Chapter 1: Introduction and overview
This idea is so common to me that seeing it in writing and related to ones quest for happiness suprised me. While I am usually frustrated with having to “plan” for the future I have never really question it. As a teenager I always argued with my parents about preparing for college and jobs. I hated it, but I did it because I knew I had to. Now I am guilty of holding those same ideals over my younger brother’s head, who does not want to go to college at all and is happy doing exactly what he is doing.
Csikszentmihalyi writes about how striving for goals and accomplishments are a big part of happiness, but learning to “have control over the quality of experience” (page 22) is half the battle. Balancing the two is the hard part. Each contradicts each other so without knowing it one could easily cancel out the positive effects of the other. On page 8 he writes that “How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences.” This statement describes the importance of that balance. Relating this to my personal experience is interesting and fun to think about. Even though I do make a conscious choice to enjoy the present, it is all for the purpose of something I have planned for the future.
Chapter 2: Anatomy of Consciousness
Csikszentmihalyi writes that “prolonged experiences of this kind can weaken the self to the point where it is no longer able to invest attention and pursue its goals” (page 37). What amazes me is how concentration is something we can learn to build and get better at using, but thoughts that disrupt concentration are so much harder for us to learn how to control.
Within each element that make up enjoyable experiences one uses concentration, psychic energy and control to attain a goal that is reachable by their standards. The process might not be pleasurable, but the feeling of accomplishment afterward is fulfilling. This process can border on positive or negative. Csikzentmihalyi talks about how the exhilaration can be addictive and one might lose control of it. He writes, “Optimal experience is a form of energy, and energy can be used to either help or destroy” (pg 69). Criminals are one example of where the addictive power of flow was used negatively rather than positively. The energy created by flow is not categorized as good or bad.
The argument that what people find enjoyable will never be the same and can never be controlled. Even scientists that partake in enjoyable, seemingly positive flow could be contributing to something ultimately bad for someone or something else. This factor adds even more complication to what it takes to create an optimal experience.