Small pleasures, modest moments

The following may not seem like travel tips but, hey… give it a chance.

One of the most accessible and intriguing writers / philosophers today is Alain de Botton. His main interest is the philosophy of everyday life, or the relevance of a philosophical perspective on everyday experiences. He also co-founded The School of Life.

In the video below he talks about how, in order to be happy, there’s great societal pressures to aim for pleasures that are:

  • Rare
  • Unique
  • Hard to find
  • Exotic
  • Unfamiliar
  • Expensive
  • Famous
  • Large scale

He then discusses that the above requirements for happiness can leave us with an “unhealthful bias”. The secrets of pleasure may very well be “weird and promiscuous”. Another way of thinking about it is that happiness or pleasure can be very slippery. One example he uses is that of a heated squabble over how to correctly pronounce a word might lead to the downfall of one’s stay at a 5-star resort.

De Botton continues by saying that appreciating what is at hand isn’t a “slacker solution”. Nor an attack on ambition.

If we are more attuned to the small happinesses that are available to us, then, and this is where traveling comes in, we can become open to all that the world “unfairly neglects”. When we arrive at an exotic place for example, such as Bali, running off to the most famous Instagrammable attractions might not turn out to be as wonderful as expected, especially if you have to wait in line for 2 hours to get your selfie.

We can’t or shouldn’t expect that the happiness we seek arrives in a special package, approved by others, because it happens to be rare or exotic or expensive. De Botton wants us to follow the “muted signals in our own brains”. Why are they muted? Because of society’s definitions. How do we un-mute them? Pay attention to the small pleasures.

When the friendly Balinese girl selling gelato and souvenirs for the tourists recognizes you because its your third visit, and genuinely smiles while she’s asking you if you want gelato, take a moment to enjoy the fact that this repeated transaction has opened a connection to a local in a way that would normally not be available. You don’t know her village. It wouldn’t be possible to bump into her unless she had a job at this shop. Yet now you are more than strangers. You made a tiny connection to a real Balinese person. It’s perhaps the opposite of extraordinary, yet, if you genuinely smile back, it most certainly is.

Why Small Pleasures are a Big Deal

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