Becoming Creative in Florence

larryThe experience of living in Firenze makes you feel alive and fulfilled like no other city does. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist who spent most of his career conducting research about “optimal experiences.” The ideas he described in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience help to explain the fulfillment that you may experience in Firenze. 

An ‘optimal experience’ is when we feel most alive and experience intense enjoyment, concentration and deep involvement in the immediacy of the moment. “When the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly” is how Csikszentmihalyi describes it. These optimal experiences “are situations in which attention can be freely invested to achieve a person’s goals, because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat for the self to defend against. We have called this state the flow experience.” In flow, we are in complete harmony with tasks, allowing full, uninterrupted, seemingly effortless immersion in meeting a challenge or task. Our confidence is heightened, our self-consciousness disappears and time seems to stand still. Many people experience this sensation while in Firenze.

It is not just the antiquity of Florence that promotes a flow experience; the omnipresent art, museums, street musicians and mimes all contribute. So, too, do the leather shops, gelaterias, cafes, shoe stores and panini shops, with people socializing outdoors with a glass of wine, even at midday. It is having a real cup of coffee (a proper espresso, not coffee’s more watery American counterpart) at a bar. It is the thick throngs of tourists that remind us that this is someplace important. It is the joy of hearing and trying to speak the language and participating in the strong social connection that lies at the heart of Italian culture. It is the life of Firenze that flows through its veins like the Arno.Flow does not just happen by being in Firenze. An important ingredient of flow is being prepared to match the challenges of a situation. Some ways that you can prepare are by studying  Italian language before and during your stay in Firenze.

You don’t have to become fluent, but you can learn enough words and phrases to order food in a restaurant, shop and to say thank you very much (“grazie mille”), you’re welcome (“prego”) , hello (“buongiorno”),  excuse me (“mi scusi”) and other everyday phrases.  Take every opportunity to try to speak Italian, even if you stumble when trying. It makes you feel more part of the Firenze experience and makes you feel more in harmony with Italian culture. Attend a soccer match. Go to concerts and the opera. Participate in a church service. Visit museums. Shop at the same places when you want to buy groceries, fruit, leather, ceramics, and coffee  so that you get to know the staff, and try to strike up personal conversations with them. Interact with as many Florentines as you can. The more you can do these things, the more you will set the stage for flow and for a creative experience. The beauty and inspiration of Firenze is everywhere and the more you do to prepare and participate, the more you will feel in harmony with the creative spirit that infuses the city. Perhaps nothing better summarizes the flow that Firenze induces than an observation from Antonio Vanni, director of AEF: “When you are in Rome, you visit the monuments. When you are in Firenze, you ARE the monuments.” In Firenze, you become a more creative person. * This post is adapted from an article written by the author that first appeared in The Florentine

Larry Basirico
Professor of Sociology
Elon University