The book answers the questions: “what is a good life”, “how anyone can create an excellent life” and “how to transform every day activities into an opportunity for engagement, enjoyment and growth”. In this Finding Flow summary, you’ll get a synopsis of the book, explaining why happiness alone isn’t enough, and how to find flow to create true excellence and quality of life.
Finding Flow: 3 Key Foundations
The insights from the book are built on 3 key assumptions or foundations:
i. Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel
Important truths about life have already been captured over the years by philosophers, prophets and sacred books. This book seeks to express and re-interprete them in the modern context.
ii. Challenge the “Facts”
Current science provides useful information about mankind. However, our knowledge is still far from complete, and many of the scientific truths is by no means proven fact.
To understand life in the present, we must integrate the realities of the past with the possibilities of the future.
What Affects Our Quality of Life?
To improve our quality of life, we need to first understand how we experience life.
Time is the Essence
Our quality of life is essentially the accumulation of experiences (what we do, feel, think) over time. Since experiences take place at a point in time, time is the scarcest resource that we have. How we choose to allocate or invest time will determine what we experience, which add up to determine our quality of life.
- What we do: Whenever we think about or do something, it consumes psychic energy. People start to develop their true potential during their “leisure time”, when they can devote their time and energy to self-development.
- Who we are with: Our experiences (and hence quality of life) are largely affected by the people we are with, which includes 3 social contexts – public space, family and solitude. The books covers each of these in more detail.
- Our intentions and goals: Our intentions focus our psychic energy in the short run, while our goals focus our energy in the long run, and this in turn shapes who we become. Managing our goals, focusing on them and juggling conflicting thoughts and desires can take up a lot of psychic energy in a typical day.
What is Flow?
“Flow experiences” occur when the act of focusing and immersing in our experiences seem effortless.
“A person in flow is completed focused. There is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings. Self-consciousness disappears, yet one feels stronger than usual. The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes. When a person’s entire being is stretched in the full functioning of body and mind, whatever one does becomes worth doing for its own sake…In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own.”
Being in flow typically comes with:
- Clarity of goals and required activities, i.e. knowing what to do
- Immediate feedback, i.e. knowing how well you are doing
- High level of skills and challenges, i.e. the challenges are big enough to be motivating but not insurmountable to cause anxiety, and you can use your skills to the fullest.
Excellence in life comes from being engaged in flow, not from pursuing happiness. When we are in flow, we direct our energy fully towards complex tasks, learning, and growing our consciousness. Flow is in fact a source of psychic energy, because it helps to focus our attention and motivates us to take action.
In the book, Csikzentmihalyi breaks down how to find flow in different aspects our daily life. We’ll touch on some of these ideas here–do get more details from our full Finding Flow summary.
Finding Flow in Work & Leisure
Work is often seen as a necessary evil, while having free time to relax and do nothing seems desirable. However, evidence suggests the opposite – work isn’t necessarily bad, and leisure time doesn’t necessarily improve quality of life.
Csikzentmihalyi explains the paradox of work: how it is both something many people dread, yet a key source of growth and fulfillment, and why free time does not improve the quality of life unless it is used effectively and can in fact backfire. To improve the quality of life, it is important to give our free time the same focus and attention as our work.
The book covers how to create flow and inspiration in what we do (be it work or leisure), including to pay attention, explore and experiment with new approaches, and exercise personal control to reduce stress and facilitate flow.
You can learn about these in more detail in our 11-page Finding Flow summary.
Finding Flow in Relationships
Relationship with Others & Self
Our relationships have a significant impact on how we feel and on our quality of life. To develop relationships, we need to invest energy in them. A relationship that brings consciousness meets 2 conditions:
- Compatibility between goals, i.e. shared goals
- A willingness to invest attention in the other person’s goals.
The book explains how to find flow in our relationships, both in our relationships with others and with ourselves/ when we are alone.
Balancing Work & Relationships
The balance between work and relationships (family and friends) has been an ongoing challenge. People who love their work tend to direct so much psychic energy into work that their relationships suffer.
The solution to balancing work and relationships is to balance the meaningfulness of the rewards we get from work and from relationships, and Csikzentmihalyi explains how to do that in the book.
Finding Flow Through Awareness & Self-Development
To achieve excellence in life, we need to commit ourselves fully to experience all aspects of life and to develop all of our potentials.
Awareness and Quality of Life
To improve the quality of life, the first step is to start engineering our daily activities to get the most rewarding experiences. There’s no fixed formula, so it’s important for you to find what works best for you. Start by keeping a diary or reflecting on your day, so you can become conscious of how you spend your time. Take stock of the activities and people that generate positive versus negative moods. You can learn more details in our complete Finding Flow summary.
The Autotelic Personality & Love of Fate
An autotelic activity is one that we do for its own sake, because experiencing the activity itself is the goal. To have ownership of our lives, it is important is enjoy an activity for its own sake and in the process, learn to control our attention and direct our psychic energy in line with our intentions.
Leading a truly excellent life also requires us to feel that we are part of something greater and more permanent than ourselves. The challenge is to be engaged and carefree at the same time – to be serious in our concern for the world at large, yet humble about the impact that we can make individually. The love of fate, or amor fati, refers to our attitude towards our choices. If we learn to take ownership of our actions and love what we have to do, our quality of life will be improved.
Each of these concepts and background are covered in more detail in our full Finding Flow summary.
Getting the Most from Finding Flow
Ready to learn more about how to create true excellence and quality of life? Get more detailed insights, examples and actionable tips from our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 11-page text summary, and a 23-minute audio summary.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi develops the core ideas in his book by explaining different variables and their inter-relationships, findings from past studies, and how he arrives at his observations and conclusions. The book is rich in references and ideas to understand the concepts of quality of life, excellence, flow and how to apply these in our day to day lives. You can purchase the book here. Or, read more about peak performance in our summaries of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working and Get In the Go Zone.
About the Author of Finding Flow
Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life is written by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi—a Hungarian professor and author. He is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, the former head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He is best known for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, especially in the notion of “flow”. His previous books include Flow and The Evolving Self.
Finding Flow Quotes
“There is probably as much superstition and misunderstanding embedded in modern science as there was in the old myths, but we are too close in time to tell the difference.”
“Given that attention is a limited resource, when one goal takes up all our psychic energy, there is none left over.”
“It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life.”
“It is always a better deal to do something one feels good about than something that may make us materially comfortable but emotionally miserable.”
“Without the goal and the challenges usually provided by a job, only a rare self-discipline can keep the mind focused intensely enough to insure a meaningful life.”
“If one has a hobby, or a rich inner life, then being alone is not only enjoyable but necessary.”
“Instead of looking for models in the past, we should figure out what a safe yet stimulating social environment could be like in the future.”
“The first step in improving the quality of life consists in engineering daily activities so that one gets the most rewarding experiences from them.”
“Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art.”
“The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the results, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.”