Here, Alexander is talking about architecture, but I think it’s fascinating to think about his point in relationship to the elements of a happy life.
But then I read a passage in an ancient Chinese painting manual—the Mustard Seed Garden manual of painting—which made the situation clear to me.
The writer of that manual describes how, in his search for a way of painting, he had discovered for himself the same central way that thousands of others like him had also discovered for themselves, throughout the course of history. He says that the more one understands of painting, the more one recognizes that the art of painting is essentially one way, which will always be discovered and rediscovered, over and over again, because it is connected with the very nature of painting, and must be discovered by anybody who takes painting seriously. The idea of style is meaningless: what we see as a style (of a person or of an age) is nothing but another individual effort to penetrate the central secret of painting, which is given by the Tao, but cannot itself be named.
The more I learn about towns and buildings, the more I feel the same thing to be true. It is true that many of the historic styles of building have some quality in common – they have it not because they are old, but because man has, over and over again, approached the secret which is at the heart of architecture. In fact, the principles which make a building good, are simple and direct – they follow directly from the nature of human beings, and the laws of nature – and any person who penetrates these laws will, as he does so, come closer and closer to this great tradition, in which man has sought for the same thing, over and over again, and come always to the same conclusions.
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.