Why should I know Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian-American psychologist known for coining the concept of flow. He wrote the books 'Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience', 'Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life' and 'Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention'.

Books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Quotes by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“What is the meaning of life?” turns out to be astonishingly simple. The meaning of life is meaning: whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“'Decent' people the world over do not spend too much energy on the task of sexual reproduction, or on the practices that have been built on it. Romance resembles sports in this respect as well: instead of doing it personally, most people are content to hear about it or watch a few experts perform it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“A less drastic obstacle to experiencing flow is excessive self-consciousness. A person who is constantly worried about how others will perceive her, who is afraid of creating the wrong impression, or of doing something inappropriate, is also condemned to permanent exclusion from enjoyment. So are people who are excessively self-centered. A self-centered individual is usually not self-conscious, but instead evaluates every bit of information only in terms of how it relates to her desires. For such a person everything is valueless in itself. A flower is not worth a second look unless it can be used; a man or a woman who cannot advance one’s interests does not deserve further attention. Consciousness is structured entirely in terms of its own ends, and nothing is allowed to exist in it that does not conform to those ends.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening 'outside', just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“A person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieved a creative life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“According to the Greek philosophers, we become truly human by devoting time to self-development, to learning, to the arts, to political activity. In fact the Greek term for leisure, 'scholea', is the root from which our word 'school' comes from, since the idea was that the best use for leisure was to study.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other. Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Adolescents who never learn to control their consciousness grow up to be adults without discipline. They lack the complex skills that will help them survive in a competitive, information-intensive environment. And what is even more important, they never learn how to enjoy living. They do not acquire the habit of finding challenges that bring out hidden potentials for growth.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Although watching TV is far from being a positive experience—generally people report feeling passive, weak, rather irritable, and sad when doing it—at least the flickering screen brings a certain amount of order to consciousness. The predictable plots, familiar characters, and even the redundant commercials provide a reassuring pattern of stimulation. The screen invites attention to itself as a manageable, restricted aspect of the environment. While interacting with television, the mind is protected from personal worries. The information passing across the screen keeps unpleasant concerns out of the mind.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Among the many intellectual pursuits available, reading is currently perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity around the world.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“An individual can experience only so much. Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“At certain times in history cultures have taken it for granted that a person wasn't fully human unless he or she learned to master thoughts and feelings.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Because optimal experience depends on the ability to control what happens in consciousness moment by moment, each person has to achieve it on the basis of his own individual efforts and creativity.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Before investing great amounts of energy in a goal, it pays to raise the fundamental questions: Is this something I really want to do? Is it something I enjoy doing? Am I likely to enjoy it in the foreseeable future? Is the price that I—and others—will have to pay worth it? Will I be able to live with myself if I accomplish it?”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Buddhists advise us to act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference. This serious playfulness makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Good Business

“By nature, however, we are born ignorant. Therefore should we not try to learn? Some people produce more than the usual amount of androgens and therefore become excessively aggressive. Does that mean they should freely express violence? We cannot deny the facts of nature, but we should certainly try to improve on them.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Cicero once wrote that to be completely free one must become a slave to a set of laws. In other words, accepting limitations is liberating.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Competition is enjoyable only when it is a means to perfect one’s skills; when it becomes an end in itself, it ceases to be fun.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Consuming culture is never as rewarding as producing it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Control over consciousness is not simply a cognitive skill. At least as much as intelligence, it requires the commitment of emotions and will. It is not enough to know how to do it; one must do it, consistently, in the same way as athletes or musicians who must keep practicing what they know in theory.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Creating meaning involves bringing order to the contents of the mind by integrating one’s actions into a unified flow experience.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Criminals often say things such as, “If you showed me something I can do that’s as much fun as breaking into a house at night, and lifting the jewelry without waking anyone up, I would do it.” Much of what we label juvenile delinquency—car theft, vandalism, rowdy behavior in general—is motivated by the same need to have flow experiences not available in ordinary life. As long as a significant segment of society has few opportunities to encounter meaningful challenges, and few chances to develop the skills necessary to benefit from them, we must expect that violence and crime will attract those who cannot find their way to more complex autotelic experiences.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Enjoyment, as we have seen, does not depend on what you do, but rather on how you do it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Even if we don't want to admit it, the ability to overcome most obstacles is within our hands.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Everything the body can do is potentially enjoyable. Yet many people ignore this capacity, and use their physical equipment as little as possible, leaving its ability to provide flow unexploited.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Everything we experience—joy or pain, interest or boredom—is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to control this information, we can decide what our lives will be like.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Flow is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake. In reviewing some of the activities that consistently produce flow—such as sports, games, art, and hobbies—it becomes easier to understand what makes people happy.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“For better or for worse, at this time science is still the most trustworthy mirror of reality, and we ignore it only at our peril.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“For the first few hundred years of American history, food preparation was generally approached in a no-nonsense manner. Even as late as twenty-five years ago, the general attitude was that 'feeding your face' was all right, but to make too much fuss about it was somehow decadent. In the past two decades, of course, the trend has reversed itself so sharply that earlier misgivings about gastronomic excesses seem almost to have been justified. Now we have 'foodies' and wine freaks who take the pleasures of the palate as seriously as if they were rites in a brand-new religion.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail. If an ant fails, it’s dead.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one's shoulders.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“If a person sets out to achieve a difficult enough goal, from which all other goals logically follow, and if he or she invests all energy in developing skills to reach that goal, then actions and feelings will be in harmony, and the separate parts of life will fit together—and each activity will “make sense” in the present, as well as in view of the past and of the future. In such a way, it is possible to give meaning to one’s entire life. But isn’t it incredibly naive to expect life to have a coherent overall meaning? After all, at least since Nietzsche concluded that God was dead, philosophers and social scientists have been busy demonstrating that existence has no purpose, that chance and impersonal forces rule our fate, and that all values are relative and hence arbitrary. It is true that life has no meaning, if by that we mean a supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience, a goal that is valid for every individual. But it does not follow that life cannot be given meaning. Much of what we call culture and civilization consists in efforts people have made, generally against overwhelming odds, to create a sense of purpose for themselves and their descendants. It is one thing to recognize that life is, by itself, meaningless. It is another thing entirely to accept this with resignation. The first fact does not entail the second any more than the fact that we lack wings prevents us from flying. From the point of view of an individual, it does not matter what the ultimate goal is—provided it is compelling enough to order a lifetime’s worth of psychic energy. The challenge might involve the desire to have the best beer-bottle collection in the neighborhood, the resolution to find a cure for cancer, or simply the biological imperative to have children who will survive and prosper. As long as it provides clear objectives, clear rules for action, and a way to concentrate and become involved, any goal can serve to give meaning to a person’s life. In the past few years I have come to be quite well acquainted with several Muslim professionals—electronics engineers, pilots, businessmen, and teachers, mostly from Saudi Arabia and from the other Gulf states. In talking to them, I was struck with how relaxed most of them seemed to be even under strong pressure. “There is nothing to it,” those I asked about it told me, in different words, but with the same message: “We don’t get upset because we believe that our life is in God’s hands, and whatever He decides will be fine with us.” Such implicit faith used to be widespread in our culture as well, but it is not easy to find it now. Many of us have to discover a goal that will give meaning to life on our own, without the help of a traditional faith.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“If Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy showed more than their fair share of pathology it was due less to the requirements of their creative work than to the personal sufferings caused by the unhealthy conditions of a Russian society nearing collapse. If so many American poets and playwrights committed suicide or ended up addicted to drugs and alcohol it was not their creativity that did it but an artistic scene that promised much, gave few rewards and left nine out of ten artists neglected if not ignored.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“If goals are well chosen, and if we have the courage to abide by them despite opposition, we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won’t have the time to be unhappy.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“If I had to express in one word what makes the creative personality different from others, it would be complexity. Like the color white that includes all the hues in the spectrum, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“If one has failed to develop curiosity and interest in the early years, it is a good idea to acquire them now, before it is too late to improve the quality of life. To do so is fairly easy in principle, but more difficult in practice. Yet it is sure worth trying.
The first step is to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention, with skill rather than inertia. Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art.
The next step is to transfer some psychic energy each day from tasks that we don’t like doing, or from passive leisure, into something we never did before, or something we enjoy doing but don’t do often enough because it seems too much trouble. There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“If the functions of the body are left to atrophy, the quality of life becomes merely adequate, and for some even dismal. But if one takes control of what the body can do, and learns to impose order on physical sensations, entropy yields to a sense of enjoyable harmony in consciousness.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“In flow a person is challenged to do her best, and must constantly improve her skills. At the time, she doesn’t have the opportunity to reflect on what this means in terms of the self—if she did allow herself to become self-conscious, the experience could not have been very deep. But afterward, when the activity is over and self-consciousness has a chance to resume, the self that the person reflects upon is not the same self that existed before the flow experience: it is now enriched by new skills and fresh achievements.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“In our studies, we found that every flow activity, whether it involved competition, chance, or any other dimension of experience, had this in common: It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“In principle any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer if one is so inclined; exercise, aerobics, martial arts for those who prefer concentrating on physical skills. Any specialization or expertise that one finds enjoyable and where one can improve one’s knowledge over time. The important thing, however, is the attitude toward these disciplines. If one prays in order to be holy, or exercises to develop strong pectoral muscles, or learns to be knowledgeable, then a great deal of the benefit is lost. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“In reality, to achieve such an ordered mental condition is not as easy as it sounds. Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Instead of accepting the unity of purpose provided by genetic instructions or by the rules of society, the challenge for us is to create harmony based on reason and choice.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect it’s presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“It is difficult to ignore challenges once one is aware that they exist.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“It is impossible for partners not to grow bored unless they work to discover new challenges in each other’s company, and learn appropriate skills for enriching the relationship.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is impossible to enjoy a tennis game, a book, or a conversation unless attention is fully concentrated on the activity.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“It is never a waste to write for intrinsic reasons. First of all, writing gives the mind a disciplined means of expression.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is not the skills we actually have that determine how we feel but the ones we think we have.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is true that life has no meaning, if by that we mean a supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience, a goal that is valid for every individual. But it does not follow that life cannot be given meaning.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It might be true that it is 'quality time' that counts, but after a certain point quantity has a bearing on quality.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“It was found that the more often people report reading books, the more flow experiences they claim to have, while the opposite trend was found for watching television.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“It’s exhilarating to come closer and closer to self-discipline.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Luckily, the world is absolutely full of interesting things to do. Only lack of imagination, or lack of energy, stand in the way. Otherwise each of us could be a poet or musician, an inventor or explorer, an amateur scholar, scientist, artist, or collector.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Many lives are disrupted by tragic accidents, and even the most fortunate are subjected to stresses of various kinds. Yet such blows do not necessarily diminish happiness. It is how people respond to stress that determines whether they will profit from misfortune or be miserable.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person's skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 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.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“One cannot rely solely on games and art to improve the quality of life. To achieve control over what happens in the mind, one can draw upon an almost infinite range of opportunities for enjoyment—for instance, through the use of physical and sensory skills ranging from athletics to music to Yoga, or through the development of symbolic skills such as poetry, philosophy, or mathematics.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“One of the most frequently mentioned dimensions of the flow experience is that, while it lasts, one is able to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed, and still kept within the bounds of reason. If a person learns to control his instinctual desires, not because he has to, but because he wants to, he can enjoy himself without becoming addicted.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Over the course of human evolution, as each group of people became gradually aware of the enormity of its isolation in the cosmos and of the precariousness of its hold on survival, it developed myths and beliefs to transform the random, crushing forces of the universe into manageable, or at least understandable, patterns.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Painters must want to paint above all else. If the artist in front of the canvas begins to wonder how much he will sell it for, or what the critics will think of it, he won't be able to pursue original avenues. Creative achievements depend on single-minded immersion.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“People who know how to transform stress into enjoyable challenge spend very little time thinking about themselves. They are not expending all their energy trying to satisfy what they believe to be their needs, or worrying about socially conditioned desires. Instead their attention is alert, constantly processing information from their surroundings. The focus is still set by the person’s goal, but it is open enough to notice and adapt to external events even if they are not directly relevant to what he wants to accomplish.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“People without an internalized symbolic system can all too easily become captives of the media.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Pleasure is an important component of the quality of life, but by itself it does not bring happiness. Sleep, rest, food, and sex provide restorative homeostatic experiences that return consciousness to order after the needs of the body intrude and cause psychic entropy to occur. But they do not produce psychological growth. They do not add complexity to the self. Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Religions are only temporarily successful attempts to cope with the lack of meaning in life; they are no permanent answers.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Shortcuts are dangerous; we cannot delude ourselves that our knowledge is further along than it actually is.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Since the purpose of business is to satisfy existing desires, or stimulate new ones, if everyone were genuinely happy, there would be no need for business any longer.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Someone who knows his desires and works with purpose to achieve them is a person whose feelings, thoughts, and actions are congruent with one another, and is therefore a person who has achieved inner harmony.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue... as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Surrounded by an astounding panoply of recreational gadgets and leisure choices, most of us go on being bored and vaguely frustrated.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The apologists for the medium claim that all sorts of interesting information is provided by television. This is true, but as it is much easier to produce programs that titillate rather than elevate the viewer, what most people watch is unlikely to help in developing the self.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The complexity and freedom that have been thrust upon us, and that our ancestors had fought so hard to achieve, are a challenge we must find ways to master. If we do, the lives of our descendants will be infinitely more enriched than anything previously experienced on this planet. If we do not, we run the risk of frittering away our energies on contradictory, meaningless goals. But in the meantime how do we know where to invest psychic energy? There is no one out there to tell us, “Here is a goal worth spending your life on.” Because there is no absolute certainty to which to turn, each person must discover ultimate purpose on his or her own. Through trial and error, through intense cultivation, we can straighten out the tangled skein of conflicting goals, and choose the one that will give purpose to action. Self-knowledge—an ancient remedy so old that its value is easily forgotten—is the process through which one may organize conflicting options. “Know thyself” was carved over the entrance to the Delphic oracle, and ever since untold pious epigrams have extolled its virtue. The reason the advice is so often repeated is that it works. We need, however, to rediscover afresh every generation what these words mean, what the advice actually implies for each individual. And to do that it is useful to express it in terms of current knowledge, and envision a contemporary method for its application.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The concept of Flow:
The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The foremost reason that happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The gods of the Greeks were like helpless children compared to humankind today and the powers we now wield.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The good things in life do not come only through the senses. Some of the most exhilarating experiences we undergo are generated inside the mind, triggered by information that challenges our ability to think, rather than from the use of sensory skills.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. And the person who can do this usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The mental framework that makes science enjoyable is accessible to everyone. It involves curiosity, careful observation, a disciplined way of recording events, and finding ways to tease out the underlying regularities in what one learns. It also requires the humility to be willing to learn from the results of past investigators, coupled with enough skepticism and openness of mind to reject beliefs that are not sup-ported by facts.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The more a job inherently resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment. If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders. Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“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.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The names we use to describe personality traits - such as extrovert, high achiever, or paranoid - refer to the specific patterns people have used to structure their attention. At the same party, the extrovert will seek out and enjoy interactions with others, the high achiever will look for useful business contacts, and the paranoid will be on guard for signs of danger he must avoid. Attention can be invested in innumerable ways, ways that can make life either rich or miserable.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The only path to finding out what life is about is a patient, slow attempt to make sense of the realities of the past and the possibilities of the future as they can be understood in the present.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“The phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.
Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.
Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions.
Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The quality of life does not depend on happiness alone, but also on what one does to be happy. If one fails to develop goals that give meaning to one's existence, if one does not use the mind to its fullest, then good feelings fulfill just a fraction of the potential we possess. A person who achieves contentment by withdrawing from the world to 'cultivate his own garden', like Voltaire's Candide, cannot be said to lead an excellent life. Without dreams, without risks, only a trivial semblance of living can be achieved.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“The reason creativity is so fascinating is that when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“The roots of interpersonal conflict are often an excessive concern for oneself, and an inability to pay attention to the needs of others. It is sad to see how often people ruin a relationship because they refuse to recognize that they could serve their own interests best by helping others achieve theirs.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“The roots of the discontent are internal, and each person must untangle them personally, with his or her own power.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The roots of the word 'compete' are the Latin con petire, which meant 'to seek together'.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The sacred books of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and the Veda are the best repositories of the ideas that mattered most to our ancestors, and to ignore them is an act of childish conceit. But it is equally naive to believe that whatever was written down in the past contains an absolute truth that lasts forever.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one's own powers. This is not to say that we should abandon every goal endorsed by society; rather, it means that, in addition to or instead of the goals others use to bribe us with, we develop a set of our own.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The task is to learn how to enjoy everyday life without diminishing other people's chances to enjoy theirs.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The tremendous leisure industry that has arisen in the last few generations has been designed to help fill free time with enjoyable experiences. Nevertheless, instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The ultimate test for the ability to control the quality of experience is what a person does in solitude, with no external demands to give structure to attention.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“The way to grow while enjoying life is to create a higher form of order out of the entropy that is an inevitable condition of living. This means taking each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunity for learning and for improving skills.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“There are natives of New Guinea who spend more time looking in the jungle for the colorful feathers they use for decoration in their ritual dances than they spend looking for food. And this is by no means a rare example: art, play, and ritual probably occupy more time and energy in most cultures than work.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“There is a consensus among psychologists who study such subjects that people develop their concept of who they are, and of what they want to achieve in life, according to a sequence of steps. Each man or woman starts with a need to preserve the self, to keep the body and its basic goals from disintegrating. At this point the meaning of life is simple; it is tantamount to survival, comfort, and pleasure. When the safety of the physical self is no longer in doubt, the person may expand the horizon of his or her meaning system to embrace the values of a community—the family, the neighborhood, a religious or ethnic group. This step leads to a greater complexity of the self, even though it usually implies conformity to conventional norms and standards. The next step in development involves reflective individualism. The person again turns inward, finding new grounds for authority and value within the self. He or she is no longer blindly conforming, but develops an autonomous conscience. At this point the main goal in life becomes the desire for growth, improvement, the actualization of potential. The fourth step, which builds on all the previous ones, is a final turning away from the self, back toward an integration with other people and with universal values. In this final stage the extremely individualized person—like Siddhartha letting the river take control of his boat—willingly merges his interests with those of a larger whole.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“This paradox of rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way. The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Though the evidence suggests that most people are caught up on this frustrating treadmill of rising expectations, many individuals have found ways to escape it. These are people who, regardless of their material conditions, have been able to improve the quality of their lives, who are satisfied, and who have a way of making those around them also a bit more happy. Such individuals lead vigorous lives, are open to a variety of experiences, keep on learning until the day they die, and have strong ties and commitments to other people and to the environment in which they live. They enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult; they are hardly ever bored, and they can take in stride anything that comes their way. Perhaps their greatest strength is that they are in control of their lives.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“To be distracted against one’s will is the surest sign that one is not in control.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“To have a good life, it is not enough to remove what is wrong from it. We also need a positive goal, otherwise why keep going?”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“To pursue mental operations to any depth, a person has to learn to concentrate attention. Without focus, consciousness is in a state of chaos.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Unfortunately, while free time might be a necessary condition for happiness, by itself it is not sufficient to guarantee it. Learning how to use it beneficially turns out to be more difficult than expected. Nor does it seem that more of a good thing is necessarily better; as is true of so many other things, what enriches life in small quantities might impoverish it in larger doses.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don’t have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day. This is not because they are cheerful, enthusiastic types. Nor do they necessarily have something exciting to do. But they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it. Most of us don’t feel our actions are that meaningful. Yet everyone can discover at least one thing every day that is worth waking up for. It could be meeting a certain person, shopping for a special item, potting a plant, cleaning the office desk, writing a letter, trying on a new dress. It is easier if each night before falling asleep, you review the next day and choose a particular task that, compared to the rest of the day, should be relatively interesting and exciting. Then next morning, open your eyes and visualize the chosen event—play it out briefly in your mind, like an inner videotape, until you can hardly wait to get dressed and get going. It does not matter if at first the goals are trivial and not that interesting. The important thing is to take the easy first steps until you master the habit, and then slowly work up to more complex goals. Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“We can experience pleasure without any investment of psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investments of attention.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“We can't blame family, society, or history if our work is meaningless, dull, or stressful. Admittedly, there are not too many options when we realize that our job is useless, or actually harmful. Perhaps the only choice is to quit as quickly as possible, even at the cost of severe financial hardship. In terms of the bottom line of one's life, it is always a better deal to do something one feels good about than something that may make us materially comfortable but emotionally miserable. Such decisions are notoriously difficult, and require great honesty with oneself.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow

“We cannot deny the facts of nature, but we should certainly try to improve on them.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Wealth, status, and power have become in our culture all too powerful symbols of happiness. And we assume that if only we could acquire some of those same symbols, we would be much happier.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are—as far as we know—the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Creativity

“What I 'discovered' was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“When children are taught music, the usual problem often arises: too much emphasis is placed on how they perform, and too little on what they experience.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“When I see works that come close to my heart, that I think are really fine, I have the strangest reaction: which is not always exhilarating, it is sort of like being hit in the stomach. Feeling a little nauseous. It’s just this sort of completely overwhelming feeling, which then I have to grope my way out of, calm myself down, and try to approach it scientifically, not with all my antennae vulnerable, open…. What comes to you after looking at it calmly, after you’ve really digested every nuance and every little thread, is the total impact. When you encounter a very great work of art, you just know it and it thrills you in all your senses, not just visually, but sensually and intellectually.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“when people were pursuing leisure activities that were expensive in terms of the outside resources required—activities that demanded expensive equipment, or electricity, or other forms of energy measured in BTUs (British thermal unit), such as power boating, driving, or watching television—they were significantly less happy than when involved in inexpensive leisure. People were happiest when they were just talking to one another, when they gardened, knitted, or were involved in a hobby; all of these activities require few material resources, but they demand a relatively high investment of psychic energy. Leisure that uses up external resources, however, often requires less attention, and as a consequence it generally provides less memorable rewards.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“When words are well chosen, well arranged, they generate gratifying experiences for the listener. It is not for utilitarian reasons alone that breadth of vocabulary and verbal fluency are among the most important qualifications for success as a business executive. Talking well enriches every interaction, and it is a skill that can be learned by everyone.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Whenever the outside world offers no mercy, an internal symbolic system can become a salvation.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal - health, beauty, money or power - is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“While interacting with television, the mind is protected from personal worries. The information passing across the screen keeps unpleasant concerns out of the mind. Of course, avoiding depression this way is rather spendthrift, because one expends a great deal of attention without having much to show for it afterward. More drastic ways of coping with the dread of solitude include the regular use of drugs, or the recourse to obsessive practices, which may range from cleaning the house incessantly to compulsive sexual behavior.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“Will you ever be anything more than a vessel transmitting the genes and memes of previous generations on to the next?”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Writing gives the mind a disciplined means of expression.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

“You could say that I worked every minute of my life, or you could say with equal justice that I never worked a day.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Finding Flow