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President of Hungary honors SBOS Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with national science prize

Friday, June 03, 2011

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once lived in exile from his home country of Hungary. Now, the Claremont Graduate University (CGU) professor has been welcomed back as a national hero.

Csikszentmihalyi, co-director of the Positive Psychology program at CGU, has received the Szechenyi Prize from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS).  The prize, one of the most prestigious in Hungary, is given by the government to those who have made outstanding contributions to science.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi receives the Szechenyi Prize

     Csikszentmihalyi receives the Szechenyi Prize from
     Pres. Schmitt

Hungarian President Pal Schmitt presented the prize to Csikszentmihalyi during a ceremony at Sándor Palace in Budapest on May 16. The palace is the official residence of the president of the Republic of Hungary.

"Until a few years ago I was the son of a man who had been sentenced to death by a previous regime," he said. "Now I have been received by the prime minister and the president. It is a great feeling and a tremendous honor, and perhaps a bit of poetic justice."

Csikszentmihalyi is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at CGU and the director of the Quality of Life Research Center, a non-profit research institute that studies positive psychology; that is, human strengths such as optimism, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and responsibility.

He is world-famous for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, but is best known as the architect of the notion of "flow" — a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation — and for his years of research and writing on the topic.

It is for this research that the academy honored him.

The academy, founded in 1825, is the most important and prestigious learned society in Hungary. Csikszentmihalyi was elected as an external member in 1998.

His journey from national outcast to champion is remarkable.

His father was sent to Rome as the Hungarian ambassador to Italy following World War II.

He was stationed there until 1948, when the Soviet-backed Hungarian Workers Party seized full control of the government and recalled its foreign diplomats.

Csikszentmihalyi said his father did not wish to live under communist rule and refused to return. For this refusal, the regime tried him in absentia and sentenced him to death.

"They couldn't enforce the sentence because we were in Italy, but it meant we couldn't go back home," Csikszentmihalyi said. "We became stateless."

Csikszentmihalyi later moved to the United States, where he began his academic pursuits in the field of psychology. He was unable to return to Hungary until 1989, when the Soviet grip on the Eastern Bloc began to slip and the country adopted a non-communist government.

During his recent trip to accept the Szechenyi Prize, Csikszentmihalyi and his family dined with Hungarian President Schmitt and met for nearly an hour with Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Csikszentmihalyi said he signed books for and discussed the state of the country with the prime minister.

"He thanked me for bringing attention to the contributions of Hungarians in the sciences and he called my books 'a gift to the country,'" Csikszentmihalyi said. "It was a very nice thing to hear."

Csikszentmihalyi's books include the bestselling Flow, Being Adolescent, The Evolving Self, and Creativity.

He plans to visit Hungary again this winter.

CGU launched a series of programs in positive psychology in the fall of 2007 through the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences.  The PhD programs in positive organizational psychology and positive developmental psychology provide research training in positive psychology.  MAs co-concentrating in evaluation and either positive organizational psychology or positive developmental psychology are also offered.

Stewart Donaldson, dean of the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences, credited Csikszentmihalyi with helping to make the programs among the best in the world.

"Professor Csikszentmihalyi is one of the most highly cited faculty members at the Claremont Colleges, and his work has had amazing influence," Donaldson said.  "It is wonderful that the president of Hungary appreciates his scholarly contributions and has honored him with an award of this magnitude."

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