Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi


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My father was Hungarian consul in the then Italian city of Fiume. Prior to WWI Fiume had been Hungar ian, after WWII it became part of Yugoslavia with the name of Rijeka; currently it is part of Croatia. The vicissitudes of my native town have taught me how fragile, and yet how important social and political institutions are. My interest in psychology could easily be traced to WWII, when I saw the collapse of what I had believed to be a solid – if not eternal – society. I was 10 at the time, and I was impressed how quickly rich, famous, powerful people crumbled under the pressures of adversity. I survived WWII almost unscathed, while many of my close relatives did not. My father was re-appoin ted to the Hungarian embassy in Rome, where he was in charge till 1948, when a Communist putsch took power in Hungary, at which time he resigned and we became officially stateless. In the rather chaotic post-war years I started working at age 14, helping in the restaurant my father had opened near the Trevi fountain. Then I worked at a dizzying variety of jobs, which included painting movie posters, working as correspondent for the French newspaper Le Monde, managing a hotel in Milan, translating for the Eastman Dental Clinic in Rome, and being a national trainer for Boy Scout leaders. To do all this, I had to drop out of school, which I did with great relief at the age of 15. Moving from one culture to another (Hungary/Italy/the United States, with many side-trips elsewhere) has been very helpful in relativizing my beliefs, while impressing on me the fundamental similarities among human beings. Yet all during this time I wanted to learn more about human nature. I read philosophy, history. I painted professionally and was involved in religion and politics. Then I came across the work of Carl Jung, and it dawned on me that the questions I had about life might be answered by a more rigorous discipline – psychology. In Italy at the time you could not take psychology at the university level unless you studied for medicine or philosophy. In the United States, I learned, psychology was an autonomous discipline, so I decided to go and study there. After several years of trying, finally in 1956 I got a visa to come to the States. In the US, while working at nights between 11pm and 7am, I passed my High School equivalency exam and enrolled at the University of Chicago. Fortunately the University was both supportive and intellectually stimulating; I studied there, helped by scholarships and research assistantships, until I earned my doctorate in 1964. During this time I also translated books from Italian, French, and Hungarian, and had some of my stories published in the New Yorker and elsewhere. I married Isabella Selega in 1961, and she has helped me ever since. We have edited one book together, and have travelled widely. We have two sons, both now teaching (Mark teaches Far Eastern philosophy and literature at the University of Wisconsin, and Chris teaches robotic art at MIT Medialab). After getting my PhD I went to teach Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, in part because I felt that my understanding needed to be broadened by the perspective of those disciplines. Then in 1969 I was offered a job back at my old alma mater. So for the next 30 years I was at the Un iversity of Chicago, at times being chairman of the Committee on Human Development, and of the Department of Psychology. It was a very exciting, stimulating place to work. In 1999 I decided to retire from the U. of C. and move to a warmer climate, which my wife showed a s trong preference for after many decades of severe Chicago winters. I accepted the offer of the Drucker school of management at the Claremont Graduate University, where I teach mainly to business executives. I also started here the Quality of Life Research Center, which is largely staffed with former studen ts of mine, and which offers research opportunities to post-docs from many different nations. Written by: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi