‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ looks at how finding a sense of happiness is achieved through control of one’s inner life. It looks at a wide variety of issues related to this, beginning with an exploration of how consciousness works and how it is controlled.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, all experiences, such as pain or joy, boredom or interest, are embodied in our minds as information (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is by the control of this information that we are able to make a decision as to what our lives will be like (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
What is Optimal Experience?
Optimal experience relies upon a person controlling the moment-to-moment aspects of consciousness – or, put another way, there is “order in consciousness” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 6). This occurs when psychic energy (or, as more commonly referred to as ‘attention’) is focused on realistic goals, and when a person’s skills are in alignment with their opportunities for action.
“The pursuit of a goal brings order into awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 6).
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
Hardship need not be a barrier to enjoyment. In fact, people nominate times when a person has struggled to overcome challenges as the most enjoyable times in the person’s life.