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  Humour, Anxiety, and Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow.  Michael Meany Abstract Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow suggests that the autotelic experience occurs when the skill level of the individual matches the challenge presented by a task or goal. An imbalance of skill and challenge leads to either a state of boredom (too much skill and/or too little challenge) or to a state of anxiety (too little skill and/or too much challenge). The state of anxiety is also a key feature of comedy and humour. Peter Waldeck argues, like Freud, that the psychological value of humour is the reduction of anxiety. Where they differ is that Waldeck argues that the comic experience is closely linked with the reduction of low level anxiety where elevated levels of anxiety greatly impair the ability to appreciate humour. The relationship between humour and anxiety is a useful instrument for the writer attempting to construct a comedy using the common structures of comedy; repetitions; inversions; and, the reciprocal interference of series. The focus of anxiety needs to be alluded to and then discharged. Through comic moments of superiority/inferiority, humane comedy, reality denial, verbal wit, and incongruity, anxiety can be discharged to humorous effect. This paper examines the association between anxiety and humour in relation to the concept of flow. Can the autotelic experience be achieved  by a reduction in anxiety brought about by humour? Can we laugh ourselves into flow? Keywords Humour, Anxiety, Creativity, Flow, Autotelic Experience.  Humour, Anxiety, and Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow.  _____________________________________________________________ 2The purpose of this paper is to examine the interrelationships  between humour, anxiety and the concept of flow. The following diagram illustrates the structure of these interrelationships. The first section introduces the theories and structures of humour and, by extension, examines a function of humour; the reduction of low level anxiety. The second section looks at the concept of flow and its relation to anxiety. The third section deals with the conflation of humour and creativity. It argues that the similarities between humour and creativity are more a matter of our response to novelty than to a deep understanding of either topic. Balancing Skilland Challenge Flow AnxietyHumour  Anxiety reduction through humour Achieving Flow through humour? Figure 1: Illustration of interrelationships 1.   Anxiety and Humour  The writing of comedy has been considered in a range of ‘how-to’ books that suggest strategies, structures and rules of comedy 1,2 . Also, comedy is a well-developed area of psychological research – Freud’s theory of Witz, Komik, and Humor   appears to have started an ongoing interest in the psychological value of comedy 3 . What all these texts tend to share is the categorisation of types of comedy. Waldeck suggests the following types: Superiority/inferiority - comedy based on our feelings of superiority or the relative inferiority of another;  Michael Meany  ____________________________________________________________ 3 Humane comedy - the depiction of the social world as ultimately harmless and benign; Reality denial - comedy based on the denial of our physical or social limitations; Verbal wit - the comedy of brevity, verbal mastery, and word play; Gallows humour – the darkest comedy that focuses on the ‘sacrifice of the outer self’; and, Incongruity - the comedy of the bizarre or unexpected outcome 4 . These categories of humour appear to have evolved in response to the developments in theories of humour. Goldstein and McGhee in their 1972 text provide a listing of humour theories including: Biological, Instinct and Evolution Theories suggest that laughter and humour are “built-in” and are “good for the  body”; Superiority Theories argue that a sense of superiority is central to the humour experience; Incongruity Theories suggest that humour arises from “disjointed, ill-suited pairings of ideas or situations”; Surprise Theory argues that surprise or unexpectedness are regarded as necessary to experience humour; Ambivalence Theories suggest that the conflict of incompatible emotions is the basis of humour; Release and Relief Theories argue that humour functions as a relief from stress or constraint; Configurational Theories suggest that humour is based on the insight of things falling into place, the pleasure of ‘getting the joke’; and, Psychoanalytical Theory argues that psychic energy that can not normally be expended due to the strictures of the superego can be released through humour 5 . Humour, particularly those styles based on irony, satire and  parody, requires that the audience, “the implied reader” 6 , shares with the writer “an experiential world as a touchstone” 7 . These styles of humour depend on a duality of meaning based on a recognisable experiential world and a subverted other world. These styles of humour can be theorised in terms of the recognition of ill-suited pairings, or emotional ambivalence, or configurational humour that results from the sudden, surprising  Humour, Anxiety, and Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow.  _____________________________________________________________ 4appreciation of a thitherto unrecognised relationship between ideas. All of these points of view offer insights into the structure of humour. Waldeck argues, like Freud, that the psychological function of humour is the reduction of anxiety. More precisely, Waldeck argues that “the comic experience is closely linked with the reduction of low level anxiety” 8  where elevated levels of anxiety “greatly impair the ability to appreciate humor” 9 . This in some measure explains individual responses to comedy; that which one individual finds humorous, others find humourless, possibly offensive. The focus of anxiety needs to be alluded to and then discharged. “A joke seems funny only if it arouses anxiety and at the same time reduces it” 10 . Then through comic moments of superiority/inferiority, humane comedy, reality denial, verbal wit, and incongruity this anxiety can be discharged to humorous effect. The requirement that low level anxiety needs to be aroused  before it can be discharged by humour is explained by Lefcourt who makes the distinction between “state” and “trait” anxiety. “Anxiety as a trait may indicate a continued readiness to experience arousal and distress” 11 . By contrast, in the state of anxiety, at the moment of arousal, studies have shown that “humor mitigates feelings of hostility and anxiety” 12 . Section 3 will examine the relationship between theories of humour, in particular the Incongruity, Surprise, and Configurational Theories, and aspects of creativity that have lead to a conflation of humour and creativity. The following section looks at the relationship between anxiety and the concept of flow. 2.   Anxiety and Flow  The concept of flow as developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the interplay of skills and challenges as part of an individual’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task. The state of flow is described as “a very positive condition; people should feel happy, strong, concentrated and motivated” 13 . Csikszentmihalyi describes nine elements of the flow experience: 1.   There are clear goals every step of the way. 2.   There is immediate feedback to one’s actions. 3.   There is a balance between challenges and skills. 4.   Action and awareness are merged. 5.   Distractions are excluded from consciousness. 6.   There is no worry of failure. 7.   Self-consciousness disappears. 8.   The sense of time is distorted. 9.   The activity becomes autotelic (it becomes an end in itself) 14 .
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