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  • I grew up in Europe, and World War II caught me

  • when I was between seven and 10 years old.

  • And I realized how few of the grown-ups that I knew

  • were able to withstand the tragedies that the war visited on them --

  • how few of them could even resemble a normal, contented,

  • satisfied, happy life once their job, their home, their security

  • was destroyed by the war.

  • So I became interested in understanding

  • what contributed to a life that was worth living.

  • And I tried, as a child, as a teenager, to read philosophy

  • and to get involved in art and religion and many other ways

  • that I could see as a possible answer to that question.

  • And finally I ended up encountering psychology by chance.

  • I was at a ski resort in Switzerland without any money

  • to actually enjoy myself, because the snow had melted and

  • I didn't have money to go to a movie. But I found that on the --

  • I read in the newspapers that there was to be a presentation

  • by someone in a place that I'd seen in the center of Zurich,

  • and it was about flying saucers [that] he was going to talk.

  • And I thought, well, since I can't go to the movies,

  • at least I will go for free to listen to flying saucers.

  • And the man who talked at that evening lecture was very interesting.

  • Instead of talking about little green men,

  • he talked about how the psyche of the Europeans

  • had been traumatized by the war, and now they're projecting

  • flying saucers into the sky.

  • He talked about how the mandalas of ancient Hindu religion

  • were kind of projected into the sky as an attempt to regain

  • some sense of order after the chaos of war.

  • And this seemed very interesting to me.

  • And I started reading his books after that lecture.

  • And that was Carl Jung, whose name or work I had no idea about.

  • Then I came to this country to study psychology

  • and I started trying to understand the roots of happiness.

  • This is a typical result that many people have presented,

  • and there are many variations on it.

  • But this, for instance, shows that about 30 percent of the people

  • surveyed in the United States since 1956

  • say that their life is very happy.

  • And that hasn't changed at all.

  • Whereas the personal income,

  • on a scale that has been held constant to accommodate for inflation,

  • has more than doubled, almost tripled, in that period.

  • But you find essentially the same results,

  • namely, that after a certain basic point -- which corresponds more or less

  • to just a few 1,000 dollars above the minimum poverty level --

  • increases in material well-being don't seem to affect how happy people are.

  • In fact, you can find that the lack of basic resources,

  • material resources, contributes to unhappiness,

  • but the increase in material resources does not increase happiness.

  • So my research has been focused more on --

  • after finding out these things that actually corresponded

  • to my own experience, I tried to understand:

  • where -- in everyday life, in our normal experience --

  • do we feel really happy?

  • And to start

  • those studies about 40 years ago, I began to look at creative people --

  • first artists and scientists, and so forth -- trying to understand

  • what made them feel that it was worth essentially spending their life

  • doing things for which many of them didn't expect either fame or fortune,

  • but which made their life meaningful and worth doing.

  • This was one of the leading composers of American music back in the '70s.

  • And the interview was 40 pages long.

  • But this little excerpt is a very good summary

  • of what he was saying during the interview.

  • And it describes how he feels when composing is going well.

  • And he says by describing it as an ecstatic state.

  • Now, "ecstasy" in Greek meant

  • simply to stand to the side of something.

  • And then it became essentially an analogy for a mental state

  • where you feel that you are not doing your ordinary everyday routines.

  • So ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.

  • And it's interesting, if you think about it, how, when we think about

  • the civilizations that we look up to as having been pinnacles of human achievement --

  • whether it's China, Greece, the Hindu civilization,

  • or the Mayas, or Egyptians -- what we know about them

  • is really about their ecstasies, not about their everyday life.

  • We know the temples they built, where people could come

  • to experience a different reality.

  • We know about the circuses,

  • the arenas, the theaters.

  • These are the remains of civilizations and they are the places that people went

  • to experience life in a more concentrated, more ordered form.

  • Now, this man doesn't need to go to a place like this,

  • which is also -- this place, this arena, which is built

  • like a Greek amphitheatre, is a place for ecstasy also.

  • We are participating in a reality that is different

  • from that of the everyday life that we're used to.

  • But this man doesn't need to go there.

  • He needs just a piece of paper where he can put down little marks,

  • and as he does that, he can imagine sounds

  • that had not existed before in that particular combination.

  • So once he gets to that point of beginning to create,

  • like Jennifer did in her improvisation,

  • a new reality -- that is, a moment of ecstasy --

  • he enters that different reality.

  • Now he says also that this is so intense an experience

  • that it feels almost as if he didn't exist.

  • And that sounds like a kind of a romantic exaggeration.

  • But actually, our nervous system is incapable of processing

  • more than about 110 bits of information per second.

  • And in order to hear me and understand what I'm saying,

  • you need to process about 60 bits per second.

  • That's why you can't hear more than two people.

  • You can't understand more than two people talking to you.

  • Well, when you are really involved in this completely engaging process

  • of creating something new, as this man is,

  • he doesn't have enough attention left over to monitor

  • how his body feels, or his problems at home.

  • He can't feel even that he's hungry or tired.

  • His body disappears,

  • his identity disappears from his consciousness,

  • because he doesn't have enough attention, like none of us do,

  • to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration,

  • and at the same time to feel that he exists.

  • So existence is temporarily suspended.

  • And he says that his hand seems to be moving by itself.

  • Now, I could look at my hand for two weeks, and I wouldn't feel

  • any awe or wonder, because I can't compose. (Laughter)

  • So what it's telling you here

  • is that obviously this automatic,

  • spontaneous process that he's describing can only happen to someone

  • who is very well trained and who has developed technique.

  • And it has become a kind of a truism in the study of creativity

  • that you can't be creating anything with less than 10 years

  • of technical-knowledge immersion in a particular field.

  • Whether it's mathematics or music, it takes that long

  • to be able to begin to change something in a way that it's better

  • than what was there before.

  • Now, when that happens,

  • he says the music just flows out.

  • And because all of these people I started interviewing --

  • this was an interview which is over 30 years old --

  • so many of the people described this as a spontaneous flow

  • that I called this type of experience the "flow experience."

  • And it happens in different realms.

  • For instance, a poet describes it in this form.

  • This is by a student of mine who interviewed

  • some of the leading writers and poets in the United States.

  • And it describes the same effortless, spontaneous feeling

  • that you get when you enter into this ecstatic state.

  • This poet describes it as opening a door that floats in the sky --

  • a very similar description to what Albert Einstein gave

  • as to how he imagined the forces of relativity,

  • when he was struggling with trying to understand how it worked.

  • But it happens in other activities.

  • For instance, this is another student of mine,

  • Susan Jackson from Australia, who did work

  • with some of the leading athletes in the world.

  • And you see here in this description of an Olympic skater,

  • the same essential description of the phenomenology

  • of the inner state of the person.

  • You don't think; it goes automatically,

  • if you merge yourself with the music, and so forth.

  • It happens also, actually, in the most recent book I wrote,

  • called "Good Business," where I interviewed some of the CEOs

  • who had been nominated by their peers as being both very successful

  • and very ethical, very socially responsible.

  • You see that these people define success

  • as something that helps others and at the same time

  • makes you feel happy as you are working at it.

  • And like all of these successful and responsible CEOs say,

  • you can't have just one of these things be successful

  • if you want a meaningful and successful job.

  • Anita Roddick is another one of these CEOs we interviewed.

  • She is the founder of Body Shop,

  • the natural cosmetics king.

  • It's kind of a passion that comes

  • from doing the best and having flow while you're working.

  • This is an interesting little quote from Masaru Ibuka,

  • who was at that time starting out Sony without any money,

  • without a product -- they didn't have a product,

  • they didn't have anything, but they had an idea.

  • And the idea he had was to establish a place of work where engineers

  • can feel the joy of technological innovation,

  • be aware of their mission to society and work to their heart's content.

  • I couldn't improve on this as a good example

  • of how flow enters the workplace.

  • Now, when we do studies --

  • we have, with other colleagues around the world,

  • done over 8,000 interviews of people -- from Dominican monks,

  • to blind nuns, to Himalayan climbers, to Navajo shepherds --

  • who enjoy their work.

  • And regardless of the culture,

  • regardless of education or whatever, there are these seven conditions

  • that seem to be there when a person is in flow.

  • There's this focus that, once it becomes intense,

  • leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity:

  • you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other;

  • you get immediate feedback.

  • You know that what you need to do

  • is possible to do, even though difficult,

  • and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself,

  • you feel part of something larger.

  • And once the conditions are present,

  • what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.

  • In our studies, we represent the everyday life of people in this simple scheme.

  • And we can measure this very precisely, actually,

  • because we give people electronic pagers that go off 10 times a day,

  • and whenever they go off you say what you're doing, how you feel,

  • where you are, what you're thinking about.

  • And two things that we measure is the amount of challenge

  • people experience at that moment and the amount of skill

  • that they feel they have at that moment.

  • So for each person we can establish an average,

  • which is the center of the diagram.

  • That would be your mean level of challenge and skill,

  • which will be different from that of anybody else.

  • But you have a kind of a set point there, which would be in the middle.

  • If we know what that set point is,

  • we can predict fairly accurately when you will be in flow,

  • and it will be when your challenges are higher than average

  • and skills are higher than average.

  • And you may be doing things very differently from other people,

  • but for everyone that flow channel, that area there,

  • will be when you are doing what you really like to do --

  • play the piano, be with your best friend, perhaps work,

  • if work is what provides flow for you.

  • And then the other areas become less and less positive.

  • Arousal is still good because you are over-challenged there.

  • Your skills are not quite as high as they should be,

  • but you can move into flow fairly easily

  • by just developing a little more skill.

  • So, arousal is the area where most people learn from,

  • because that's where they're pushed beyond their comfort zone

  • and to enter that -- going back to flow --

  • then they develop higher skills.

  • Control is also a good place to be,

  • because there you feel comfortable, but not very excited.

  • It's not very challenging any more.

  • And if you want to enter flow from control,

  • you have to increase the challenges.

  • So those two are ideal and complementary areas

  • from which flow is easy to go into.

  • The other combinations of challenge and skill

  • become progressively less optimal.

  • Relaxation is fine -- you still feel OK.

  • Boredom begins to be very aversive

  • and apathy becomes very negative:

  • you don't feel that you're doing anything,

  • you don't use your skills, there's no challenge.

  • Unfortunately, a lot of people's experience is in apathy.

  • The largest single contributor to that experience

  • is watching television; the next one is being in the bathroom, sitting.

  • Even though sometimes watching television

  • about seven to eight percent of the time is in flow,

  • but that's when you choose a program you really want to watch