Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi grew up in Eastern Europe. During World War II, when he was between the ages of seven and ten, Csikszentmihalyi noticed how many of the adults he knew were unable to recover from the privations of war and reassemble their lives. He began to wonder what was necessary for human life and happiness. He was inspired to study psychology after hearing a lecture by Carl Jung in Switzerland. He emigrated to the United States at age 22 and graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology and later served as head of the department of psychology there. He now works as the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University.
Csikszentmihalyi developed the theory of "flow," a mental state of total absorption in an activity in which one finds fulfillment and joy. Athletes often describe the state as being "in the zone." In law school, the two times I received the highest grade in my class (and American Jurisprudence Awards), I knew I would do so. I walked into the exam in a "flow" state.
Here's his TED Talk on Flow - The Secret to Happiness.
How does it feel to be in flow?
1. Completely involved in what we are doing - focused, concentrated.
2. A sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality.
3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
4. Knowing that the activity is doable - that our skills are adequate to the task.
5. A sense of serenity - no worries about oneself, and a feeling of going beyond the boundaries of the ego.
6. Timelessness - thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.
To optimize learning and academic and professional performance, we all must seek flow. Fortunately, Csikszentmihalyi has developed a number of resources to help us gain access to flow. Csikszentmihalyi's books may be found here.