When I was in college, I took a class on the culture of Heian Japan, and the one and only thing I remember about that subject is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This strange, brilliant book has haunted me for years.
Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, and in her “pillow book,” she wrote down her impressions about things she liked, disliked, observed, and did.
I love lists of all kind, and certainly Sei Shonagon did, as well. Her lists are beautifully evocative. One of my favorites is called Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster:
Sparrows feeding their young
To pass a place where babies are playing.
To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.
To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.
To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.
To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.
It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.
Other marvelous lists include Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past, Things That Cannot Be Compared, Rare Things, Pleasing Things, Things That Give a Clean Feeling, Things That One Is in a Hurry to See or to Hear, People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, and, another of my very favorites, from the title alone, People Who Have Changed As Much As If They Had Been Reborn.
Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life. Just reading these lists makes me happier.
How about you? Have you ever made a list of observations, in this way?
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.