This post first appeared on “The Postcard Chronicles“
“The Architecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations”
For the past several weeks, I’ve been slowly digesting Alain de Botton’s beautiful prose in The Architecture of Happiness. The book was made popular after making an appearance in 500 days of Summer, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character decides to rededicate his passion in architecture. I picked up the book by chance, after reading another de Botton book, On Love, which was filled with thought-provoking quotes on love. This book is a combination of philosophical tibits, aesthetics theory and art history concepts, all deeply intertwined. Though I’m only half-way through, it has spurred some sporadic thoughts that I thought I’d share.
Reading about the various architectural styles and functions from around the world is a treat. It’s lovely to recognize the inconspicuous architectural details that exist around us not holds a function but may also have an impact on our feelings and lives. How often do we hear people say they need a change of surrounding when they are looking for a change in life? The answer is all the time (seriously). Sometimes, it’s because we what that feeling fresh-start feeling of being in a new place and the promises it holds for something better. Other times, being around something new brings new stimulus, making you more observant and aware of the things around you.
This connection of surroundings and well-being was felt ever more prominently during my recent visit to Tokyo. Tokyo is massive city, over-brimming with buildings, people and a busy atmosphere. To think that all these buildings were occupied by people blew my mind to pieces. The Tokyo subway system is by far one of the most complex ones I’ve ever been on, with different lines and colors densely interwoven with one another on the map. It would have been almost too overwhelming if it weren’t for how orderly and impeccably everything is running. The trains are always on time, the people always polite and not a single piece of garbage on the streets despite the lack of trashcans. Even the bills are all clean and crisp! Japan is a wonder enigma, full of interesting cultural juxtapositions and hard to grasp.
“We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mold, to a helpful vision of ourselves.”
Being there was simultaneously exciting and overwhelming at the same time. The environment holds so many external stimulants that demands your attention, you become so wired as to try to pay attention to everything that is going on. Some individuals thrive on such bustling environments, while others cower at the very thought of living in a concrete jungle.
Having lived in so many different places, from 1st world to 3rd world, being able to find something beautiful and wonderful has been a great habit to pick up. I guess you can call it being adaptable, that just seems to mean knowing how to live in a new place. Being able to pinpoint the beauty around you can really help become content and happy. de Bottom takes note of this and wrote “beauty is a promise of happiness.” If you only see and get hold up on the negatives around, you’ll definitely be holding on to negatives thoughts.
On the flip side, our general state of well-being isn’t solely defined by our environment. The title The Architecture of Happiness suggests the ability to obtain happiness through constructing our surroundings. It’s an attractive idea, especially since being happy seems to be the underlying life quest for most. We can change and manipulate our surroundings to try to lead ourselves to feel a certain way and many times it can help. But happiness isn’t built through material, it’s generated from within us.