(Author is respected psychologist. Published in 1990?)
Genetic drives. Cultural drives. Neither directly prioritise happiness. Need to attain distance/control.
Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life.
External conditions - success, wealth, health - only indirectly affect happiness, filtered through consciousness.
Concentration enables control over subjective experience => treat attention as a resource. ‘Psychic energy’.
Vs ‘psychic entropy’ - attention sapped by distraction, conflict, self-absorbtion.
Flow - experience where everything adds to psychic order instead of detracting. Inner experience is free of doubt and confusion.
Pleasure vs enjoyment. Pleasure from satisfying drives. What causes enjoyment?
Experience sampling across many different cultures and professions. Found that enjoyable activites have many common attributes:
- possibility of success
- able to concentrate
- clear goals
- immediate feedback
- completely involved, forget worries
- control over actions
- no self-consciousness/awareness during, but stronger sense of such afterwards
- distorted sense of time (slower/faster)
Occurs when stretching limits of ability. Connection to mastery in SDT.
Actions become spontaneous - no sense of having a separate will, deliberation, reflection etc.
Games, sports, artistic/literary forms appear to be designed to support this state, but poductive work or routine tasks can also trigger it.
(Microflow - doodling, humming, playing with small toys. Similarly suspends dissatisfaction with inactivity, but isn’t intensely enjoyable.)
When goals don’t exist, need at least clear sense of quality of action/result.
Exercising control is addictive, similar neurochemistry to eg gambling.
Seems to occur when sufficiently engaged with activity to crowd out self-consciousness / self-awareness. Resource management?
Relation to mindfulness? Mindfulness about increasing ability to direct attention. Flow a particular state towards which attention can be directed?
Autotelic - being self-contained / driven by intrinsic motivation. Exotelic - driven by extrinsic motivation, appeals to basic drives.
Flow activities often have some activation energy before they become enjoyable. Requires discipline to push past.
Many activities designed for flow but not infallible. Requires management of internal state. Reminiscent of rock warriors way.
Cultural relativism vs flow. Argues for judging cultures by the amount of opportunities for flow they provide. Certainly exist cultures that do so poorly eg satanic mills. Not clear how to measure, but certainly societal stability helps.
Does everyone have same capacity for flow? Schizophrenia - stimulus overinclusion. Attention disorders. Anxiety - excessive self-consciousness/awareness.
Analgous societal disorders. Anomie - lack of rules/values => boredom. Alientaiton - contrained by systems away from enjoyment => anxiety.
Some evidence for variation in ability to focus. Not clear whether nature or nurture. More recent results on meditation certainly suggests that it’s at least partly trainable, even later in life.
Enjoyment depends not on what you do, but how you do it. Potential of enjoyment missed by gym culture that sees it as chore or repentance for eating sins.
Body of book discsses various different flow-providing activities. Only sparse notes here, nothing surprising.
Memorization as example of skill for training focus.
Writing as a way to anchor thoughts. External structure as attention crutch?
Recurring theme - modern cultures often look down on amateurs - used to be considered the mark of a well-rounded person to eg write amateur poetry. Increasing compartmentalization of subjects seems to contribute to this. No more Renaissance Man - caricature of a genius is someone overspecialized to the point of incompetence in daily life.
Sucess/achievement valued as a goal over varied and rich experiences.
Lifelong learning, not for accreditation but as a goal in itself. Defend own drives against external pressures.
Division between work and leisure is not essential. Many people and communities for whom work is enjoyable and pleasurable.
Experience sampling on modern (published 1990) americans showed more flow experiences per hour at work than in leisure, and more apathy experiences in leisure than at work. But people also reported wanting to be elsewhere / doing something else when at work. How can they not know what makes them happy? Cultural conditioning? We expect to suffer work and be motivated/rewarded by leisure.
Pain of not being able to decide what to do. Being idle often unpleasant.
Without control over internal experience, being alone and unstimulated leads to unhappiness as thoughts turn inwards. TV popular provides stimulus without effort.
Need to learn how to be alone and survive unstimulated/distracted to be able to perform any serious mental work.
Why do some people cope well with diseaster while others crumble? Asserts key is to turn negative experience into a challenge. Unself-conscious self-assurance - feeling in control of own fate, but not fixated on set goals to the point of fighting reality. Reacting to new information and new opportunities rather than getting stuck wanting something that is no longer in reach.
Rules for being autotelic:
- set clear goals at correct level of challenge
- become immersed in the activity
- pay attention to what is happening
- learn to enjoy immediate experience
Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it.
Paradox of choice wrt to lifestyle, goals, purpose.
Enjoyable book, but more of a philisophy than a scientific text. Only barely makes mention of experiments with experience sampling, and everything else is just assertations. Strongly reminiscent of eg Daoism, so really the only additional value is the idea that experience sampling might actually bear out the philsophical advice. Again, once I clear the remaining books out of my reading list I’m probably better served looking for literature surveys.