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Hermann Hesse’s Simple Trick to Change Your Workday For the Better

You can do it right now.

The works of Nobel Prize-winning writer Hermann Hesse explore man’s search for meaning. In the 1905 essay “On Little Joys,” the Siddhartha author identified a small difference between those able to find poetry in the “aggressive haste” of the modern world, and those consumed by busyness.

“I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula,” he wrote. “Do not overlook the little joys!”

In a passage highlighted recently by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, Hesse writes a simple prescription for overwhelmed senses: Look up.

Our eyes, above all those misused, overstrained eyes of modern man, can be, if only we are willing, an inexhaustible source of pleasure. When I walk to work in the morning I see many workers who have just crawled sleepily out of bed, hurrying in both directions, shivering along the streets. Most of them walk fast and keep their eyes on the pavement, or at most on the clothes and faces of the passers-by. Heads up, dear friends!

Just try it once—a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.

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