I just finished the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Yes, that is the correct spelling. Yes, it’s impossible to pronounce!). Wow, what an amazing book. It’s a challenging read, but incredibly rewarding. Pretty much all 240 pages are packed with really profound insights on how to be happy. I wish someone would write “Flow For Dummies”!
Flow occurs when you’re doing an activity where the challenge matches your skill. When that happens the focus required absorbs you completely. When you’re playing tennis and you’re totally involved in the game, that’s a flow activity. You forget everything else but the game. That’s flow.
Yoga is arguably one of the best flow activities, and the book has a section specifically on flow and yoga. But almost anything can be a flow activity, from sports to music to reading. If it’s something you enjoy focusing on, it can be a flow activity.
Flow makes you happy
In spite of all the wonders of modern technology, humans aren’t any happier now than they have been throughout history. We are healthier and live longer, but we aren’t happier. So what can we do about it? Csikszentmihalyi shows that how often you are in flow is directly related to your overall happiness. The more you learn about how to achieve flow, the happier you can become. You can in fact to some extent actually control how happy you are.
Besides maybe health, I can’t imagine anything more important than happiness. Of course it requires some effort, but anyone should be able to become happier. By learning more about how we think, we can optimize our experience. We can nurture what makes us happy and diminish what makes us unhappy.
There are many aspects to that process, and somehow Csikszentmihalyi actually makes it relatively easy to follow. He discusses the effects of culture and personality types, the physiological factors which affect our brains and how we think, and the psychology of our consciousness. Just typing these words I’m amazed at how Csikszentmihalyi is able to make it all understandable!
Csikszentmihalyi on yoga
In many ways, yoga is a perfect activity to achieve flow. By its nature, when doing yoga it’s very easy to match challenge to skill level. You can control how hard you’re pushing yourself, and your body gives you immediate feedback on what you’re doing. It’s almost as if yoga was designed to provide a flow experience.
To achieve flow, you just need to focus to the point where you’re challenging yourself. Every time you achieve flow, you gain experience with it. You inherently improve your skill level. So the next time you practice yoga, your skill level is higher. You’re able to do more. You enjoy a sense of accomplishment. As you gain experience and skill, you naturally want to go further. It’s a great positive spiral, and it results in improved health and happiness.
It changed the way I think
I’m really just barely scratching the surface here. Csikszentmihalyi covers so much ground there’s no way to do it justice in a blog post. Truly, I think every living human should read at least the first chapter. Your local library should have a copy. I first read the book because a friend recommended I do just that, but I couldn’t stop there. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow” has had a huge impact on the way I think, and more importantly on my overall happiness. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
If you have any questions or comments, or if you’ve read the book yourself, we’d love to hear your thoughts below. Cheers!