Book review: Flow

Everybody knows the state of Flow. Flow is when you’re engrossed in doing something. You may forget time and place. You may forget to eat or sleep. You’re doing what you’re doing, and your entire attention is focused on that.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about it back in 1990, based on many years of research into happiness. And the book is excellent. No other book I’ve read discusses human happiness (and unhappiness) so clearly and fluidly.

So what is it that makes us happy?

According to Csikszentmihalyi, happiness is available to all of us, regardless of our external circumstances. The main key to happiness is internal, namely the ability to control your consciousness. You need, among other things, to be able to focus on the positive things in life.

Another important thing is meaning. To discover (or make) for yourself a purpose in your life, which then gives meaning and structure to everything else that happens.

There are chapters on work as flow and the body in flow, and a fascinating chapter on “Cheating Chaos”. The latter is the art of improving the quality of your life, when things are not going your way. This chapter cites an interesting study in Italy, which examined the lives of people who had extreme handicaps, such as paraplegics, as a result of accidents at some point in their lives.

The author puts it like this: The unexpected finding of this study was that a large proportion of the victims mentioned the accident that caused paraplegia as both one of the most negative and one of the most positive events in their lives. The reason tragic events were seen as positive was that they presented the victim with very clear goals while reducing contradictory and inessential choices. The patients who learned to master the new challengens of their impaired situation felt a clarity of purpose that they had lacked before.

The book is full of thoughts on these subjects, and many more. There are few concrete tips that you can apply immediately to your own life; this is not a self-help book. But if you want to know more about what makes people happy, this is the best book I know of. It is easily accessible, extremely interesting and well structured. Read it!

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