The Power of Our Environment

Me in Washington Square Park last nightWhat does your daily environment look like, and what effect does that have on your outlook on life?

I am highly sensitive to my environment. Which is why I’m dying to move into a new apartment, now that I’m admitting to myself that no matter how many pep talks I give myself, our current apartment just doesn’t do it for me. 

I mentioned recently that I finally read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I resisted — it sounded cheesy — and in the end, she and I don’t have a whole lot in common. She’s way more Type A than I am. But some of her advice really stuck. For one thing, she discovers that one of the tenets of happiness is to “Be Gretchen.” Own up to who you are and what you like and dislike — stop fighting it. I thought I’d done this owning up years ago, but reading this book made me realize how much energy I put into trying to talk myself out of feeling how I feel, and wanting what I want. Of course, we can’t always have everything just the way we want it, but as I wrote yesterday, there’s really no point in pretending we don’t want what we want.

The other big “aha” for me is so obvious it’s embarassing to admit: Take steps to make yourself happy. DUH. I realized, a key to my happiness in NYC is making the effort to get to a park at least once a week. I love nature – it soothes my soul like nothing else. I also realized that because of my involvement with the NY improv scene, I spend an inordinate amount of time in some butt-ugly parts of midtown, where the improv theaters, schools and rehearsal spaces are all located. So I decided, I need to make a concerted effort to visit a part of town I find beautiful, or charming, at least once a week, to counter-balance all the ugly.

Last night, I put my plan into effect and killed two birds with one stone. I found a rehearsal space in the Village and arranged to hold my improv group’s practice session there, instead of at one of the many rehearsal spaces in midtown. This not only meant spending time in a part of town I love, instead of one I hate — it also meant I got to take the F train (clean, modern, and the stop is in a pretty part of my neighborhood) instead of the A (loud, dumpy, and the stop is in a fairly ugly part of my ‘hood). And, Jordan and I got there early so we had time to stroll over to Washington Square Park, sit by the fountain, and soak up a beautiful New York evening.

Happiness: boosted.

I realize I probably sound awfully fussy. And I am, when it comes to my surroundings. When I find my environment beautiful, my spirits soar. When you know you have the ability to feel that good, and you find yourself in an environment that has the opposite effect…. it’s hard not to mind.

I realize, of course, that sometimes, you have to roll with the punches. We can’t orchestrate every ounce of our environment to be exactly to our liking. We aren’t God. The world is full of beauty and its opposite — of stunning vistas and views of brick walls, the smell of roses and the smell of garbage. It’s all part of being alive.

But we do have agency, and we can choose to surround ourselves with things, stimuli, that are more likely to make us happy than others.

What components of your environment make you happiest?

5 thoughts on “The Power of Our Environment

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