Book Review: Flow

Flow:  The Psychology Of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

There are definitely some activities where I strongly value flow.  As a writer, I sometimes find that my writing is flying and time passes without much awareness of its passing until hours have gone by and thousands of words have been written.  Likewise, there are times at work where I find myself involved in the joy of processing commission statements smoothly and again, hours pass and a lot gets done.  Similarly, I find that the only times I enjoy driving are when there is a sense of flow as I am able to move at a consistent speed through light to nonexistent traffic and find myself arriving at a destination feeling placid and relaxed.  Such moments do not necessarily happen very often, but they do happen, and no doubt there are other activities where the enjoyment of them is something that takes place in a world that seems outside of the awareness of time where one’s attention and one’s involvement are perfectly aligned with the task at hand, and it is that sort of experience that the author is writing about, not merely for the sake of an individual person, but also from the point of view of society providing as many people as possible with opportunities to enjoy such experiences.

This book is a relatively short one at a bit under 250 pages and is divided into ten chapters.  The author begins with a preface and then seeks to revisit the subject of happiness, examining the roots of discontent and the way of liberating ourselves from either boredom or anxiety (1).  After that there is a discussion of the anatomy of consciousness (2), including the importance of being a complex person.  This leads a discussion of the relationship between enjoyment and the quality of life (3) and the contrast of self-motivated verses extrinsically induced activity.  The author then discusses the conditions of flow (4) and what sort of people enjoy flow the most in their lives.  This leads to a discussion of the body in flow (5) and how movement, sex, music, and other sensory experience relates to it, as well as a discussion of flow in thought as it relates to memory, science, wisdom, and the pursuit of lifelong learning (6).  The author discusses elusive flow in work (7), as well as the importance of enjoying both solitude and other people (8).  The author then discusses the need to create chaos and cope with the stress of life (9) as well as the importance of making meaning (10), after which there are notes and references.

This is not quite a perfect book, but it is a useful one.  The author is highly critical of the Bible at parts, but appears to be celebrating flow even though he recognizes that such enjoyment is morally neutral and can be found in the pursuit of both moral and immoral behavior.  The author seems to lack a moral compass in that he finds the fate of young people in gangs as preferable to that of overly scheduled suburban kids because at least the gangbangers have some sort of control of the scope of their activities, even if those activities are evil (drug dealing, committing violence, and the like).  It is the author’s lack of a moral compass, even as he talks about the importance of people being self-motivated, that I find both instructive as well as troubling about this book.  The celebration of autonomy even when one recognizes that this autonomy is not going to be used always for good is something that I cannot wholeheartedly support.  Obviously, it is easier to praise self-driven people when we know that they are driven in pursuit of godliness, but such a thing cannot always be known.  And it is the lack of trust that tends to lead to societies not always providing plenty of opportunities for self-direction to others, be it in the business world or relating to young people or other such circumstances.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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