This weekend I started reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow. First published in the early 1990s, it's now considered something of a classic in psychology, and has influenced scientists in a number of areas, from psychoanalysis to human factors research.
The first and maybe most important thing to know is that the author's name is pronounced "chick-sent-me-high" (or "cheek-saint-me-high-ee" depending on who you ask), with the accent on the first syllable.
It's a fascinating, rich book; a couple parts of it are a bit dated (the information theory vision of the brain and consciousness feels a bit old, but that doesn't fatally affect his argument). What I really like about the book is that it's interested in the fundamental question, what is happiness? Csikszentmihalyi's answer is a bit counterintuitive, but quite rich and interesting. This means he's not just interested in isolated experiences, but in the overall shape and tone of life: it's an interest in values rather than merely specific ends. "Happiness is not something that happens," (2) he argues:
It is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.... It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. [Reaching happiness involves] a circuitous path that begins with achieving control over the contents of our consciousness. (2)
So what defines that control?