Csikszentmihalyi: Creating a Personal Culture

This is round  6 of my overview of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal book “Flow”. Only 4 more after this!

What to remember from round 5? The key idea from round 5 is that we can produce flow by constructing and playing games. The more we gamify our experiences, the faster we can learn from them. Gamification is simpler than one might imagine. To play, we balance next challenges with learning skills to meet the challenge to move up along the path that we choose. It is a matter of keeping our balance to avoid getting overwhelmed on the one hand or bored on the other. And it starts by answering the question – what is winning?

What is in round 6? In order to grow, we must be aware of inspires us and what holds us back. And in modern society, culture can have both effects. We need to see how culture works and what we can do to enjoy culture on our own terms.

We now have a template to produce flow in our lives. We can use this template to create optimal experiences – no matter how difficult the challenge.  We can even begin to see how people who found themselves in incredibly challenging circumstances survived and even grew stronger from their experience. It is just a matter of maintaining an intense focus on balancing challenges and skills building.

But we know that there is more to life. We need a path forward where we discover what is important. And there is a difficulty here. We have hinted at it already. Now it is time to confront it directly. How do we find the path?

The question has no easy answer. In one sense, you never choose a path at all. It chooses you. Put another way, you cannot choose to become inspired. You either feel it or you do not. We all have certain emotional anchors  that our past experiences created. They do not go away. Some are positive and others are not. They appear to us in certain moments and they disappear as well. The best we can do is to try to better understand what they are and how to react to them. A key choice that we can make is whether to build a gaming thread from them or not. And we can track those decisions as we make them. If you want to think more about this, ask for a follow uo.

I call this process building a personal culture. This is how you grow from your own sets of experiences. But when we talk about culture, we need to take into account that as humans, we are a social species. We share our culture. That is an essential aspect of our lives. So before moving on, we need to understand more precisely what “culture” is.

We hear all the time that we are “modern”. Have you ever paused to consider what this means? It implies that we are different than the people who came before “modernity”. Somehow, we are better off. We have something that they did not. What is it? We are tempted to answer that modern society is “more advanced”. In other words, it appears that society has evolved so far as to give us the answers we need to life’s main questions. We have all the basics for survival as well as layers of comforts and entertainment. But while these things are great, are they really “answers”?  If we want to seek happiness for ourselves, we need to see what society offers us and what it does not.

Here is the big idea – while it may appear this way, culture does not exist in order to make you happy.  For example, as you read this, imagine that I am thinking of the wonderful song “I Love Paris”. I do love Paris and I can be happy there, as the song says. But the offer of happiness in Paris from the song is made for its own reasons — not my reasons. We need to remember this if we are to build our own agenda for happiness.

You can think of it this way. Every generation up to ours have faced challenges that they had to meet. And in meeting those challenges, they developed the specific cultural messages that they needed at that time. Like respect for authority. BTW, notice the word “they”. These messages were meant for them at that time – not necessarily for you now. So while we can get great pleasure and inspiration from culture and history, we should not rely upon them to ask questions that we value for ourselves. Questions like, what is the next challenge? What enjoyment will I get from meeting it? These questions, we need to ask ourselves  as individuals.

This is not a declaration of independence from culture. Why not? Because there are many aspects of culture that can help us see new things. That is great. And more importantly, we are culture too. We can help or hinder the generation of flow in the people around us. Parents, for example, have a profound effect on the capacity of their children to generate flow. In other words, one of the important things about living is to create culture. This can be a fantastic anchor for building a life history. If you want to learn more about how to build this type of connection, as for a follow up.

So how good are you at inspiring flow in the type of culture that you create? Is it part of your agenda in life? Why not make it so?  This is a powerful idea.

But flow is not just about communication. We can experience flow ourselves from what our bodies and minds offer us. That is next!



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