Massimini, Fausto and Carli, Massimo (1988). The Systematic assessment of flow in daily experience. In Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness (ed. Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Csikszentmihalyi, I.) Cambridge University Press, pp. 266-287.
This research project used the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) drawn from a sample of Italian youth. The sample consisted of 47 respondents between 16 and 19 years of age from a lyceum in Milan. Flow was measured in terms of the relation between various ratios of perceived challenges and skills. An 8 category system was adopted to measure different affective states: (1) Apathy (low challenge, low skill), (2) Relaxation (low challenge, moderate skill), (3) Worry (moderate challenge, low skill), (4) Boredom (low challenge, high skill), (5) Anxiety (high challenge, low skill), (6) Control (moderate challenge, high skill), (7) Arousal (high Challenge, moderate skill), and (8) Flow (high challenge, high skill)
Optimal experience was measured in terms of self-respondents’ ESM answers regarding affective states (happy vs. sad, cheerful vs. irritable), motivational states (how much a person would rather be doing something else), and cognitive involvement (e.g., level and ease of concentration). Using statistical analysis, it was shown that the state of Flow is highly correlated with optimal experience. When challenges and skills were both high, respondents exhibited the following characteristics: high concentration, happiness, strength, activity, creativity, freedom, and satisfaction. The least optimal state was reported for those activities involving low challenge and low skill (Apathy).
The majority of Flow experiences were reported when respondents were either engaged in class work or studying (34%), socializing with peers (28%), thinking (8%) involvement in hobbies/playing games (7%) and reading (5%). Only 1% of Flow states involved watching television, whereas 38% of apathetic states were associated with watching television. One unexpected result from the study was that the highest proportion of anxiety was reported while listening to music (52.9%). The authors theorize that this is because teenagers turn to music when they perceive their life as being out of control . An alternative hypothesis is simply that these teenagers are listening to music that produces anxiety (e.g., heavy metal, grunge, rap, etc., though the authors did not note what music the teenagers listened to).
The study was correlational and the authors did not tackle the tricky problem of causation: does Flow cause happiness or are happy people those who are more disposed to seek out Flow experiences? The study only points to correlates of the Flow experience, and helps to confirm that subjective well-being (SWB) is highly correlated with Flow.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. and J. Hunter (2003). Happiness in everyday life: the uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 2, pp.185-199
This paper uses the Experience Sampling Method data drawn from a national sample of American youth. The participants were 828 students from the 6th to the 12th grade attending 33 elementary and secondary schools from 12 communities across the country. These sites were chosen to create a nationally representative sample based on variation in labor force composition and participation, urbanicity, geographical location, and student ability. The ESM method included signaling at random moments eight times a day for one week. Upon hearing the signal participants completed a form containing open-ended questions about what they were doing at that moment as well as a wide range of feelings they were experiencing.
Post hoc Bonferroni tests indicated that respondents were significantly happier on Saturdays than they were on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The first part of the day, spent at work or school, tends to be less happy except for a peak at lunch-time. There is a dip after lunch, followed by higher reports of happiness in the afternoon when students are again free. There are ten main activities that teenagers do during the week, each taking up 2% or more of their waking time. The highest level of happiness was reported while talking with friends (Mean z=0.35), and the lowest when doing school-related homework (Mean z=-.30). Some of the happiest experiences reported in the Active Leisure category are Sports (Mean z=0.50), Music (z=.29) and visual Art (z=0.27). The other two major categories, Working and Maintenance activities such as doing chores, eating, dressing etc., were indistinguishable from the average in terms of happiness.
Particular companions also correlate to differing level of happiness. Being alone rates the lowest levels of happiness, while being with a friend corresponds to the highest. Person-level averages of happiness suggest that both higher social class and age correlate with lower levels of happiness, while gender and race do not. The highest level of happiness was reported by young people living in Working Class communities, then by those in the Middle Class, Poor, Upper Class, and finally Upper Middle Class environments.
Paradoxically, while school-related tasks ranked low on the happiness scale, students who spend more time in school and social activities are generally happier than those who spend less. The authors point to this result as one way in which the ESM can be used to distinguish between momentary happiness and “trait-level” happiness. Unexpectedly, students who spend more time pleasure reading reported lower levels of happiness. The authors speculate that this could be due to the fact that young people who read more are less often in the company of their peers.
It was expected that young people who spend more time in situations that produce Flow would be happier, and this was borne out by the authors’ final regression model. The frequency of time spent in the Flow condition is a very strong predictor of happiness (t=6.05), even after taking all the significant demographic variables into account. The authors conclude that feeling good about the self, excited, proud, sociable, active, as well as being in the conditions for flow experience are the strongest predictors of trait happiness.
The authors noted that studying, which tends to produce low positive affect as it is occurring, nevertheless helps young people feel happier in the long term. They point to this as an example of how building “psychological capital” involves the transformation of potentially negative experiences into positive experience over time. However, it would seem that since studying was low on the positive affect scale, it was not an example of Flow, which is highly correlated with positive affect. Thus studying and doing homework is most likely seen as either boring (high skill low challenge) or anxious (low skill high challenge). It would be interesting to see some other studies addressing this issue, as the results would prove instructive to teachers devising assignments for their students, and for educators in general trying to produce happier higher performing students.
Collins, A. & N. Sarkisian & W.Winner (2009) Flow and happiness in later life: an investigation into the role of daily and weekly Flow experiences. Journal of Happiness Studies 10, 703-719.
This study investigated the relationship between flow and happiness in an older population, an area of research which is sorely lacking. The sample consisted of 13 men and 41 women ranging from 70-86 years from community organizations in the greater Boston area. Participants provided repeated retrospective assessments of daily flow experiences and happiness over the course of seven days. To measure happiness, the researchers used a combination of the Likert-type scale to measure positive affect, and the Life Satisfaction Scale. Participants filled out a flow questionnaire at the end of each day, both to indicate the presence and the quality of any flow experiences they may have had during the day.
The authors hypothesized that the presence of flow would be highly correlated with happiness, as has been shown from numerous studies examining younger people. Unexpectedly, however, participants who experienced flow on a higher number of days reported lower positive affect as well as lower life satisfaction. However, those who experienced a higher quality of flow (more intense concentration, loss of self-awareness and rewarding outcomes) reported positive affect, lower negative affect, and higher life satisfaction. The authors conclude that we must be careful to distinguish daily experiences of flow with the overall propensity to experience flow. They theorize that the older people who had a negative association between flow and happiness were using flow as an emotion regulation technique, i.e., those with low self-esteem or low self-focus were seeking flow in order to boost their low positive affect. Because of this, it is not possible to argue that flow causes higher or lower positive affect or life satisfaction; we can only observe that people who reported a higher number of days with flow had average levels of positive affect and life satisfaction, yet participants were happier on the days that they had higher quality of flow.
The authors acknowledge a potentially major weakness of the study: they used retrospective reports rather than the Experience Sampling Method in order to measure moods and flow. They did so because it apparently proved impractical to use beepers for older people who did not know how to use, or refused to use, the technology. However, as Kahneman and others have argued, there are serious problems with reporting on moods from a retrospective perspective, since the report is filtered through layers of interpretation and may not capture the actual mood of the person at the time of the activity. This is especially true for flow, which is characterized by loss of self-consciousness and may not be remembered to even exist at all after the experience. Perhaps some of the unexpected findings that the researchers arrived at can be explained by this distortion. In any case, it would be good to see future studies on flow in an older population where ESM or some other method is used that would more accurately describe the moment by moment experiences of the participants.
Kiyoshi Asakawa, Kiyoshi (2009) Flow Experience, Culture, and Well-being: How Do Autotelic Japanese College Students Feel, Behave, and Think in Their Daily Lives? Journal of Happiness Studies 11, 205-233.
This study attempted to show how autotelic people who live in a non-Western culture feel, behave, and think in their daily lives. Using a sample of 315 Japanese college students, a series of correlation analyses were conducted between the frequency of flow experience as an indicator of autotelic personality and a broad range of well-being measures. A distribution analysis revealed that on average Japanese college students experienced flow more than a “few times a year,” but less than “once a month.” In the examination of relations between flow and well-being measures, autotelic Japanese college students, or those who experienced flow more often in their daily lives, were more likely to show higher self-esteem and lower anxiety, use active coping strategies more often and use passive coping strategies less often, as compared to their less autotelic counterparts. They were more likely to report active commitments to college life, search for future career, and daily activities in general. They also reported more Jujitsu-kan, a Japanese sense of fulfillment, and greater satisfaction with their lives. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of what experiencing flow means and what effects flow potentially has for college students in a non-Western culture.