flow

Review From User :

This is quite possibly the most important book I have ever read. Consider it the official "Handbook on Happiness." Part science and part philosophy, it essentially defines happiness itself, then proceeds to explain in detail how we can attain it every waking moment of our lives (hypothetically at least). Although far from a "light read," I found the intense mental concentration the book demanded to be almost physically pleasurable (yes, I am in fact the very definition of a nerd). When I closed the book, I immediately begged my dad for his extra copy--just so I could go back through and underline the passages I will need to revisit from now until the day I die.

If you are unhappy, anxious, or generally dissatisfied with the direction of your life, follow this pattern: (1) read the book's scientific assessment of happiness (or at least my summary below), (2) determine what element of "flow" is missing in your life, and (3) fix it! Thanks to this reading experience, I'm on to step #3 now. I feel enlightened with a unique self-understanding, convinced of the possibility of attaining happiness, and determined to eventually experience constant "flow."

If you don't have the time and energy the book requires, read my gross oversimplification of Mr. C's genius below:

WHAT IS HAPPINESS

A human being experiences happiness to the extent that he can mentally order his consciousness and fight off chaos (what Mr. C refers to as "psychic entropy"). This explains why animals (and people who fight daily for their own basic survival) experience almost constant flow. The meaning of their lives, the focus of their energy, is simple. It might not be enjoyable, but it's simple. We spoiled, idle folk are the ones whining on couches about the lack of fulfillment and happiness in our lives. Why Because we are overwhelmed by so many complicated concerns that we don't know where to focus our psychic energy.

WHAT IS FLOW

Here's the crux of the book. While it examines overall "happiness" briefly, it is more concerned with how to truly enjoy the everyday moments of life. Mr. C refers to the process of "losing yourself" and experiencing Buddha-like enlightenment/self-actualization as a state of "flow." Everyone-from professional athletes to chess masters and punk street kids-recalls a moment in which they seemed to disappear as a person, entirely immersed in the activity in which they were engaged (this differs greatly from drug use and other chemically altering activities, which are temporary fixes for those desperately needing to experience "flow"). Mr. C collected data from various cultures, professions, socio-economic conditions and stages of life, then discovered certain conditions present during "flow," including:

(1) engagement in an activity that is both challenging and attainable (if the activity is too easy, we're bored; if it's too difficult, we're anxious)
(2) the ability to keep concentration focused on the activity (so THAT'S the problem I had as a stay-at-home-mom :)
(3) clearly defined goals that are within the individual's control ("winning the Pulitzer Prize" is not a self-contained goal, for example, because you personally do not choose who wins the Pulitzer)
(4) immediate feedback (our psychic energy tends to atrophy without some verification we're on the right track)
(5) deep, effortless involvement in the activity-which removes from awareness the worries/frustrations of everyday life (during flow, you "get lost" in what you are doing because so much of your psychic energy is engaged)
(6) sense of control over your own actions (more of that fighting-against-chaos definition of happiness)
(7) non-self-conscious individualism (paradoxically, you lose yourself in what you are doing and eliminate all self-criticism, yet when the process is complete you are actually a "more complex" individual. Mr. C states that "loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of the self, and certainly not a loss of consciousness, but rather, only a loss of consciousness OF the self." THIS IS SO TRUE! As an actress and musician, my worst performances are always the ones in which I am self-conscious about the performance I am giving. There is no room for selfish awareness in flow!)
(8) some alteration of time (either "hours feel like minutes" or vice versa)

According to Mr. C, the reason most of us classify ourselves as unhappy is that we "keep widening the gap between jobs that are necessary but unpleasant, and leisure pursuits that are enjoyable but have little complexity To fill free time with activities that require concentration, that increase skills, that lead to a development of the self, is not the same as killing time by watching television or taking recreational drugs." Once we learn to replicate these essential characteristics of flow, Mr. C contends that we can experience flow in every daily activity-whether performing brain surgery or washing the dishes.

I especially appreciated the sections on how to create a meaningful "flow" relationship with your children, as well as his postulations about the flow experience through writing. His ideas on the correlation between attention disorders and depression are amazing. Only one downer-he occasionally spoke in a deprecating and somewhat condescending manner about religion. As a scientifically-minded individual who finds great purpose and opportunities in my faith, I found his comments too generalized. Other than that, he was intoxicatingly brilliant!

We can experience flow in our home, work, personal relationships, daily activities, everything! We just glance down the list, discover what condition is missing, and get creative. When situations challenge our happiness, we address the problem in a healthy, proactive way and again free up our psychic energy to work toward our life goals.

Bottom line-those who control their inner experience determine their quality of life.

Preach it!

FAVORITE QUOTES:

There are literally thousands of [self-help books:] in print explaining how to get rich, powerful, loved, or slim Yet even if their advice were to work, what would be the result afterward in the unlikely event that one did turn into a slim, well-loved, powerful millionaire Usually what happens is that the person finds himself back at square one, with a new list of wishes, just as dissatisfied as before. What would really satisfy people is not getting slim or rich, but feeling good about their lives. In the quest for happiness, partial solutions don't work.

Contrary to the myths mankind has created to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs A meteorite on a collision course with New York City might be obeying all the laws of the universe, but it would still be a damn nuisance.

There is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way.

Mowing the lawn or waiting in a dentist's office can become enjoyable provided one restructures the activity by providing goals, rules, and the other elements of enjoyment.

"The purpose of flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow It is a self-communication." (a mountain climber on "flow")

Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself. Material conditions are secondary.

Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.

Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal.

If goals are well chosen, and if we have the courage to abide by them despite opposition, we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won't have the time to be unhappy.








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