The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.
In the meantime, those who seek consolation in existing churches often pay for their peace of mind with a tacit agreement to ignore a great deal of what is known about the way the world works.
The answer seems clear: while humankind collectively has increased its material powers a thousandfold, it has not advanced very far in terms of improving the content of experience.
Some people produce more than the usual amount of androgens and therefore become excessively aggressive. Does that mean they should freely express violence? We cannot deny the facts of nature, but we should certainly try to improve on them.
A thoroughly socialized person is one who desires only the rewards that others around him have agreed he should long for—rewards often grafted onto genetically programmed desires.
He may encounter thousands of potentially fulfilling experiences, but he fails to notice them because they are not the things he desires. What matters is not what he has now, but what he might obtain if he does as others want him to do.
The most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment.
Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces.
“Men are not afraid of things, but of how they view them,” said Epictetus a long time ago.
And the great emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.
At certain times in history cultures have taken it for granted that a person wasn’t fully human unless he or she learned to master thoughts and feelings.
A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening “outside,” just by changing the contents of consciousness.
The events that constitute consciousness—the “things” we see, feel, think, and desire—are information that we can manipulate and use. Thus we might think of consciousness as intentionally ordered information.
Since for us outside events do not exist unless we are aware of them, consciousness corresponds to subjectively experienced reality. While everything we feel, smell, hear, or remember is potentially a candidate for entering consciousness, the experiences that actually do become part of it are much fewer than those left out.
Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it.
The outside event appears in consciousness purely as information, without necessarily having a positive or negative value attached to it. It is the self that interprets that raw information in the context of its own interests, and determines whether it is harmful or not.
Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow.
When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable.
Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.
There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.
To improve life one must improve the quality of experience.
Pleasure is a feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or by social conditioning have been met.
Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness.
Playing a close game of tennis that stretches one’s ability is enjoyable, as is reading a book that reveals things in a new light, as is having a conversation that leads us to express ideas we didn’t know we had.
To gain personal control over the quality of experience, however, one needs to learn how to build enjoyment into what happens day in, day out.
Reading is an activity because it requires the concentration of attention and has a goal, and to do it one must know the rules of written language. The skills involved in reading include not only literacy but also the ability to translate words into images, to empathize with fictional characters, to recognize historical and cultural contexts, to anticipate turns of the plot, to criticize and evaluate the author’s style, and so on.
Competition is enjoyable only when it is a means to perfect one’s skills; when it becomes an end in itself, it ceases to be fun.
Thomas Jefferson and Chairman Mao Zedong believed that each generation needed to make its own revolution for its members to stay actively involved in the political system ruling their lives.
A neurological advantage in processing information may not be the only key to explaining why some people have a good time waiting at a bus station while others are bored no matter how entertaining their environment is.
The human body is capable of hundreds of separate functions—seeing, hearing, touching, running, swimming, throwing, catching, climbing up mountains and climbing down caves, to name only a few—and to each of these there correspond flow experiences.
In every culture, enjoyable activities have been invented to suit the potentialities of the body.
Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow to be a little stronger.
The joy of surpassing the limits of the body is open to all.
They have made the usual mistake of confounding form and substance, and assume that concrete actions and events are the only “reality” that determines what they experience.
However, enjoyment, as we have seen, does not depend on what you do, but rather on how you do it.
As with anything else, to enjoy music one must pay attention to it. To the extent that recording technology makes music too accessible, and therefore taken for granted, it can reduce our ability to derive enjoyment from it.
The integrated cells and organs that make up the human organism are an instrument that allows us to get in touch with the rest of the universe.
Entropy is the normal state of consciousness—a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.
The words evoked experiences he had had when he first learned them; remembering poetry was for him a form of time travel.
Not only philosophy but the emergence of new scientific ideas is fueled by the enjoyment one obtains from creating a new way to describe reality.
Few of us can understand any longer the enthusiasm of Caliph Ali Ben Ali, who wrote: “A subtle conversation, that is the Garden of Eden.” This is a pity, because it could be argued that the main function of conversation is not to get things accomplished, but to improve the quality of experience.
In today’s world we have come to neglect the habit of writing because so many other media of communication have taken its place. Telephones and tape recorders, computers and fax machines are more efficient in conveying news. If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.
The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place.
Observing, recording, and preserving the memory of both the large and small events of life is one of the oldest and most satisfying ways to bring order to consciousness.
If flow, rather than success and recognition, is the measure by which to judge its value, science can contribute immensely to the quality of life.
Many people give up on learning after they leave school because thirteen or twenty years of extrinsically motivated education is still a source of unpleasant memories.
The quality of experience of people who play with and transform the opportunities in their surroundings, as Joe did, is clearly more developed as well as more enjoyable than that of people who resign themselves to live within the constraints of the barren reality they feel they cannot alter.
The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
If being alone is seen as a chance to accomplish goals that cannot be reached in the company of others, then instead of feeling lonely, a person will enjoy solitude and might be able to learn new skills in the process. On the other hand, if solitude is seen as a condition to be avoided at all costs instead of as a challenge, the person will panic and resort to distractions that cannot lead to higher levels of complexity.
Life-styles built on pleasure survive only in symbiosis with complex cultures based on hard work and enjoyment.
Living exclusively by genetic and social instructions is fine as long as everything goes well. But the moment biological or social goals are frustrated—which in the long run is inevitable—a person must formulate new goals, and create a new flow activity for himself, or else he will waste his energies in inner turmoil.
The process of discovering new goals in life is in many respects similar to that by which an artist goes about creating an original work of art.
The goal in itself is usually not important; what matters is that it focuses a person’s attention and involves it in an achievable, enjoyable activity.
The meaning of life is meaning: whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life.
In the past a hunter was a hunter until he died, a blacksmith spent his life perfecting his craft. We can now shed our occupational identities at will: no one needs to remain an accountant forever.