Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi thoroughly describes and explains the process, or mental state, of flow. The key message states that through conscious living we can enhance the quality of life. Not only is this book the accumulation of a lifetime of research, it also offers practical advice and insights into a happier life.
Also see Solve for Happy.
The book has a strong focus on the aspect of consciousness. This is a topic that is discussed in multiple, and very interesting TED Talks like this one. Csikszentmihalyi states that the consciousness should be both differentiated and integrated. Meaning that through learning more complex skills, we will be able to experience new 1) challenges and fields of study. And at the same time 2) integrate different fields of information. He states that through these two strategies we can experience more and more optimal experiences.
Optimal experiences themselves compromise of seven key components. An activity has to have 1) a clear goal, 2) which can be completed, 3) that we can focus on completely, 4) which provides immediate feedback, 5) to which you are engaged, 6) is under control, and 7) makes you less self-conscious. This entails activities in which you become one with the activity you are doing. Great examples can be found in yoga, sports, procreation, games, but also work and family life.
The book describes how we can bring flow to our lives, and to which components of life it applies. This is subdivided into four parts, or chapters, 1) the body, 2) thinking, 3) work, and 4) being alone and together. It concludes with two chapters on keeping psychological entropy (unhappiness) out, and giving purpose to life.
Csikszentmihalyi has done a great job in researching flow. Many years of study and multiple books have made him an expert in the field. Not only has he written about flow itself, but also about the application of flow in daily life, and in work situations. And he too has spoken at TED, see it here.
Reading Flow is a great way to understand optimal experiences, and design your life to have more of these. The only real shortcoming of the book is its length and set-up. After halfway through you understand most of it and more does not add up.
More on Flow:
http://goo.gl/6jxO14 – The book on Google Books
http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html – The TED Talk by Csikszentmihalyi
http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Flow_theory – EduWiki on Flow
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_engagement – Work Engagement (flow at work)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV3trdyDdHE – TED Talk on living in the moment