Weekly Word: Autotelic

Autotelic is an adjective that means “having within itself the purpose of its existence”.

I’m taking a creativity workshop class, which had me read part of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. If you haven’t already heard of it, read Wikipedia’s entry on Flow for a summary – or, better yet, watch Csikszentmihalyi himself discuss “flow” in this TED Talks video.

The state of “flow” basically occurs when you’re completely focused on a task. It’s often called “being in the zone” – you know, like when you look up and suddenly 5 hours have passed. One of the characteristics of this state is that the activity is autotelic; you’re running just for the sake of running, or painting for the sake of painting. If you’re doing it for fame or fortune, it isn’t autotelic.

Autotelic comes from the Greek roots auto-, “self”, and -telic, having an “end” or “goal”. Combine the two and you get a self-goal – a goal within itself.

What are your favorite autotelic activities?