Is there any secret to happiness?

How Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines happiness and way to find it.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian-American psychologist. He recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state.

The autotelic personality

“′Autotelic′ is a word composed of two Greek roots: auto (self), and telos (goal).
An autotelic activity is one we do for its own sake because to experience it is
the main goal. Applied to personality, autotelic denotes an individual who
generally does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve some
later external goal.”

“The mark of the autotelic personality is the ability to manage a rewarding bal-
ance between the ′play′ of challenge finding and the ′work′ of skill building”
(Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1993, p. 80).

Eight optimal criteria for flow:

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.Additionally, psychology writer Kendra Cherry has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience.

1. Clarity of goals
…as seen in many sports or the arts. A tennis player knows exactly what is required in order to win a game. The step here is not to set about goals but have a clear idea about it. There should be no confusions or conflicting ideas. Find the impediments to your clarity of goals. Find out how clarity in goals make you more satisfying.

2. Immediate and clear feedback
The rules are clear. In every action, success or failure is ‘immediately’ perceived constantly. It helps us to alter the activity for optimal results. It also helps us to enhance the focus.

3. Challenge = skill
The difficulty of a task has to provide the right degree of challenge to a person’s ability. A too difficult piece of music will leave a musician frustrated and disappointed, a too easy one leads to boredom and routine. So flow occurs in range between ‘too much’ and ‘too little’.

How do you feel when the task in front of you appears to be impossible?

Is it always impossible?

How can you grade your skill level realistically without selling yourself short

The concept of flow. The challenge level matches the skill level.

4. The feeling of control

Characteristic for flow is the feeling of heightened control over one’s actions. The expression ‘control’ is easily misunderstood. It can put many people off by its association with compulsive domination or nervous attention. Control in flow has none of these qualities. It is a state of security and relaxation with the complete absence of worry: the paradox known in Zen Buddhism as ‘control without controlling’.

5. Effortlessness

Flow involves flexibility and ease; everything works harmoniously and effortlessly. A tennis match or a solo performance on stage may look strenuous from the outside; yet, if in fact the player is in flow, he or she does not experience any particular strain. The activity runs smoothly, guided by an inner logic. All necessary decisions arise spontaneously from the demands of the activity without any deliberate reflection.

6. Altered perception of time

A distortion of temporal experience, the self perception of time is altered. In a deep flow-state, one’s normal perception of time is on hold. Time can either feel condensed – two hours feel like ten minutes, or expanded – seconds feel like minutes. That is why the flow-mode is called ‘timeless’.

7. Self Transcendence

Complete involvement creates a state in which there is no room for worry, fear, distraction or self-conscious rumination. The self of self disappears. Performers do not feel separated from their actions; they are one with their performance. This feeling of unity can expand to a person’s surroundings (nature). Its like feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible. And the performer experiences a feel that he or she has the potential to succeed.

8. Autotelic personality

From Greek autos – self and telos – goal. Not only achieving the goal of an activity is rewarding but the activity in itself is fulfilling. Flow is therefore “Immediate Return on Investment”.

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience.

Clarity and Focus

References and further reading:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. HarperCollins
Cherry, Kendra. “What is flow?” . About Education.


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