A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.
In Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, reveals the mysterious process by which men and women come up with new ideas and new things.
Creative persons have one thing in common: They all love what they do.
Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do. It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them; rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing.
Are you programmed for creativity?
When people are given a list and asked to choose the best description of what they enjoy about doing what they enjoy most—reading, climbing, mountains, playing chess—the answer most frequently chosen is ‘designing or discovering something new.’
By random mutations, some individuals must have developed a nervous system in which the discovery of novelty stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. Just as some individuals derive a keener pleasure from sex and others from food, so some must have been born who derived a keener pleasure from learning something new.
The force of entropy:
But there is another force that motivates us, and it is more primitive and more powerful than the urge to create: the force of entropy.
This, too, is a survival mechanism built into our genes by evolution. It gives us pleasure when we are comfortable, when we relax, when we can get away with feeling good without expending energy.
What is enjoyment? Flow, the secret to happiness
Certain people devote many hours a week to their avocations, without any rewards of money and fame.
Why do they keep doing it?
It is clear from talking to them that what keeps them motivated is the quality of the experience they feel at the time. This feeling often involves painful, risky, or difficult efforts that stretch the person’s capacity, as well as an element of novelty and discovery.
I call this optimal experience Flow.
The relation between flow and happiness:
It is tempting to conclude that the two must be the same thing; actually, the connection is more complex. When we are in flow, we do not usually feel happy, because we feel only what is relevant to the activity. Happiness is a distraction.
It is only after we get out of flow, at the end of a session or in moments of distraction within it, that we might indulge in feeling happy.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato wrote that ‘the most important task for a society was to teach the young to find pleasure in the right objects.’ What should those right things be?
The problem is that it is easier to find pleasure in things that are easier, in activities like sex and violence that are really programmed into our genes.
Hunting, fishing, eating and mating have privileged places in our nervous system. It is also easy to enjoy making money, discovering new lands, or building elaborate palaces, because these projects fit with survival strategies established long ago in our physiological makeup.
It is much more difficult to learn to enjoy doing things that were discovered recently in our evolution—such as manipulating systems by doing math or composing music—and to learn about the world and ourselves in the process.