11 Aug 2008

Csikszentmihalyi: Spiritual East, physical West

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian born (Fiume) American psychologist at the University of Chicago. He is famous for his theory of 'the flow'. His starting point is that Freud, Jung, Adler and others ran into a dead end street at the time of the founding os psychology at the turn of the century. They concentrated too much on healing ill minds without ever establishing what it means to be a happy person.
Csikszentmihalyi studies tens of thousands of people from all walks of life during his carreer. He asked them when it is that they feel happy in life. The sample included professors, fire fighters, cooks, gardeners...all sorts of people. What he found was that people are happy when they feel a state of flow. This is the kind of feeling you get when you have a fantastic day playing tennis. You somehow reach all the balls withour having to make an effort. Things just flow naturally.
Fine...but how do you reach this state of flow? Csikszentmihályi found that people usually feel this way when they 1. have a goal to reach and 2. feel that they are heading towards this goal.
This is his theory of flow. Equally interesting is Csikszentmihalyi's observation about the east and the West. People in the West have developed a fantastic physical environment around themselves. They are safe from cold, storms, diseases, they have great cars and clothes, good roads. However, they hardly have any words to describe just how they feel. Words like 'sad' or 'happy' are inadequate. Our feelings are much more subtle and sofisticated then these. Plus we hardly take time to express them to each other. Hence all the frustration. People in the East, however, are exactly the opposite. They have horrible physical conditions: lousy housing, bad roads, a poor diet, diseases. Yet they have millions of words to express their feelings. "This morning I woke up and feel like this and like that...." We don't even have the words in Western languages. They take their time to try to explain to each other what goes on inside them. Hence more harmony and less frustration.

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