Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his book, Flow
(Image by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) Permission Details DMCA
Rob: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philiy and South Jersey. Online at iTunes under my name Rob Kall, K-A-L-L, and at opednews.com/podcasts,. iTunes only lists the most recent hundred shows and there are about three hundred of them all together. My guest tonight, and I'm very excited to have him on the show, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The most unspellable name I have ever encountered, he also goes by Mike. He is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. He is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College. His Ted Talk, Flow, the Secret to Happiness, has had close to three million views. Martin Seligman, the former president of the American Psychological Association, described him as the world's leading researcher on positive psychology. Welcome to the show.
MC: Hi Rob.
Rob: And I have to say that our connection goes back a long time. I first discovered your work around 1988. You had a book out then called Optimal Experience and I called you and spoke to you on the phone about it A couple years later in the early nineties; we had lunch at a conference on applied psychophysiology and biofeedback (AAPB.org) and biofeedback. So I've been a long, long fan of yours. Thank you so much for all the work you have done.
MC: Great, thank you. It is good to talk to a fan.
Rob: So I've got a lot of things I want -- ground I want to cover with you, but I think the first thing that you need to do is cover a couple of basic definitions and give us a story. I want to make sure we cover early on the definition of flow, auto-telic, and extrinsic motivation. And if you could introduce the idea of flow with your story about playing chess as a young man, that would be great.
MC: Yeah, well, as a young kid growing up in Europe at the end of the war, the Second World War, I noticed -- I went from one kind of a world to another world completely, within a period of half a year. We had a good, nice middle class life in Italy because my father was a consular diplomat in Italy. And we had a pretty good life, even during the war, but then as the war ended, suddenly everything collapsed. The Russian troops moved into Hungary and they kind of -- you know, one of my brothers was killed trying to defend Budapest even though they didn't have any weapons or anything, but the students were asked to leave the university and try to stop the Russian troops. And he was nineteen years old and finishing engineering class and out of fourteen hundred engineering students, only eight survived trying to stop the tanks and so forth with old muskets they had and stuff.
So anyway people lost their jobs, they lost their home or whatever they had, furniture burned down or stolen and it looked like complete chaos and at the same time we read that a nuclear device had been dropped in Japan and people had learned how to build these incredible weapons and yet they behaved completely like cavemen at the end of the war and the people lost their -- what they owned became completely helpless, and people. they didn't know what to do with themselves, they became depressed. So it was -- I couldn't understand how these two things could be together you know on the one hand, great science and the other kind of a helpless, childish behavior. By the way, can you hear me?
Rob: Every word, perfect; crystal clear.
MC: Okay. So as I grew up from there, I tried to understand, how could people be so clueless in some ways about how to make a decent life, even though they were making all these great advances in science and so forth. And so I tried to read as much as I could in religion, history, philosophy, this that, but it didn't seem to add up really, what I was reading into any coherent explanation. And then I had to leave school when I was thirteen because we didn't have any money back then. My father had lost his job and we couldn't work in Italy because we were refugees and we couldn't get the official documents to work in Italy. So I did all kinds of odd jobs instead of going to school and that way we kind of survived. But then I had set some money aside to go to Switzerland to ski one spring when I was fifteen, and I went there but unfortunately the snow had melted mostly.
And I didn't have money really to go to the movies so I didn't know what to do, but I read in the paper that there was a talk about flying saucers at the university and it was free. And that sounded interesting, so I went and the guy who talked turned out to be a psychologist, which I didn't know existed, that there were psychologists at that time in Europe. They were really few and they were mostly in the medical school and so forth. But, - so anyway this guy was really amazing. He was talking about how Europe had lost all belief in values and that kind of conviction that they knew where they were going and so, one thing that helped them was to imagine that there were these circles in the sky, these flying saucers. There was a real constant reporting of sightings at that time in the late forties, early fifties; people reported seeing all these kinds of flying saucers. And he said that that was a kind of a re-creation of old Hindu religious beliefs of the mandalas, which was a circle like a saucer which reflected all the forces of the universe in balance with each other. And that was his notion that we inherited this belief from generation to generation without even knowing it and then, when we needed, we kind of tried to bring out whatever helps at the time and at the time what helped here of course, the feeling that there was a center, a kind of a balance, a spiritual force that would lead out of the misery more and --
So that seemed intriguing. It seemed crazy too, but it was intriguing that there are people who are thinking about these things and try to make sense of them in a more or less scientific way. And so I read more of the books that this guy had written and he was Carl Jung, who was one of Freud's disciples and who split from Freud and went his way believing of these kind of archetypes that we have and that represent what's really important in life and so forth. So anyway, I studied it in psychology and it turned out that of course -
Rob: Wait, I just need to get this clear. You stumbled almost by accident because you were kind of broke and didn't have money to go to a movie and you went to a talk by Carl Jung on archetypes and that's what got you into psychology.
Rob: Great Go ahead.
MC: But I couldn't study psychology in Europe, A, because I didn't have a high school diploma, and B, because I didn't have the money. And so I thought maybe if I came to the US I knew that here psychology was a driving kind of science or discipline. So I applied for a visa and left after about a year of during which I worked in Italy. A year later I got a visa and then after awhile I was able to come and I had to go to Chicago because that's where the sponsor that agreed to cover my expenses if couldn' t work there was an old Hungarian worker I didn't know, but he volunteered a religious group to be sponsor for immigrants from Hungary. So he sponsored my trip to -- or my coming to, immigration to the United States.. I arrived to Chicago with a dollar twenty-five cents, which I had with and I then I discovered when I arrived that this guy had passed away while I was in the airplane. So I had to find immediately some other arrangement and I started working nights at a hotel as an auditor, adding up each room's expense, you know so that if the guest checked out, his bill was ready for him to go and that was done at night between eleven in the evening and nine in the morning. And then I passed the equivalence exams for entering the university and so I worked at night and I went to the university of Illinois during the day and that was like five years of working at night and doing the school, it wasn't too easy, but then after that I transferred to the University of Chicago where they gave me some fellowships to be there and so I can quit the night work.