Thursday, April 19, 2007


I don’t necessarily endorse Csikszentmihalyi’s theories, although I think I understand what he means by flow. Intense absorption in a task is a real pleasure. And, thankfully, that pleasure seems to have little relation to one’s level of skill or ability.

For instance, I am middle-aged and of middling height; I can’t jump, or drive to my left. I also have one bad knee. And yet I have enjoyed (brief) states of flow on the basketball court, moments in which I do only what is absolutely right and beautiful in the game.

Can people be taught to enter this state of happy absorption at will? Or any of the other myriad happy states of which humans are capable?

In January 2007, D.T. Max published Happiness 101 in the New York Times. In this article, Mark Linkins, curriculum coordinator of a school district that mixes positive psychology with ninth grade English classes, says, “it’s preferable to be happy than not, even if that means the potential for creative output is diminished.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who flinched upon reading this statement. This is Orhan Pamuk in his 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy."

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