in this chapter, pleasure is defined as ‘a feeling of contentment when expectations set by our biological programming, or by social conditioning, have been met’. experiences such as sleep, resting, eating or sex provide restorative homeostatic experiences, restoring a status quo.

in contrast, enjoyment occurs when a person has not only met some prior expectation, met some need or desire, but gone beyond that and achieved something unexpected. enjoyment is characterised by forward movement.

aaarrgghh… WP (ie, feckless me) has just lost a hefty chunk of this post, comparing this distinction to that drawn by Aristotle between hedonia and eudaimonia – the pursuit of pleasure versus the achieving of that which is worthwhile in life. if you’d like to read more on these views of Aristotle’s then you might find this article of interest.

I feel that the distinction – as many of those made in Flow – is somewhat circular, whereby something is defined by that which it is not. and the language chosen also seems somewhat arbitrary.

my understanding and usage of the two terms has always been pretty much to use them interchangeably. in fact, pleasure is defined as ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’ and enjoyment as ‘the state or process of taking pleasure in something’. so the terms used in Flow are not really distinctive enough, I think.

for example, when I Googled the two words ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’ they seem to be used interchangeably…once you set aside the fact that Honda sell a motor scooter named Pleasure targeted at female riders, that is! I think a Honda Hedonia actually has quite a ring to it 😉 here’s Priyanka Chopra’s Hero Honda Pleasure ad. tagline – ‘why should boys have all the fun?’ why, indeed!

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taking this distinction on board, then, Flow documents a considerable body of research made up of interviews with a wide variety of respondents on what makes an experience enjoyable, in order to see how we can use these common factors to enhance the quality of our experience of life.

he documents the components of enjoyment, and hence optimal experience, as follows:

‘ ...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 to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.’ 

a number of examples of activities providing these conditions are given within the chapter, but perhaps I may provide one of my own?

soon after first reading this book I was running with a group of friends along the edge of a sloping ploughed field. I was the foremost runner at that point and had no-one in front of me to distract my attention. the others were picking their way more gingerly across the tricky terrain, but I was in the mood to hurtle down and set off, picking each step carefully yet swiftly, selecting footholds in midair and compensating as rapidly as I could for the uneven surface.

about half way down I not only experienced that intense absorption, but for a split second had the joy of realising that I was experiencing it – perfectly caught up in the moment and the challenge that I was meeting. everything else fell away, and I was invincible. it was a memorable moment.

that feeling of invincibility is one mentioned often among runners. and I hope I do not alienate non-runners by concentrating on it as an activity too much! I have felt similar levels of complete absorption while reading, for example, or carrying out a complicated work task.

it is something that rings true for me, then, that this experience can be found in many highly different activities. if you’ve experienced that feeling, during which activity has it come about, for you?

lastly Flow considers the value of such experiences. a key element of the optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. this is the definition of an autotelic experience – the word springing from the Greek words ‘auto’ – self – and ‘telos’ – goal.

it lifts the course of life to a different level. when experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified in the present moment. this is something towards many of us strain and strive, I think… perhaps even too hard, sometimes?

there is much more detail I could potentially add to this summary of Chapter 3, but it is getting late now for book club, even in the school holidays! I would be particularly interested, if you’ve been reading along too, if there are other elements of this chapter you’ve found important?

safe journey! oh, and don’t forget your cake tin! Prim xx

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