Vincent, Me, and Modafinil

In my previous essay, I wrote about the movie, Loving Vincent. In that essay, I mentioned some of the parallels between the two of us. We both were drawn to water, dreaming, and writing. All of those parallels are true. However, one item that I chose not to mention was that Vincent and I are both autotelic. I needed to flesh out, through research, our autotelic lifestyles.

Before I explore Vincent and I being autotelic, allow me to give you a backstory. On my last birthday, I got snail mail from a former colleague of mine. After chatting with her over the phone, it was obvious that she had experienced more than a dance with death. My friend had experienced going down the tunnel. She will drive from Phoenixville, PA to Crown Point, IN so that I can interview her. When we talked about her visiting, I mentioned that I had to clean up my house. I started the revamping of my abode that I share with Ginger, my pooh dog.

However, a couple months after I talked to my friend, I had an appointment with my neurologist. During my appointment, I expressed several issues, to which he suggested Modafinil. I took it for several weeks and didn’t notice any changes. However, then the drug kicked in. In subsequent chats with my friend, I mentioned that I realized that my drive to red up my home was more to benefit me personally than to impress her. I wasn’t going to sweep her off her feet with the million and one things that I have done. Nonetheless, my drive was based primarily due to my feeling good about the changes in my home and yard.

Modafinil causes patients to focus. I am ADD. While my body isn’t moving all the time, my brain is. Additionally, I am right brain dominant, which means that I am creative and have difficulty getting things done that aren’t artistic.

That is the first backstory. The second backstory is about Vincent van Gogh. He started his painting profession at the age of 27. He worked night and day to be a great artist. Finally, he mastered the painting. In his first decade of painting, he did around 900 oil paintings. However, he hadn’t sold a single one of them. Not one painting made him any money, but he continued to paint. However, in February 1890, Theo van Gogh wrote to his brother to announce to the painter that Red Vineyard at Arles was sold. Finally, after nearly ten years, Vincent was a success. In fact, it was the first and only painting that was sold during his lifetime.

Vincent, after getting Theo’s great news, responded to his brother’s letter. “You know, there are fireflies in Brazil that are so luminous…that in the evening ladies stick them into their hair with pins….” Aside from not celebrating his sale of that painting, what intrigued me was that Victor Hugo had written a novel in 1866, Toilers of the Sea (or Les Travailleurs de la mer). This is the quote about fireflies, “At Rio de Janeiro he had seen the Brazilian ladies in the evening put little balls of gauze into their hair, each containing a beautiful kind of firefly; and the whole forming a headdress of little twinkling lights.” Apparently, Vincent either read the novel or heard someone discussing the fireflies and twinkling lights. Regardless, he didn’t mention the sale of his painting.

Finally, after two backstories, we are at an equally, if not more important issue. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian-American psychologist who got his BA and PhD from the University of Chicago. He maintains the idea that “Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

He also wrote the book, Flow…the Psychology of Optimal Experience. This short paragraph is the very essence of something for which we all should strive.

It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit but simply because the doing itself is the reward. When the experience is autotelic the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake. When it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.

The English word, autotelic, comes from the Greek word, αὐτοτελής, which is a compound word: αὐτός or self and τέλος or goal. Autotelic simply means self-goal. Essentially, Csikszentmihalyi says that we should do things at work or in life in general that we wish to do…not for praise from others, but because you want to accomplish something of value. If your family, friends, or the world congratulate you for something important that you have done, great. However, live life not working for the praise of others as much as for your self-satisfaction of accomplishing something of value.

Vincent lived his life doing that precisely. I do that now, in part, due to Modafinil. I can concentrate and stay focused, which allows me the freedom to accomplish what is important to me. The example of cleaning up my home before my former colleague arrives is a rather silly example. However, I get the benefit of seeing my efforts payoff. I am the major beneficiary of my efforts. In fact, I have said to this friend of mine that when she sees all the things that I have done, she won’t be overwhelmed by all my effort. However, I am.

At a more serious level, I still teach, write, and care for Ginger. I hope that my students benefit from my teaching. I want my readers to glean some insight from my essays. I hope my Irish Setter enjoys our time together. Nevertheless, my internal joy is what drives me and produces satisfaction.

Csikszentmihalyi wasn’t the first person to discover autotelic. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Now, to be honest with you, I haven’t perfected autotelic-ness in all that I do. However, this is how I feel when I do….


That internal joy and satisfaction can help keep me focused. Well, I am still taking Modafinil as a backup. Nonetheless, you can benefit from autotelic living. Perhaps, The Rolling Stones who complained about “I can’t get no satisfaction” could if they read this essay.

This video is of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talking informally about the meaning of life.