You’ve got to hand it to the editors at The Guardian/Observer, they have provided argument and counterargument to debate this weekend: about whether happiness comes from external things or from inside us.
Firstly, the Guardian’s Saturday section Weekend provided “If you want to have a good time, ask a Buddhist“, in which the Buddhist they asked (or quoted), Ayya Khema, said: “We may believe that it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.”
Secondly, the Observer Magazine gave us “Reasons to be cheerful: why we should look outside ourselves to find joy” and the author, Ingrid Fetell Lee, spent some time showing us how things, like colours, could give us joy, thereby refuting her statement that “The teachings of Buddha advise that happiness comes only from letting go of our attachments to worldly things.”
Ms Lee is a designer and founded The Aesthetics of Joy as a website “to shed light on the relationship between our environment and our emotions”, being “devoted to a simple, powerful idea: that our greatest source of joy is the world around us”. There is a book coming out in September 2018. The Guardian columnist also has a book out on the topic but doesn’t advertise it in the column.
My conclusion is that they are both right! Good design, well executed, and the external environment, be it man-made or natural, do give us moments of joy and support our overall wellbeing. However, I find Ms Lee’s dismissal of Buddhist teaching too simplistic, her stance undermining her main argument. As the Saturday article explains, the idea is to recognise moments of joy or happiness, however fleeting and wherever they arise, and to focus on the feeling. Focusing on the feeling helps us remain happier longer and will increase our wellbeing more than focusing only on the specific thing that created the emotion in the first place.
So, bring on the joy-bringing design, Ms Lee, and then let’s focus on the joy and create a joyful life!