Etymology: Greek autotelēs, from aut- + telos, meaning self + goal. (shout out to redbarn)
The Oxford English Dictionary cites its earliest use as 1901 (Baldwin, Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology I 96/1), and also cites a 1932 use by T. S. Eliot (Essays I. ii. 24).
The title of this blog originated from the book Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. Her book deals with the issues surrounding modern gaming and game design, and applying the theories associated with the field to issues in life. The chapter on designing a game to assist her recovery from a head injury was enlightening and creative, yet bluntly honest with regards to the teething problems all interventionist systems can encounter.
McGonigal refers to positive psychology on a frequent basis throughout, and the work on the concept of flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Csikszentmihalyi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. Thus, the origin of research on the theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihalyi tried to understand this phenomenon experienced by these artists.
It is found across history from the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the “action of inaction” or “doing without doing” that greatly resembles the idea of flow. Also, Indian texts on Advaita philosophy such as Ashtavakra Gita and the Yoga of Knowledge such as Bhagavad-Gita refer to a similar state. Michaelangelo is now considered to have been in a state of flow when paining the Sistine Chapel.
More recently flow was used in the theories of Maslow and Rogers in their development of the humanistic tradition of psychology. Flow can be identified across many areas; in education through overlearning and the Montessori method, improvisational music, sport psychology, religion and spirituality, gaming, occupational psychology. Flow has also been implicated in the addiction process, as the neuropsychological components are becoming better understood. So how does semiautotelic fit into all this? There are 6 components in the flow process, the final one being the autotelic state; experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.
The aspect of flow and the autotelic experience that captivated me personally related to the theories of happiness, within positive psychology. It states that there area many ways to be happy, but that we cannot find happiness.
“No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness – by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.”
(Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade, 2005)
Those things which result from partaking in an activity which generates intrinsic rewards; positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections that we build by engaging with the world around us. It’s not about the praise, or the payout (so how many of us does the autotelic experience really occur within?). McGonigal contends that we undertake autotelic work because it engages us completely, and because intense engagement is the most pleasurable, satisfying, and meaningful emotional state we can experience.
Personally having experienced this state while painting (even when mixing colours), reading, gaming, or listening to music. In fact, the creative field is abundant with such autotelic experiences. The self-goal is at the heart of all creativity, be is within the humanities or the sciences. The crux of the autotelic experience is even more relevant in the Ireland that I live in, as the pursuit of the autotelic maintains that a person can be happy more often than not- no matter what else is going on their lives. It flys in the face of what most of us have been taught, that to be happy life must be a certain way, and that the easier life is, the happier we are. But the relationship between hard work, intrinsic reward, and lasting happiness has been verified and confirmed.
The challenge now is activating our own happiness through intense interaction in our lives, as represented by the title image; different aspects flowing in and out, connecting and changing. On this blog I intend to address those things that I encounter that are autotelic in nature, assist flow, or act as a barrier to it. The semi in semiautotelic indicates that the autotelic state is not always fully accessible, but that there still are moments of value and positivity to be cherished, and the manner in which the digital realm can assist, augment and emphasize these intrinsic events. Lets create a positive place in this corner of the online world.