Flow – The key to unlocking meaning, creativity, peak performance, and true happiness

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s investigations of “optimal experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

His studies led him to conclude that happiness is an internal state of being, not an external one. His popular book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is based on the premise that happiness levels can be shifted through the introduction of more flow.

Happiness is not a rigid state that can’t be changed. On the contrary, happiness takes a committed effort to be manifested. After the baseline set point, there is a percentage of happiness that every individual has the responsibility to take control of. He believes that flow is crucial to creating genuine happiness.

“Happiness takes a committed effort to be manifested.”

Through much research he began to understand that people were most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow. He interviewed athletes, musicians, artists, etc. because he wanted to know when they experienced the most optimal performance levels.

He was also interested in finding out how they felt during these experiences. He developed the term flow state because many of the people he interviewed described their optimal states of performance as instances when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort.

He aimed to discover what piqued creativity, especially in the workplace, and how creativity lead to more productivity. He also determined that flow is not only essential to a productive employee but it is imperative for a contented one as well. In his own words, flow is:

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

– Csikszentmihalyi, 1990

Here are some of the characteristics that comprise Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of optimal flow performance.

Csikszentmihalyi describes 8 characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task

Who experiences flow? full article on Positive Psychology Program