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In the 1970s, a world-famous psychologist and World War II prisoner, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, had a strong curious drive to answer the question, “what makes a life worth living? He studied countless people carefully searching for how and why people do what they do. What drives them? What is a life well-lived?
If you were to do this study and asked an artist, “what brings you true joy and fulfilment in your life?”, what answer would you expect? It would probably be the satisfaction of seeing the piece of work they spent weeks on finally being completed, right?
Interestingly, across the tens of thousands of people he studied, he found that it was the PROCESS that gave people a true sense of purpose. For the artist, the sense of fulfilment and focus during their painting exceeds the satisfaction of seeing the end-product. When their actions flow seamlessly from one to the next was when they felt at their best. There's more to this experience.
He discovered that during these experiences that people described as fulfilling and brought them true joy, there were several consistent and fascinating descriptions which he compiled together into this following definition.
Csikszentmihalyi describes this state of ‘flowing’, now known as ‘Flow’, as
“Being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like jazz music. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost…The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will repeat the act even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
In short, it was this rich experience of Flow that led to people’s fulfilment and drove them to repeat the activity. Consequently, Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book, ‘Flow: The psychology of optimal experience’.