities, setting goals, measuring progress, keeping concentration, developing skills and raising the stakes.
In society, two things that make flow difficult to experience are anomie and alienation. Anomie means “the lack of rules.” Alienation is the opposite and refers to “a condition in which people are constrained by the social system.” This dichotomy is very similar to the freedom/structure relationship inherent in the creative process. I’ve written about this relationship previously here and here.
Though society plays a role in influencing the balance between anomie and alienation, individuals carry some responsibility too. Mihaly uses the term “autotelic” to describe personalities capable of controlling consciousness and transforming ordinary activity and experience into flow. Autotelic experiences are self-contained, pursued for their own sake, not for their consequences.
Here’s a graph that I found interesting – there are parallels here to ideas about deliberate practice. It’s especially useful if you’re crafting lesson plans for yourself or your students: