The book is about the “flow state” of consciousness: what it is, how it comes about, and the consequences of its presence or absence in a person’s life.
In particular it describes the current existential malaise of western society, describes the flow state, and presents it as a kind of tonic both for the individual and for society as a whole. It discusses flow in the context of physical, mental, vocational, and social activity, dealing with the accidents of life, and meaning making; and how it can heighten the enjoyment of each.
He defines the flow state as: “…a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.”
Flow activities, “…have rules that require the learning of skills, set up goals, provide feedback, make control possible, facilitate concentration and involvement…”
The book is often cited as one of the seminal works of positive psychology. At times, particularly in the beginning of the book, it feels like a harangue. But the insights found in the later chapters are worth waiting for. The content is useful and applicable to one’s own life. While I may not read it again from cover to cover, I am certainly likely to refer to it from time to time.