Flow is “the phenomenon when we become so absorbed in an activity that everything else is overshadowed, the experience itself becomes so pleasurable that we want to continue the activity at any cost, just for the sake of it”. This is how the creator of flow theory and one of the founders of positive psychology, the Hungarian-born Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who lived in America, put it so eloquently, who this autumn would have been 88 years old.
Csíkszentmihályi, who passed away last year, was born in September 1934 in Fiume, Italy, to parents of Hungarian origin. His childhood was deeply marked by the experiences of the Second World War.
He asked the first big question: what makes a life worthy of living happy? And so, as an adolescent, he began a journey into philosophy, art and religion in search of answers. His later specialisation, psychology, led him on an adventurous path.
In the meantime, he emigrated to the United States, beginning his studies in psychology, which he completed at the University of Chicago. He worked there until the 2000s, as an institute professor.
Csíkszentmihályi and his colleagues were originally researching creativity when they discovered the phenomenon of flow. In interviews with chess players, athletes and artists, they concluded that these people were not playing chess, running, painting or performing for some external motivation or reward, but the activity itself that they were doing was the rewarding motivation.
There are personality traits that allow people to experience flow more easily and more often than average. Such personality traits include curiosity, perseverance, a sense of adventure and the ability to tune into others.
So the key is to concentrate on an activity, block out distractions, look for challenging but not too difficult tasks and tasks where you get feedback quickly, because by doing so you lose track of time and your sense of self, and you achieve the perfect experience.
“I knew from my own experience that work and pleasure can go hand in hand, that the roots of knowledge need not be bitter,” said the Master himself.