If you reach your goal – enjoy it; if you don’t, learn from it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi* is a Hungarian-born psychology professor who is considered the “Godfather” of the flow concept. His early studies focused on happiness and creativity. It was through these studies that Csikszentmihalyi started to look into what he would term Flow, the state of being where one’s performance was heightened and one really starts to come alive. Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology.
Prof Csikszentmihalyi, thank you for your time. I usually ask this question at the very end but, as you are the founder of the flow concept, which is widely researched today, it feels obligatory that I use it as an opener: what is your definition of happiness
To live fully, without regrets, trying to achieve something that has value for others . . . And enjoying it.
Is happiness measurable and what are reports such as the UN’s World happiness report telling us? (As we discussed earlier in the email trail: Bulgarians are pretty far on the happiness scale. Prof. McCloskey argues that the nature of happiness research is flawed and the reason Bulgarians are measured as unhappy is a cultural trait which sees complaining as honourable).
Everything I measurable, but some things are easier to measure than others. Happiness is difficult to measure, but that does not mean we should not try to do so, even if at first the results are ambiguous, and even wrong. The word “happiness” itself has very different connotations in different languages; in Italian, it suggests spiritual contentment, in German, it suggests good luck.
Can we apply the flow theory not only to an individual but to a group of people as well? Can the flow of one affect the dynamics of a group, and can we speak of a ‘group flow’?
Several scholars are now studying “group flow’, some in sports teams, others in the improvisational theatre, some in religious groups . . . In my opinion, flow is an individual phenomenon, but it can be greatly influenced by group performance and emotional climate.
In one of your lectures, you say that the flow is the feeling of “this is who I am; this is what I am supposed to be.” Do you believe that all people have a purpose and are “supposed to be” something?
Whether they like it or not, every individual is something . . . The question is, how can you be this kind of person, and like it?
In times of personal crisis, when someone seems to have lost their path, are they supposed to look for what makes them happy or forge their own new meaning and build happiness upon it?
I would say try the first one first, and if that does not work, try the second strategy.
Is the state of flow achievable at all times and in all circumstances?
Obviously, times and circumstances can make a great difference in how easy it is to enter flow. In principle, it seems that even in the worst circumstances some people are able to have at least momentary flow experiences.
Is it something that can be learned?
Is there a risk of becoming neurotic in the pursuit of flow? Some theories say that positive psychology pushes people toward neuroticism and does not take into account the existence of the negative spectrum of emotions. What is your response to that?
Everything — from art to religion — can become obsessive. You should not decide what to do because it will give you flow but on the basis of what you wish your life to be like, of how you can help others, of what you believe is right and wrong. Then, after you decide what your goals are, you will be much happier if you get flow from trying to reach them.
If being into the flow is the ultimate feeling of happiness, what are the other states of being?
In my studies, I usually measure 8 states of being: Activation, Flow, Control, Relaxation, Boredom, Apathy, Worry, and Anxiety. These states depend on different ratios between the Challenges the person sees and his perception of his own Skills.
Could you please sum up the three most important steps to getting into the flow
You should be interested in a goal that is just a bit above your current grasp.
•You should try to reach that goal, but not because you need to do so, but because you have chosen to do so.
•• If you reach your goal enjoy it; if you don’t, learn from it.
*pronounced Me-High Chick-Sent-Me-High