Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Optimal experience
I keep reading work by Csikszentmihalyi, trying to figure out if I think his work is a cheesy modern explanation to why so many people are unhappy, or a really important contribution to understanding human experience. The research seems to be solid, even if I have not yet encountered any of the books where he introduces and discusses his methodology. This means that the reported experiences are likely to be correct.

The question is whether his conclusions are correct. Is the road to happiness to control your consciousness and impose more discipline on the human mind? This sounds like a very individualistic, 20th century solution, a reversal of religion or collectivity - do not seek happiness in the multitude or in spirituality, but find it for yourself, in your own actions and in your own achievement. It is a path to happiness that creates good little workers of us all, seeking to achieve as far as we can within the limitations allowed us by society?

I am slightly sunburned, lounging in bed at 7.08 am on the Long Island North Shore. I have been swimming, sunbathing, eating a lot of wonderful food and generally experiencing an intense and deep sense of relaxation and happiness. In many ways, it has been an optimal experience. But I did nothing for it, the pleasure was very different from the rush of research, the fervor of gaming, It was a sensual experience: skin, flesh, taste, scent, eye stimulated by the environments. Does this mean that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is wrong, and the optimal experience, the flow, does not come with discipline and achievement? Or does it simply mean that the experience is not optimal, just one of the more optimised ones?

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