Tag Archives: nature

Which of These 8 Types Describes You, as You Relate to Your Environment?

Every Wednesday is List Day, Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Which of these 8 types describes how you relate to your physical environment?

I’ve been reading Brian Little’s interesting book, Me, Myself, and Us: the Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being.

Among other things, he discusses various  frameworks for understanding people’s different traits.

I’d never heard about the “Environmental Response Inventory” before, and found it very compelling. Created by George McKechnie, this set of traits is meant to identify the way that people are oriented toward their everyday physical environments.

They say there are two types of people: those who love dividing the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. I love dividing the world into categories. Abstainers and moderators. Radiators and drains. Leopards and alchemists.  Under-buyers and over-buyers. Eeyores and Tiggers. And, of course, my favorite of all, the Four Tendencies.

Of course, using these kinds of categories is very simplistic, but often they help me to understand some hidden aspect of myself — or other people — better.

Does reading this inventory give you better insight into your own nature? Do you find yourself described by:

Pastoralism

  • Display sensitivity to pure environmental experience, opposition to land development, appreciation of open space, and preservation of natural resources
  • Accept natural forces as shapers of human life
  • Endorse self-sufficiency in the natural environment

 

Urbanism

  • Enjoy high-density living
  • Appreciate the unusual and varied stimulation of urban areas
  • Take an interest in cultural life and enjoy the richness of human diversity

 

Environmental Adaptation

  • Regard the environment primarily as providing comfort, leisure, and satisfaction of human needs, and endorse modification of the environment to achieve those ends
  • Endorse private land use and the use of technology to solve problems
  • Prefer stylized environmental details

Stimulus Seeking

  • Express great interest in travel and exploration of unusual places
  • Enjoy intense and complex physical sensations and display a great breadth of interests

Environmental Trust

  • Responsive, trusting, and open to the environment, and have a sense of competence in navigating the surroundings
  • Relatively unconcerned about their security and are comfortable being alone and unprotected

 

Antiquarianism

  • Enjoy antiques and historical places and have a preference for traditional vs. modern design
  • Have an aesthetic sensitivity to well-crafted environments, landscape, and cultural artifacts of earlier years
  • Have a tendency to collect objects for their emotional significance

 

Need for Privacy

  • Strong need for physical isolation from stimuli and distraction
  • Enjoy solitude and dislike extensive contact with their neighbors

 

Mechanical Orientation

  • Interested in how things work and in mechanics in its various forms
  • Enjoy working with their own hands and have an interest in technological processes and basic principles of science.

 

It’s easy to see from this list how people might have trouble agreeing on where and how to live, or on what values to pursue.  A “pastoralist” and an “environmental adaptation” both might love nature, but have very different ideas about how best to engage with nature.

Can you find yourself in this list? Do you fit in more than one category? Seems to me as if they might overlap. For instance, for my fellow Parks and Recreation fans, I think Ron Swanson would be environmental adaptation/environmental trust/antiquarianism/need for privacy/mechanical orientation.

Feeling Blue? Consider the Beauty of Nature.

One common happiness challenge is: How do you give yourself a boost when you’re feeling blue? Or when you’re past the point of feeling blue, and are feeling deeply unhappy?

One refuge is to consider the beauty of nature.

Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It’s geometrically perfect.  It’s tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful natural setting, or you can observe it in your backyard–or, in my case, in the trees lining New York City sidewalks, or in the clouds above skyscrapers.

A few nights ago, my eight-year-old daughter burst into my office. She was very excited to show me a video, Pendulum Waves, which shows extraordinary patterns created by the simple pendulum.

Watching the video, I was struck, for the millionth time, by the beauty of nature. I often remind myself of one of my favorite quotations, from Boethius, “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.” Or I remind myself to “Consider the elephant“–wonder why? Because of this passage from Eugene Delacroix’s fascinating Journal.

Do you find that when you’re caught in the troubles of your own experience–whether those are grave problems,  or petty annoyances–that contemplating nature is helpful?

The extent and stability of the heavens! In a shell, in an elephant, in the clouds, in a rock formation, in the action of a pendulum.

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I Love Lists. Such as This List about What Gives Objects “Life.”

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: Do you agree with these 15 fundamental properties of “life” in objects?

In The Phenomenon of Life, vol. 1: The Nature of Order, Christopher Alexander asks, “Can we find any recurrent geometrical structural features whose presence in things correlates with their degree of life?”

He identifies fifteen features that appear again and again in things which have “life”–whether that thing is a sketch by an Impressionist, a wooden door, a Norwegian storehouse, a Japanese tea bowl, the Golden Gate Bridge. Or natural things, like a giraffe’s coat, palm fronds, a spider’s web, Himalayan foothills, muscle fiber.

  1. Levels of scale
  2. Strong centers
  3. Boundaries
  4. Alternating repetition
  5. Positive space
  6. Good shape
  7. Local symmetries
  8. Deep interlock and ambiguity
  9. Contrast
  10. Gradients
  11. Roughness
  12. Echoes
  13. The void
  14. Simplicity and inner calm
  15. Non-separateness.

It’s not always easy to understand, but just looking at all the illustrations is a wonderful exercise. I’m a word person, not a visual person, and this book really did a lot to help me understand how to look at objects.

I love schemes like this, that seek to identify the different elements of very complex wholes. I love taxonomy–and dividing people into different categories–and lists of all sorts.

For instance, just as I love Alexander’s approach, I love this scheme by John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice, about the nature of the Gothic:

“I believe, then, that the characteristic or moral elements of Gothic are the following, placed in the order of their importance:

  1. Savageness
  2. Changefulness
  3. Naturalism.
  4. Grotesqueness.
  5. Rigidity.
  6. Redundance.”

I don’t really know what Ruskin is talking about. But just this set of ideas, put together, makes my mind race.

How about you? Does Alexander’s scheme ring true for you? Do you have similar lists that you love?

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“I Challenge You to Walk for 20 Minutes and Not Feel Better by the End of It.”

Happiness interview: Cheryl Strayed.

I wanted to do a happiness interview with Cheryl Strayed after I read her fascinating memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. In her twenties, at a time when she felt as though she had nothing more to lose, Cheryl hiked solo along the Pacific Crest Trail for 1100 miles. She was inexperienced and ill-prepared, but determined to set herself on this adventure.

I love all accounts of happiness projects; Cheryl’s undertaking had nothing in common with the kind of things I did for my happiness project, yet I gained a lot from reading about her experiences.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Cheryl: Walking. Doesn’t it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It’s the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That we can survive anything, even if we don’t want to. Even in the face of great suffering, there is joy.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Saying yes. Yes and I have a long history. Yes is generous and open-hearted. It’s kind and fun. It’s led to so many good things in my life. But everything in balance, as they say, and I’m feeling a strong need for a bit of no. Yes has become a shackle to me. It’s keeping me from spending my days in ways that make me the happiest. I’ve been reflecting on this lately because with the amount of things people have asked me to do in this past year, I’ve realized how difficult it is for me to say no. I mean it kills me. Probably because it goes way deep into my psyche and my ancient desire to be loved. People love you if you say yes to them. It’s an incredibly effective survival technique. So now I have to learn a new way to survive. What will happen when I say no? I’m going to try it and see.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?  

I think happiness greatly depends upon one’s ability to drown out the negative internal voices most of us have nattering on silently inside of us. In my book Tiny Beautiful Things there’s a column called “Your Invisible Inner Terrible Someone” in which I write about this. We have the ability to temper our negative thoughts with calm, reason, and humor. Doing so makes us happier.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy — if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

I’ve definitely had periods that were exceptionally happy and exceptionally unhappy, though I’d say most of my life has been in the lovely muddled middle.

My mom died suddenly of cancer when she was 45 and I was 22 and the three or four years that followed her death were horrible. I remember waking up one morning and looking out my window in Minneapolis. I was watching a man working a snow blower on the sidewalk and I just wanted to be blown away too. I’d never understood how anyone could commit suicide, but in that moment I did. I understood it fully. It’s sad to even remember that time of my life. I wept a lot. I was what I call situationally depressed. So much of my life came apart after my mom died. There was little to be happy about.

I think I walked my way back to happiness. I set out on the hike I wrote about in my book Wild and my life slowly became happier. I found a way to move forward by actually moving forward. My entire twenties were like walking through a desert without a hat. My thirties and forties have been like walking through a really pretty forest with lots of wildflowers along the way. Don’t get me wrong. I still find plenty to complain about. But I’m very happy in my life now.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?

I have a fantastic bed. It’s a Tempur-pedic. I bought it nine years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. Until then my husband and I had been sleeping on a hand-me-down futon that was so ancient and hard my butt would fall asleep if I lay in one position too long. I mean, I didn’t even know it was possible for one’s butt to fall asleep, but it is. My husband freaked out when I bought our Tempur-pedic because we couldn’t afford it. I just brushed him aside and put it on our credit card. After one night in that bed he agreed it was money well spent.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t or vice versa?

I’ve had a great year. From a professional standpoint there has been so much to be dancing in the streets about. Because of that, friends and strangers are constantly asking me how it feels. They want to know if I’m happy. And I can’t quite answer that. I’m thrilled—deeply, and truly—that my books have found an audience. I’m touched by the response. But on the ground level, by which I mean my actual life, I don’t think this success has made me happier than I was before. If you asked me a year ago what made me happy I’d have told you about the beloved friends and family and felines in my life. I’d have expressed gratitude for my good health and the fact that I get to do work that’s both meaningful and absorbing to me. Those are the same things I’d tell you now. Those are the things that make me deep-inside happy. Nothing else.

 

“Wilderness Became a Dream of Privacy, Safety, Control, and Freedom.”

“I turned with growing concentration to Nature as a sanctuary and a realm of boundless adventure; the fewer people in it, the better. Wilderness became a dream of privacy, safety, control, and freedom.”
— E.O Wilson, Naturalist

I highly recommend Wilson’s memoir, Naturalist — the fascinating story of how he found his life’s work. I’ll never see ants the same way again.

* An engaging new blog is the The Infinity Game — a young adult writing about what it’s like to be parentless, with no siblings.

* Sometimes people ask me to contribute a copy of The Happiness Project for auctions or benefits for non-profit organizations, and I’m very happy to do that. Just email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.