Book Review: Flow

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmaiazyi

The subtitle gives you the idea of what this book is about “the classic work on how to achieve happiness”. A bold claim, but given a recommendation by Enda McNulty, where her explained how powerful this thinking was, I wanted to read this book.

It didn’t disappoint – everyone from student, parent, worker, sport star to a retired person can get something form this book. The central concept of happiness focuses on “flow: a state of joy, creativity and total involvement in which problems seem to disappear and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.”

For me, I’m in a state of flow when I’m running up a mountain, when I’m reading a good blog, when I’m cooking, when I’m writing a journal/blog, when I’m talking with good friends, when I’m solving problems at work, when I’m speaking Spanish. These are times when I’m in the moment – I feel at my best, focused, motivated and happy.

The book deals with psychology, biology, chemistry and lots of theories on beliefs and religion, but it’s not an academic book and is easy to follow. There are lots of examples to show how people achieve flow, or lack it.

The book starts with the idea of discontent – why are so many people unhappy, depressed, disconnected, disorientated? As societies have become more “developed” and material wealth increased, these problems are ever more prevalent. Avoiding these and making life meaningful and enjoyable was one of my motivations for reading this book.

The author explains the idea of consciousness – and how our advanced brains differentiate us from other animals. A lion is happy to hunt a gazelle for food, then lie in the sun and relax. We aren’t happy just because we eat and sit – we get restless because our minds are constantly active.

He talks about how we need to train the mind to be aware, present and conscious and non-judgmental. Otherwise we tend to react to the closest stimulation. Instant gratification gives us a short-term hut, but not lasting satisfaction. Just think of FOMO and social media.

Building on how the body gets into flow – through physical activity like sport, sex, yoga – your senses, he then moves onto keeping an active mind – whether it’s through reading, crosswords, learning new things, playing music. This applies to work as well – he shows how people can be more in flow at work than at leisure time, surprising as we seem to undervalue how work gives us satisfaction/meaning.


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