How to stay happy

when the world feels strange

Lost Explorer magazine

Words by Tiu de Haan

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A short read about a clever way of making the world seem OK again, and tips on how to do it.

There’s a small group of people standing on a London street. Cars and buses are roaring by and it’s raining, but they seem remarkably cheerful. And busy. Despite the drizzle, members of the group are lighting night lights inside bus stands, leaving love letters on ledges, tying balloons to parked bicycles, and handing out badges that read “you’re beautiful.”

The group are participating in a workshop called The Pronoia Project, which encourages them to engage in covert acts of kindness and beauty designed to bring smiles to the faces of strangers – and they are having an interesting effect on the street.

A lady with shopping bags who was handed a “You’re beautiful” sticker is laughing with a homeless guy sitting by the bus shelter who, having been given the same sticker, has revealed a stereo and is dancing to it. Other people waiting for the bus have started talking to each other.

This is the kind of effect that pronoiac behavior seems to generate. Coined, originally, in 1982 by an English academic, and receiving an honorable mention in Philip K Dick’s Exegesis, its meaning is this: that, unlike paranoia, which is the belief that the Universe is conniving to un-do you, pronoia is the belief that the Universe is secretly conspiring on your behalf to bring you nothing but blessings – even when they may be in disguise.

And it works like this: as humans, we tend to interpret our environment, our experiences, thoughts and feelings according to the way in which we habitually see the world. But this is not fixed. We can choose a new perspective, away from a rigid gaze, to something else that allows us to find things that give our weary souls cause for delight.

It’s this mechanism that explains why the mischief makers of the Pronoia Project derive as much from attempting to make the world feel like a more benevolent place, as those who receive their bounty.

“May you be happy! May you be healthy! May you be full of joy and blessings! You have made an angel of me tonight!”

It helps them change perspective and become hopeful (it’s impossible to participate in a Pronoia Project workshop and remain cynical for long)and offers a practical set of tools to set forth on their very own voyages of delightful disruption, in a world in need of a little more joy. It’s seems radical to actively choose a new way to see what surrounds us until you think about how much we are all secretly longing for a little more love, sunshine, and joy.

Back on the street, a shiny-eyed arts worker has handed a love letter to the driver of a No.67 bus. The bus driver is now laughing his head off.

“May you be happy! May you be healthy! May you be full of joy and blessings! You have made an angel of me tonight!” says the driver. And because the effects of pronoia are contagious, all the passengers on the bus look happier too.

10  ways to make the world smile

1. Write a love letter to a stranger and leave it somewhere it can be found. The letter should say the kind of thing you would love to read when you’re having a bad day. “You are enough just as you are” is a good start. (Don’t leave your contact details.)

2. Leave a note of good luck or good will hidden in the food packaging of a random item in a supermarket.

3. Tie a balloon to something that looks like it needs it.

4. Light a candle and leave it burning in a shadowy corner which could do with some warmth.

5. Buy a stranger’s coffee and leave the café without telling them it was you.

6. Get a box of coloured chalk and leave a message on a wall that will make someone smile.

7. Print a sheet of stickers that say “You are beautiful” and go for a walk. Stick them on anything – or anyone, with permission – that looks like it has forgotten its innate beauty.

8. Leave a stick of incense burning in a place that could smell a whole lot nicer. (Don’t burn anything down).

9. Buy a bunch of flowers and give them, one by one, to strangers all day.

10. Next time you donate clothes to a charity shop, leave a friendly note in a pocket, wishing the new wearer well in your outfit.

Pronoia rules. (There are 3 to remember)

1. Be careful not to invade anybody’s personal space. Eg Do not leave a love letter under windshield wipers or in their letter box.

2. Don’t impose your views. Pronoia is about quiet, covert acts of beauty, not bursting in on someone’s bad day.

3. Don’t try to force anyone to notice your treasure. The beauty is that the right people will see it. They always do.

To participate in the Pronoia Project, go here