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 summary, we’ll give a synopsis of the book, explain why happiness alone isn’t enough, and how to find “flow” to create true excellence and quality of life.
The insights from the book are built on 3 key assumptions or foundations:
• 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.
• 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.
• Past-present-future. To understand life in the present, we must integrate the realities of the past with the possibilities of the future.
THE CONTENT OF EXPERIENCE: WHAT AFFECTS 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.
“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.”
• 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 the book or from our full 11-page summary!
FINDING FLOW IN WORK AND 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.
FINDING FLOW IN RELATIONSHIPS
Relationship with Others and 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 and 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. Do refer to the book or our complete book summary for more details.
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.
OTHER USEFUL DETAILS IN THE BOOK TO LOOK OUT FOR
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 these it apply in our day to day lives.
Start creating FLOW from your daily activities and relationships!