Don’t misjudge me. I am not deeply connected to the Earth, I like the busy city life and I would not drop everything to go live in a temple in Nepal.
The thing is that when you hit the thirties three things arrive at the same time:
1 – You get wiser
2 – You get a hell of a lot more problems
3 – You get tired of solving them all
As things become more complicated, we have to strengthen our ability to handle stress, panic, fear and loss of control. And we actually manage to do it. We make ourselves less vulnerable by becoming tougher and letting less things around us influence our feelings and perception. But by doing so, we are also closing the door to the things that could impact us in a positive way. I believe that we can be careful about what may come next in this Wild, wild world and focused on what we HAVE to do, but keep our senses open to the beautiful things happening second after second in this What a wonderful world…
It is not a question of trying to pursue happiness; it is a question of not letting potential happy moments pass by.
See, when life gets hard, we often need others to comfort us and make us feel better. Indeed they can make us feel better, but only we can make us feel good. Because eventually they will leave (even if it is just to go home). We are then left alone with our crowded thoughts and feelings in our minds and hearts, and we know how they can be loud and hard to shut up.
I think that if I am fond of learning new languages it is because each one of them can express a concept that cannot be translated and is proper to that linguistic culture. French has a word for “the ability to appreciate the wonder and beauty”: l’émerveillement.
Imagine the amount of good things we could add up to a normal day if we let our senses feel this émerveillement by registering all “the good little things” around us.
LOOK, DON’T JUST SEE
What if every morning you didn’t see the landscape but you actually looked at it? In the novel Silk (also a very good thing to look at), Alessandro Barrico tells the story of Hervé Joncour, a silkworm merchant that goes on several trips to Japan. The chapters describing the journeys are extremely similar in their description. They depict every time the same lake, the same road, the same trees, but the author plays a game with the reader: make her/him find the small details that have changed in the landscape. The result? You almost forget the goal of the main character’s journey, as you are actually living the journey.
Do you take the train to go to work? Then put your smartphone in your pocket and look at the fast-speed scrolling landscapes. Look for graffiti’s, what do they mean? Why these colors? Look for unexpected things. Look at the people. Identify those who look happy. And wonder why.
If you are driving, please do not pay attention to details, watch the road and drive safely. But let your eyes absorb how your city can change totally from an urban sad jungle under a grey rainy sky, to a live beating heart under a cloudless blue one.
If you are walking or riding your bike and you like something you see, stop! Get your smartphone out and record it. Perhaps not to keep the picture, but at least to make sure YOU are registering it in your mind.
LISTEN, DON’T JUST HEAR
What if each and every day we didn’t hear the sounds around us but we actually listened to them? Sounds have an incredible power of reaching the soul.
It is no news that music evokes emotions. I know that Marilyn Manson does not break the record for popularity but he had a point when he said that “Music is the strongest form of magic.” Henry David Thoreau, on a more classic note, that “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable.”. Back to rock’n’roll, Bono said that “Music can change the world because it can change people.”. Three different artist, yet three ideas about music: music transcends us, empower us and impacts us.
If you still have a doubt about how your ears can change your daily life, please watch the documentary Alive Inside by filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett. It follows social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory in his amazing experiences into trying to revitalize Alzheimer patients through the simple fact of listening to music. It has changed these patients life and has, without a doubt, changed me forever.
Therefore let’s exploit this great magic that lies in music: use it to induce mood-changes. If you are a great DJ, create playlists according to the moments of your day and musics that will make you feel good about yourself. If you have not won a Grammy award yet, don’t panic. Online music platforms such as Spotify have great playlists organized by mood. In Spotify I would advice as a start (note from the editor: all have been thoroughly tested): I love my 90’s (for grey mornings, for cleaning up, cooking and bad mood), Songs to sing in the shower (this one is obvious), Evening commute (for the end of a busy and exhausting day, or to help you focus at work when the open space gossip is too loud), Hangover friendly or Home Sweet Home (both are perfect for week-end mornings when your body and mind are filling up their positive energy levels), Coffee table jazz (put your pyjamas on and go to sleep relaxed), Your favorite coffee house (the joker one: works for every mood).
ENJOY, DON’T JUST TASTE
A friend of mine explained to me why she never took a coffee to-go (while on my side, I cannot start one day without it). She told me that when you are taking your coffee while going to the work, or when you are speeding up the morning trying to answer to all 40 e-mails that have arrived overnight, you are not drinking your coffee, you are filling up your stomach with a mixture of dark brewed water and milk, and waking up your brain with that legal drug called caffeine.
What if we stopped taking a coffee, but drinking it? Don’t just taste it. Enjoy it. See, this paragraph is not about stopping to drink take-away coffee or avoiding fast-food as I do all those things VERY often. However when having them I stop. I try to feel the taste of the cheddar cheese in my sandwich, or the bitterness of the coffee lowered by the sweetness of the sugar.
We talked about the power of music to evoke emotions. Well enjoying a taste has another kind of magic: the one of making you travel in time. Have you ever heard of the “Madeleine de Proust”? French author Marcel Proust explains that there are two kind of memories: the voluntary one (which is created by a conscious effort of remembering moments, places, individuals) and the involuntary one, in which the real “essence of the past” is integrated and can be triggered by the memory of a taste, or a scent.
“And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleinesoaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.” Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
If you want to know more about Proust this article by Edmund White from the New York Times is quite interesting.
SCENT, DON’T SMELL
Smells are everywhere, the nice ones and the less nice ones: gas, bakeries, cosmetic stores, cigarettes, restaurants… The madeleine of Proust talked about taste, but the smell has the same power to take you back to the past. Scents are a memory lane, so when walking around, take the time to identify what you usually smell and see you where they can take you.
You have the fancy scents: the one of Gardenias reminds me of the warm nights in Brazil when I was a child. The one of croissants from the bakery of my college years and my early rides to go to the university. What about the power of the smell of roasted chicken?
Others are less fashionable. For example, every airport has a different smell. Today when I travel for business trips from CDG (Paris), I only think about not losing my passport and ticket, what will I do while I am waiting for the plane, answering to my e-mail on my smartphone. But if I stop and scent, I will suddenly be transported to the holidays I had the luck to spend in Paris when I was a kid, or when I first moved in to France when I was 18.
And if we are talking about the power of scents to induce a change in ourselves, what about the fragrance most of us put on each morning? Think about it: why did you chose that one, how does it make you feel? Light? Strong? Delicate? Seductive? Poetic? Successful?
FEEL, DON’T TOUCH
Imagine a cold day.
You get out of the shower and put a pullover on. It is indeed a pullover, but it is also in wool, soft and fluffy. If you stop two seconds when putting it on, don’t you feel warm? comfortable? protected? cozy?
If it is a hot summer day have you stopped to feel how good it is to touch a cold bottle?
Let’s get back to the coffee you take away, you are holding it right? Have you stopped two seconds to feel how good your hands are feeling right now warmed up by the paper cup?
I hope you will not perceive this post as a message of saying that life can be easy. It isn’t. I am just saying that there are around us several marvels that can make us feel, if not good, better.