Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Who doesn’t want to be happy? This so-called “modern classic” examines the different ways people can achieve “optimal experience” through a powerful combination of challenge, engagement, and an ultimate sense of accomplishment. Can’t argue with that … but what I couldn’t buy was Csikszentmihalyi’s thesis – that everyone, regardless of circumstances, can achieve that optimal flow – surely seemed to originate from a vantage point of privilege and access.
The majority of Csikszentmihaly’s examples all point toward a level of basic comfort and privilege to which more than half the world does not have access. He talks about finding flow enjoying activities that don’t need expensive equipment – but repeatedly cites rock climbing (any clue how much a harness and ropes cost, even if you rent the stuff?) and serious dancing (you have to have both the leisure time and access to lessons, in fact he talks specifically about going to dancing classes).
For every struggling, ‘joe-schmoe’ worker he might mention (they’re few and far between), he’s got surgeons, engineers, and other privileged career-representatives finding that elusive balance. Even the woman living in the Swiss mountains has a life of comparative abundance, flowing daily as she enjoys the surrounding natural beauty, idyllically surrounded by generations of family and friends. Sure she’s got plenty flow.
But what the remote villager, who might be living an area constantly under threat of grave violence, who has to support a large family solo without running water much less any electricity, who goes to bed hungry most nights, who is illiterate and has no hope of educating the next generation? Unfortunately, in our unbalanced world, this person is not an anomaly. And that’s who gets left out and that made me oh so mad!
What I will say about this book is that it makes for a great choice for an animated, involved discussion. Some dear friends (and no, we don’t all think alike, which helps immensely) initiated a brand new couples book club with Flow. You could say we definitely had our optimal experience with that evening of flowing opinions and thoughtful arguments!
Published: 2008 (new edition), 1990 (original copyright)