Human minds dictate the appreciation that people have of things around them and the value that those things have. The author Alain de Botton in his essay “On Habit,” states how after returning to London from his vacations in Barbados and seeing how different it was from the place he has to live in, he thought that London was a horrible place and that there was nothing good or beautiful about the place he lives in.
However, after analyzing Xavier Maistre’s concept of room traveling and how with the right mindset even his own bedroom could offer a great adventure without the need of actually traveling and spending money, de Botton starts a journey of changing his own way of seeing things. Humans usually think that their surrounding are bad and boring so they do not appreciate it and just think on reaching their goal, but their minds are the ones that shape the world around them and by changing their mindsets, people can start to rediscover the beauty and importance of what is around them.
People often disregard what is around them as being bad or unimportant because they get used to it and stop actually looking at it. The routine and everyday problems and needs make people go around without noticing what they are surrounded by, simply seeing it as obstacles on the way to their destinations or just a means to get there.
While analyzing how people see their surroundings de Botton on his essay states that, “A bus, which we might at first have viewed as aesthetically or mechanically or as a springboard to thoughts about communities within cities, becomes simply a box to move us as rapidly as possible across an area which might as well not exist, so unconnected is it to our primary goal, outside of which all is darkness, all is invisible” (63).
There are a lot of things to be noticed around a city or just a street, but people often just focus on their objective and forget about anything that will not be part of that goal so they just do not see anything else. Things like a bus or a train are seen as nothing else than a tool to reach the a certain destination when it could represent a lot more if seen for another point of view like for example the opportunity of meeting the members of the neighborhood.
The “primary goal” or what people are trying to accomplish makes them blind of simple things like their community or just how the bus or the street looks like. De Botton gives another example of how people ignore what is around them when he says “The power of my primary goal had drained me of the will to reflect on the layout of the park or on the unusual mixture of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture along a single block” (63).
Again de Botton presents the concept of “the primary goal” reinforcing that people only worry about what they have to do or where they have to get. People usually live their life in a rush and when they are walking or are on the bus they are just worrying about getting to the place they need to be and do not even realize if they are passing by something that look nice or that could actually by important to see. Human’s constant worries, their need to get somewhere or always having something to do prevents them of enjoining the beauty, richness and complicity of the world around them.
However, by changing their mindset people can change the way they see the things and places around them and start to appreciate them instead of ignoring the nice things around them. Habits make people forget that there are other things in life beside the routine. Exploring de Maistre work, de Botton says, “How few people are right now taking delight in this sublime spectacle which the sky lays on uselessly for dozing humanity! What would it cost those who are out for a walk or crowding out of the theater, to look up for a moment … They had fallen into the habit of considering their universe to be boring – and it had duly fallen in line with their expectations” (62).
People miss out on seeing amazing things like the stars just because they do not take even a little moment to look around them and as a consequence of that they usually find their world being boring, but, if they do as much as looking up while they are on the street at night they will find out that the world around them is more entertaining and exciting that what they originally thought.
People often do not expect to see anything nice or extraordinary during their boring and normal day so they would not even try to look for it, when actually by just looking at the sky they can discover that their lives can be more fun. Explaining how he changes his mind about the place he lives in de Botton says, “I forced myself to obey a peculiar kind of mental command: to look around me as though I had never been in this place before. And slowly, my travels began to bear fruit” (63).
When people are new to a certain place they pay close attention to everything that they pass by, but after sometime passing by the same things everyday people just ignore them and stop looking at the beauty of those things. De Botton is showing that by looking at the place he lives at as if it was a new place he is able to cultivate a new meaning for trivial things around him. Having a different mental command can make people admire the things that they have been ignoring about the streets and towns that they pass by every day and discover how interesting those things can be.
Changing the mindset helps to look in detail the everyday places and objects. Furthermore, practicing the new mental discipline of actually looking around can have the benefit of discovering little things about the place where one lives and moves around. Pay attention to what is going on leads to noticing small details like how is the architecture of a building De Botton expresses his experience of changing his mind set by saying “Under the command to consider everything as of potential interest, objects released latent layers of value.
A row of shops which I had known as one large, undifferentiated reddish block acquired an architectural identity. There were Georgian pillars around one flower shop, and late Victorian Gothic-style gargoyles on top of the butcher’s” (63). The author gives a clear example of how by changing the way of looking at things those things can acquire a different meaning. Things have a different value depending on which mindset they are seen, what can be seen as an ugly looking building can actually be a great piece of architecture if who is looking wants to see it.
A building that may be considered boring can actually be a piece of art and history, but the person that is looking at it has to get past the original impression and specially look at it and not just pass by on their daily routine. As a result of changing his mindset de Botton says, “the neighborhood did not just acquire people and defined buildings, it also began to collect ideas” (64). Changing the mindset gives the chance to contemplate new ideas and different perspectives of the world.
If people start trying to see everything as something with a potential importance or function in their lives they will see that all those things that used to appear unimportant in fact have a value and can help them to make their lives better by giving it a new excitement and expand their way of thinking. Paying attention to all the things around a person can give that person a whole new perspective of the world around him/her.
Humans often stop looking to their surroundings and think that there is nothing good about it, but by trying to changing their mindset and starting to see everything like it is the first time they see it helps the rediscover that there are nice things around them. Because of the fast speed on which people spend their days they start to just notice the things that have a direct connection with their goal or destination. As people get used to a place they stop looking around for what is interesting and just think that everything is boring and unimportant.
If people change their mindsets and learn to look more closely to their cities, houses or whatever is around them, they will be able to realize how complex and beautiful those places and things are, but sometimes they are so busy that they would not even realize that they need to change the way their mind works. Changing the mindsets is different for all the people specially depending on their education level and their social class and it requires some effort, but it is possible for people to change their mindset so they can enjoy the pleasure of actually seen what is around them.