Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-HIGH CHEEK-sent-me-HIGH-ee), author of Flow, a book about the psychological benefits of highly engaging activity, died at the age of 87.
From his NY Times obit:
Flow, he argued, was a state of mind, a level of concentration in which outside stimuli, even time itself, seem to fall away. But flow, he added, cannot be forced.
"People seem to concentrate best when the demands on them are a bit greater than usual, and they are able to give more than usual," Dr. Csikszentmihalyi said in an interview with The New York Times in 1986. "If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much for them to handle, they get anxious. Flow occurs in that delicate zone between boredom and anxiety."
And while his early research was on painters and other artists, he said that flow could be achieved by anyone, from professional athletes to students to factory workers.
Here a few passages from Flow:
On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure.
What does this contradictory pattern mean? There are several possible explanations, but one conclusion seems inevitable: when it comes to work, people do not heed the evidence of their senses. They disregard the quality of immediate experience, and base their motivation instead on the strongly rooted cultural stereotype of what work is supposed to be like. They think of it as an imposition, a constraint, an infringement of their freedom, and therefore something to be avoided as much as possible.
The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it's over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don't conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.
"The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else."