Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Optimal Experience


"The theory of optimal experience is based on 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.
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.
The key element of an optimal experience
is that it is an end in itself."

- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934 - 2021)
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Postscript. Sadly, the deeply inspirational Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away on Oct 20, 2021. He joins an (equally sadly) growing number of spiritual/aesthetic mentors of mine that I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person (the last such being John Daido Loori, who passed away in 2009). I have written of applying Csikszentmihalyi's "flow" to photography a number of years ago on this blog (almost exactly 13 years ago, to be precise), but the wisdom and insights he leaves behind are of course timeless. Here is a link to a great TED talk that Csikszentmihalyi gave in 2004. May your soul forever revel in eternal flow, Mihaly! 

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