Happiness Project: Look out the window.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. The Happiness Project isn’t just a book and a blog; it’s a way of life, and each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my resolutions is to “Cultivate gratitude,” and one way I do that is to try to remind myself of how precious an ordinary day is.

In the tumult of everyday life, it’s very hard to stay attuned to the familiar beauty that I see constantly. One reason I like to go on vacation is that when I return, I see again, with fresher eyes, the landscape of my neighborhood.

We don’t have any “views” from our apartment. We have great light, which is a real luxury in New York City (and if I had to pick between good light and a good view, I’d pick good light), but even though we face an apartment building, and another apartment building, and the top of a shaft, there are still beautiful things to see when we look out.

From our kitchen, we can see an building face that’s covered with ivy. It’s a great pleasure to watch the breeze make the mass of leaves tremble and sway together, like a wave running vertical. At night, it’s cozy and intriguing, in a Rear Window-ish kind of way, to see the snippets of people’s lives being enacted across the street, one floor on top of another.

And we enjoy seeing Exercise Guy. His window is closer to us, and we have a good view of whether he’s doing his morning exercises on his elliptical machine, or not. My girls get a big kick out of checking and announcing, “Exercise Guy is exercising today!” Or “Exercise Guy hasn’t exercised one day this week!”

My office is in a teeny room on the roof of our building; it was converted from a storage room that had taken
the place of a water tower. My window there looks out on air-conditioning equipment and the tops of ducts where they poke out of the tarred roof. Not much to see.

But even there, I’ve been trying to discipline myself to look at these window and not just let my eyes slide over the familiar scene without taking in the quality of light, the way the trees on the terrace across the street look against the sky, the patches of cloud that float above the roofs.

As Samuel Johnson said, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

Or as Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

So look out your window. Really notice what you see. Watch how the view changes over the course of the day, and as the seasons change. Try to pay attention to the way things look. Three quotations is too many for one post, and I just quoted this line from Gertrude Stein a few days ago, but I can’t help myself: “Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Another happiness booster – apply the same philosophy to the people around you, the people you love. Look at them with fresh eyes and appreciate how special they are and how lucky you are to have them in your life.

  • I really needed this reminder today. It promises to be a cloudy day here and when I got up this morning I immediately felt down that it wasn’t going to be sunny. I think I’ll take a look around and see what beauty I can see even on a cloudy day!

  • I look out all day long while I’m blogging. I have a view of a jacaranda tree right outside my window and sliding glass door that shades my tiny balcony. It’s the only thing that gives me a sense of being in nature, and I just love it! Thanks for helping me appreciate it even more, Gretchen! : )

  • beth nc

    Your description of the ivy is wonderful!
    And even the less than exciting view from your office – Isn’t it amazing that architecture permits us to create cities and have people living in multi-story apartment buildings with air conditioning?
    You might check out gratefullness.org, especially the video “a good day.”

  • beth nc
  • I love your attitude of gratitude (one of my fave books btw). Outside of my windown I have 300 acres of beautiful Scottish countryside and give thanks for it every single morning. We downshifted here 2 years ago. We moved 200 miles (I know that’s not far in the US, but in UK it’s like half the country), changed the way we lived and worked and now feel blessed. Thank you for helping us all keep happy.

  • Every day is a gift. Those annoying things that occur on a daily basis always seem insignificant until they are gone.
    Thanks for the reminder. i think we could all use on every day 🙂

  • Jayne

    So true!
    I’m extremely lucky to have both wonderful light in my apartment (the sun shines right in on my couch and I love to curl up there and read the weekend papers on a sunny day) and a fabulous view. I can see most of the city skyline which, still captivates me after 4 years living here, and I can see the MCG (Melbourne’s premier sports stadium). When there’s a game on, the big lihts shine into my living room. There are many things I love about where I live, but these two are right up there.
    Sadly, the building has been sold to developers and I will have to move. I think I’m going to have to put A LOT more effort into my own happiness project when that happens!

  • thanks for the reminder Gretchen. why do we keep forgetting to slow down and experience life?

  • MJ

    I guess I’m a die-hard suburbanite – light is good, but what I really need is birds, and I even get those at the office (when I changed jobs I was disappointed that I’d lose the peregrine falcons, but got even more turkey vultures and new red tailed hawks in the bargain). I know you have those in NYC too, but I’m all about the open spaces and personal space.

  • Analee

    As a perpetually poor and typically (during their own lifetime, anyway) unsung lyric poet, I’ve faced a whole lot of ugly places to live in my peripatetic careen through our society… There’s lots you can do to transform that air-conditioning and those ducts into something that pleases the eye…
    A little paint, a party-day including the neighborhood children, or if you’re in the mood for something a little more controlled, a handful of local artists, and presto! An art garden…

  • You have made me miss New York.

  • surendar reddy

    i am very happy after seeing this move.it’s giving a lot of information.

  • For 4 years I’ve been at the same doctors office. I dearly love this practice and I work extremely hard to keep things running smoothly as the Office Manager of 2 and soon to be 3 locations. Why is it that when things are going good someone has to throw a wrench in and screw them up? Anyway, finally I got an office of my own and I was thrilled because I could finally get my work done in peace and quiet of my on space without interruptions. Then, here come’s the new Practice Administrator. Bless her heart, she needed a place to work and so, per the owning Physician, I am having to move to a cubicle. How disrupting is this to a person? I’m still suppose to do my regular jobs duties but, in a cubicle or back in the front area where there is total craziness. Gee, I had the office with a view (literally, it has a huge full length window) and now my next requested task is to write what I think my perfect job would be and what I would really enjoy doing in this practice! Right now I’m just slightly afraid to write a report on that subject. Not counting the dissapointment I felt moving out of my just aquired office, but into a 4 foot cubicle that barely holds your computer and the feeling of total humiliation..but, Yes..my boss thinks I’m his key employee!!! I’m the only one there that knows the ins and out of the practice, the prospective of where we want to go next, the financial reports, the training of the staff, and yes, when not to ask him for a raise. OMG what in the world should I write about my perception of “the perfect job” at this point ? I’m a little lost for words right now and need a coaching lesson or two, or maybe even three before I decide to tell him just how lucky he has been to have me continue to bless his presence on a daily basis, but that would not be exactly proper. I know he appreciates me and what I do but he certainly has a tendency to disregard employees feelings from time to time. I can say that I am extremely blessed at the age of 56 to be able to run circles around the other employees that range in age from 21 to 40. I guess the work ethics are not the same as in my generation but, I’ve always performed my job duties to the very best of my ability and I so know he appreciated that even though at times it seems he disregards the feelings of others. What’s an office manager to do…just keep on doing what I’ve been doing or walk away?