Feb 12

Book Review: Flow

FlowFlow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I read this book because it had been mentioned in many bibliographies of books I’ve read in the past couple of years, and because people who have read it said it was amazing.

Basically, it talks about how most people feel happiness when they are completely engaged in what they are doing so much that they tend to lose track of time, and they lose a sense of self. Sometimes they also feel engaged with other people in this “flow” state. This book purports to tell you how to achieve “flow” more often, or, how to achieve optimal experience.

It’s a great idea, with some solid validity. This flow state is experienced by a wide variety of people doing a wide variety of enjoyable activities, from playing tennis to making music to working. Yes, even working. That’s one of the most interesting ideas posited by this book, that working is more enjoyable than leisure activities. (Based on a study he describes in an early chapter.) We do thing like watch television and watch sports because they seem pleasurable and easy, but unless we expend psychic energy in meaningful and challenging activities, we don’t experience flow.

My main complaint with this book is how it is written. The copyright page said it was written in 1990, and there were certain grammatical constructions (occasionally introducing feminine pronouns) that made it feel like 1990. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been written much, much earlier, perhaps in the 1920s. Something about it just felt old. Maybe not old, even, but somewhat stilted and academic, heavy on the abstractions and light on the concrete examples. I think this is why I had such a hard time finishing it. I kept losing the “flow” of reading.

I recommend this for people who are interested in practical philosopy and aren’t put off by a somewhat stilted and academic style.

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  1. I read this book around 2004 and found it very interesting. I even applied some of what I learned towards writing, but at this point I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. I may go back and revisit it.

    It probably had an academic feel because he is a professor. In fact, one of his students, Susan K. Perry wrote a dissertation about “Writing in Flow” which she later turned into a book. I think that book adds some interesting insight into the conversation about writing process. Unlike her teacher’s book, she goes heavy on the examples and includes information from interviewing a lot of writers about their process. Her interviewees include some from our genre like Octavia E. Butler, Nancy Kress, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

    You can check it out here: http://www.bunnyape.com/writing_in_flow.htm

    • Rick on February 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Flow is what I feel when I play computer games.

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