Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi in 2010
Born29 September 1934 (1934-09-29) (age 86)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Known forFlow (psychology)
Positive psychology
Autotelic activities
Scientific career
Doctoral studentsKeith Sawyer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (/ˈmh ˈksɛntmˌhɑːj/, Hungarian: Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, pronounced [ˈt͡ʃiːksɛntmihaːji ˈmihaːj] (About this soundlisten); born 29 September 1934) is a Hungarian-American psychologist. He recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity.[1][2] 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.[3]

Early life[edit]

Csikszentmihalyi was born on 29 September 1934 in Rijeka,[4] then part of the Kingdom of Italy. His family name derives from the village of Csíkszentmihály in Transylvania.[5] He was the third son of a career diplomat at the Hungarian Consulate in Fiume.[4][6] His two older half-brothers died when Csikszentmihalyi was still young; one was an engineering student who was killed in the Siege of Budapest, and the other was sent to labor camps in Siberia by the Soviets.[6]

His father was appointed Hungarian Ambassador to Italy shortly after the Second World War, moving the family to Rome.[6][7] When Communists took over Hungary in 1949, Csikszentmihalyi's father resigned rather than work for the regime; the Communist regime responded by expelling his father and stripping the family of their Hungarian citizenship. To earn a living, his father opened a restaurant in Rome, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dropped out of school to help with the family income.[4][6] At this time, the young Csikszentmihalyi, then travelling in Switzerland, saw Carl Jung give a talk on the psychology of UFO sightings.[6]

Csikszentmihalyi emigrated to the United States at the age of 22, working nights to support himself while studying at the University of Chicago.[6] He received his B.A. in 1959 and his PhD in 1965, both from the University of Chicago.[6][8] He then taught at Lake Forest College, before becoming a professor at the University of Chicago in 1969.[6]


Csikszentmihalyi is noted for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, but is best known as the architect of the notion of flow and for his years of research and writing on the topic. He is the author of many books and over 290 articles [9] or book chapters. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world's leading researcher on positive psychology.[10] Csikszentmihalyi once said: "Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason."[11] His works are influential and are widely cited.[12]


AnxietyArousalFlow (psychology)Control (psychology)Relaxation (psychology)BoredomApathyWorry
Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level, according to Csikszentmihalyi's flow model.[13] (Click on a fragment of the image to go to the appropriate article)

In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.[14] The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what they are doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.[15]

In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."[16]

Csikszentmihályi characterized nine component states of achieving flow including "challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autotelic experience".[17] To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.[13][page needed]

One state that Csikszentmihalyi researched was that of the autotelic personality.[17] The autotelic personality is one in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals.[18] Csikszentmihalyi describes the autotelic personality as a trait possessed by individuals who can learn to enjoy situations that most other people would find miserable.[14][page needed] Research has shown that aspects associated with the autotelic personality include curiosity, persistence, and humility.[19]


A majority of Csikszentmihalyi's most recent work surrounds the idea of motivation and the factors that contribute to motivation, challenge, and overall success in an individual. One personality characteristic that Csikszentmihalyi researched in detail was that of intrinsic motivation. Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues found that intrinsically motivated people were more likely to be goal-directed and enjoy challenges that would lead to an increase in overall happiness.[20]

Csikszentmihalyi identified intrinsic motivation as a powerful trait to possess to optimize and enhance positive experience, feelings, and overall well-being as a result of challenging experiences. The results indicated a new personality construct, a term Csikszentmihalyi called work orientation, which is characterized by "achievement, endurance, cognitive structure, order, play, and low impulsivity". A high level of work orientation in students is said to be a better predictor of grades and fulfillment of long-term goals than any school or household environmental influence.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Csikszentmihalyi is the father of artist and professor Christopher Csikszentmihályi, and University of California, Berkeley professor of philosophical and religious traditions of China and East Asia, Mark Csikszentmihalyi.[22]

In 2009, Csikszentmihalyi was awarded the Clifton Strengths Prize[23] and received the Széchenyi Prize at a ceremony in Budapest in 2011.[24] He was awarded the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2014.[7] He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of both the National Academy of Education and the Academy of Leisure Sciences.[6]


  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1978) "Intrinsic Rewards and Emergent Motivation" in The Hidden Costs of Reward: New Perspectives on the Psychology of Human Motivation eds Lepper, Mark R; Greene, David, Erlbaum: Hillsdale: N.Y. 205–216
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Halton, Eugene (1981). The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28774-X
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Larson, Reed (1984). Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years. New York: Basic Books, Inc. ISBN 0-465-00646-9
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Csikszentmihalyi, Isabella Selega, eds. (1988). Optimal Experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-34288-0
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-092043-2
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1994). The Evolving Self, New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092192-7
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092820-4
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02411-4 (a popular exposition emphasizing technique)
  • Gardner, Howard, Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, and Damon, William (2001). Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet. New York, Basic Books.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2003). Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Basic Books, Inc. ISBN 0-465-02608-7
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2014). The Systems Model of Creativity: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Dordrecht: Springer, 2014. ISBN 978-94-017-9084-0
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2014). Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Dordrecht: Springer, 2014. ISBN 978-94-017-9087-1
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2014). Applications of Flow in Human Development and Education: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Dordrecht: Springer, 2014. ISBN 978-94-017-9093-2

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Keefe, Paul A. (4 September 2014). "Liking Work Really Matters". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  2. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060162535.
  3. ^ "Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi". Claremont Graduate University. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Cooper, Andrew (1 September 1998). "The Man Who Found the Flow". Lion's Roar. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  5. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (8 August 2014). Applications of Flow in Human Development and Education: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. ISBN 9789401790949.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kawamura, Kristine Marin (2014). "Kristine Marin Kawamura, PhD interviews Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD". Cross Cultural Management. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 21 (4). doi:10.1108/CCM-08-2014-0094.
  7. ^ a b Pontifex, Trevor (6 February 2015). "Q&A: CGU Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Receives Hungarian National Award". The Student Life. Claremont, California: Claremont Colleges. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi". Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate University, Division of Behavorial and Organizational Sciences. Retrieved 3 March 2014. B.A., University of Chicago, 1960
  9. ^ https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=ycPRZqAAAAAJ
  10. ^ Thinker of the Year Award
  11. ^ "Virtue Quotes & Quotations". focusdep.com. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  12. ^ Nigel King & Neil Anderson (2002). Managing Innovation and Change. Cengage Learning EMEA. p. 82. (ISBN 1861527837)
  13. ^ a b Csikszentmihalyi, M., Finding Flow, 1997, p. 31.
  14. ^ a b Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row. p. 15 ISBN 0-06-092043-2
  15. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. p. 27.
  16. ^ Geirland, John (1996). "Go With The Flow". Wired magazine, September, Issue 4.09.
  17. ^ a b Fullagar, Clive J.; Kelloway, E. Kevin (2009). "Flow at work: an experience sampling approach". Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. 82 (3): 595–615. doi:10.1348/096317908x357903.
  18. ^ Car, A. Positive psychology. The Science of happiness and human strengths. Hove, 2004.
  19. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Nakamura, J. (2011). Positive psychology: Where did it come from, where is it going? In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Designing positive psychology (pp. 2–9). New York: Oxford University Press.
  20. ^ Abuhamdeh, Sami; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2012). "The importance of challenge for the enjoyment of intrinsically motivated, goal-directed activities". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38 (3): 317–30. doi:10.1177/0146167211427147. PMID 22067510.
  21. ^ Wong, Maria; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1991). "Motivation and academic achievement: The effects of personality traits and the quality of experience". Journal of Personality. 59 (3): 539–574. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1991.tb00259.x.
  22. ^ "Mark Csikszentmihalyi". ieas.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  23. ^ Nakamura, Jeanne. "2009 Clifton Strength Prize Laureate". Clifton Strengths School. Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  24. ^ "President of Hungary honors SBOS Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with national science prize". Claremont Graduate University. 3 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2012.

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