Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever  immersed youself so much into a task that you lost track of time? Do you wonder what is going in the head of Roger Federer or Tiger Woods while they perform their magic?

The answer is Flowthe mental state in  which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment.Being in flow is(…)colloquially referred to as being in the zone. #thankswikipedia



I chose to study this book because of the implication of Flow Theory into the design of learning experiences. The first chapters, however are somehow philosophical and refer mostly to the origins of unhappiness. Indeed, Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s ultimate point is that ‘flow-like experiences’ are key to happiness, so he seems to be building up context for him to later make a point.


Chapter 1: Happiness Revisited 


In this section you will learn:

What is  ‘Optimal Experience’ (Flow)

The relationship between optimal experience and happiness.

How to pronounce (but not spell) “Csikszentmihalyi”


  • Despite most countries’ immense increase in affluence and improvement in quality of lifes, statistics show that people are more miserable today than ever in history.
  • Even though happiness appears to be an extraordinarily elusive goal, Professor Csikszentmihalyi (CHEEK-sent-me-hi-EEE)  believes there is a way to achieve it. The “building blocks” for a happy life are moments he calls’Moments of Optimal Experience’
  • ‘Optimal experience’  occurs when we feel that we are in control of our actions and our fate, instead of being at the mercy of external forces. Think of a painter, completely absorbed in composing his masterpiece, or Roger Federer becoming one with  the racket at Centre Court in a Wimbledon final.
  • Optimal Experiences  occur when “a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”  They are not achieved in passive relaxation in front of the TV. Optimal experience is something we make happen, like trying to beat a swimming record or mastering an intricate musical passage.
  • In the long run, the optimal experiences we have in life add up to a sense of participation in the content of our own existence. This sense of mastery over our own lives is the closest thing there is to what we usually mean by ‘happiness’
  • Flow theory was developed from extensive research on these moments of optimal experience.


In this section you will learn:


Why there is widespread ‘unhappiness’ despite the fantastic material improvements in our lives.

  • “The foremost reason happiness is hard to achieve because the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind ” (NR: that hurts)
  • Chaos, in the field of psychology, means that we living in an universe that is indifferent to our wants and needs.
  • Even though our comfort and affluence increase with every generation, our expectations also adapt upward (N.R: the hedoniCc treadmill) thus making the improvement of quality of life an impossible task.



In this section you will learn:

How we  humans have historically shielded ourselves  fom  the pain of living in a universe that is indifferent to our human wants and needs)

Why these shields are no longer reliable

Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s path towards happiness in the absence of the shields of culture.

  • Humans have always developed myths and beliefs to transform the random forces of the universe into more understandable patterns. Aggregated, these myths and beliefs make up what we know as ‘culture’ One of the major functions of culture has been to convince its members of their importance in the universe and ultimate success. Culture thus works as a shield from our isolation in the cosmos and the precariousness of our survival.
  • When a ‘culture’ runs out of good luck or fails, it generates extreme disillusion in those members who had an unrealistic trust in it. (NR Think about ‘The American Dream’)
  • Members of a ‘culture’ are subject to unrealistic assumptions of entitlement to survival and success while they basically live in a universe that does not care about us. Since our early days we have been conditioned by culture that some sort of benign force will provide for us. This assumption is problematic because it makes us quickly lose courage and determination when culture fails or transforms.
  • “The shields than have worked in the past such as religion, patriotism, ethnic traditions, and habits instilled by some social classes   are no longer effective for shielding us from chaos (NR: !!!)”
  • Reclaiming Experience p. 16
  •  To overcome the anxieties and depression of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they do not respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishment (…) that person has to learn to provide rewards to herself.



Chapter 2: The anatomy of consciousness

The Limits of Consciousness

Attention as Psychic Energy p. 30

Enter the Self p. 33

Disorder in Consciousness: Psychic Entropy

Order in Consciousness: Flow

Complexity and the Growth of the Self

Chapter 3:Enjoyment and the Quality of Life

Pleasure and Enjoyment p. 45

The Elements of Enjoyment p. 48

The Autotelic Experience p. 67

Chapter 4: The Conditions of Flow 

Flow Activities p. 72
Flow and Culture p. 77
The Autotelic Personality p. 83
The People of Flow p. 90

Chapter 5 The Body in Flow

Higher, Faster, Stronger p. 96
The Joys of Movement p. 99
Sex as Flow p. 100
The Ultimate Control: Yoga and the Martial Arts p. 103
Flow through the Senses: The Joys of Seeing p. 106
The Flow of Music p. 108
The Joys of Tasting p. 113

Chapter 6 The Flow of Thought

The Mother of Science p. 120
The Rules of the Games of the Mind p. 124
The Play of Words p. 128
Befriending Clio p. 132
The Delights of Science p. 134
Loving Wisdom p. 138
Amateurs and Professionals p. 139
The Challenge of Lifelong Learning p. 141

Chapter 7 Work As Flow

Autotelic Workers p. 144
Autotelic Jobs p. 152
The Paradox of Work p. 157
The Waste of Free Time p. 162

Chapter 8 Enjoying Solitude and Other People 

The Conflict between Being Alone and Being with Others p. 165
The Pain of Loneliness p. 168
Taming Solitude p. 173
Flow and the Family p. 175
Enjoying Friends p. 185
The Wider Community p. 190

Chapter 9 Cheating Chaos

Tragedies Transformed p. 193
Coping with Stress p. 198
The Power of Dissipative Structures p. 201
The Autotelic Self: A Summary p. 208

Chapter 10 The Making of Meaning

What Meaning Means p. 215
Cultivating Purpose p. 218
Forging Resolve p. 223
Recovering Harmony p. 227
The Unification of Meaning in Life Themes p. 230