Yes, I’m late with this post but I’ve been busy baking and time gets all blurry when I’ve got my baking mojo working. Matter of fact, blurred time or what author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that five times fast) calls “flow” is the subject of this book review. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life is the follow up to Csikszentmihalyi’s bestselling Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. If Flow introduced the science behind why challenging activities that require high skill make us happier, Finding Flow attempts to explain the what and where of the sort of activities that result in the flow experience.
Why does this matter at all? Well, according to the author, Western culture fosters the belief that happiness is rooted in the acquisition of material things or from sources outside of ourselves. Watch enough television and you’re bombarded with a continuous stream of messages about all the things and experiences you should have and how you can go about getting them. We know we’re being sold to but those messages are insidious, they become benchmarks to how we define the good life regardless of us being conscious of that benchmarking or not.
Finding Flow tries to clue us in to the idea that achieving what we might think of as the good life is the result of what we choose to do with the time we are granted every day. In other words, we alone have the power to give meaning and fulfillment to our own lives. Sure, you might read that and think come on, everybody knows this already. Exactly. That’s why we’re all so happy with all we have right now – where we live, what we drive (or in my case ride), where we vacation and so on.
Csikszentmihalyi’s studies found that people were happiest when fully absorbed in actions they actively engaged in. These moments can occur in either of the three areas – productive activities like work, maintenance activities which include eating and travel, and leisure activities – where we spend the whole of our day. The challenge of course, as it relates to how happy we are with our lives, is in figuring out how to move toward the upper right quadrant, the high challenge/high skill place that produces flow. Active leisure for example produces more happiness than does passive leisure.
This is not to say that passive leisure activities are not enjoyable, relaxing or fun, oftentimes they are any or all of those. But active leisure, experiences that tax your capabilities are better for you. For me, this translates as designing architecture rather than viewing it, riding my bicycle rather than watching the Tour de France, and baking bread rather than watching a television show about baking.
Don’t expect to read Finding Flow for solutions or a recipe on achieving a happy, fulfilling life. It’s not that type of book. But if you want to know where to find flow, why it matters and what it really costs to get there all you need to do is demand more – of yourself.
The Library is a recurring series on the books that confirm, challenge or otherwise inform the Peopled Places point of view.