And then there was November 2019, when I was a resident at The House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon. To give a talk, to do a ‘Happyplaces Moment pop-up’ and to do a ‘Happyplaces Journey’ — a walking workshop outside on the streets of Lisbon. It was beautiful. Everything, everyone and all of it. Not only because of having an opportunity to share more about Happyplaces, but foremost because the House is truly a wonderful event bringing together an amazing group of people from all over the world with a shared mindset, curiosity, drive and energy. In this group of people, there is this radical openness and eagerness to share and engage, which made facilitating these sessions far more beautifully intense and worthwhile than I could have ever imagined.
A beautiful space to learn that have more in common than we think
Happyplaces Stories from the House of Beautiful Business 2019
My personal House of Beautiful Business card said: ‘I find, create, and document happy places’ as a Curator of Happiness. Well, not entirely true of course since it is not up to me to have that level of influence that may possibly lead for other to happiness, but the description of what I do is about right. Where ‘places’ then can be more-dimensional than just physical.
The question that I have been asking 784 people in seven years at the time of House of Beautiful Business in November 2019, is: ‘How do you create space?’ led to an extensive collection of stories in which people from all different backgrounds share how they do that. Every time, these conversations both on camera and without camera start a bit hesitant, since it is a somewhat open question that can be interpreted in many different ways. But, what I have found in all these years is that it can all be brought back to three main ‘chapters’: how people create space for themselves, how they create space in relation with and to others, and how they create space in society. I also learned that people approach answering the question in very different ways, but simplified, they either start from a formal standpoint or an informal perspective. Formal meaning that people start talking from what they are: the company they work at, the role they fulfil and then eventually end up by also talking about themselves, about who they are. Informal meaning that people start talking from who they are, their thoughts and ideas and sometimes gradually move beyond themselves to share more about themselves in relationship with others and what they bring forward into the world.
There is no right or wrong way, and so far this is not linked to background, gender, culture; I haven’t been able to connect this to specific groups of people; it seems to be fairly universal. The only thing that possibly determines this difference is the amount of freedom people feels they have to share freely, openly. Freedom in thinking, freedom in language (not being limited in language and being able to frame thoughts and ideas), freedom in comfort in the moment (perceiving the temporary space as safe enough), freedom as in not feeling judged (having a strong sense of self, disregarding what other people might think), etcetera. Nevertheless, the majority of the people eventually end up sharing how they create space for themselves, how they do that socially and societally. And in that, there is no wrong, only variations as I have learned from dance master Jan Pieter van Lieshout.
When people share from who they are and what they personally require, they give answers about how do you create space for themselves. People, for example, share what their drivers are, what kind of state they need to be in, where they feel most comfortable, or where they can be the most of themselves. People connect this to activities, emotions, atmospheres, feelings, places and things related to their senses. When something is out of tune, that can then result in a feeling of unsafety, or boundaries that limit their space, making them less of themselves, less open, less productive.
How do you create space in relation to others? People do this in all kinds of ways. At work, in their relationships, friendships; we put all sorts of things in place that create, take or hold space for people. Hierarchies, functions and titles create boundaries that on the one hand, help to clarify the difference between people and on the other hand creates distance between people. The same goes for methodologies, ways of working, views, strategies, tactics, rituals and traditions. And what does a place look like that you share with others? What makes a house a home? What makes a workplace embracing, enabling, productive? How does it allow all people to have a place within the bigger space? And how does it enable people to bring their full self?
Lastly, when you bring yourself to a social context, and this brings forward something else on a broader societal scale: a product, a service, a friendship — in what way can that create, leave, hold space for others?
As a second event, next to a Happyplaces Moment pop-up and my talk, together with the House, we decided to explore further these three chapters in a workshop, a ‘Happyplaces Journey’. The idea was to guide the participants through these three chapters and to reflect and share their insights, thoughts and ideas during a walk through the wonderful city centre of Lisbon. A bit like physically going through the steps doing some ‘customer journey mapping’; a process that maps the contexts of the participants in every step. I packed an iPad and a portable speaker to be able to share some clips from video’s to illustrate some topics, handed out yellow and orange vests to create a safe space as a group, markers and post-its and moved the 60-people big group to Praça do Comércio, the main square of Lisbon.
Exploring the space journey
For each step I first shared some examples to clarify what the goal was. To explain ‘Self’, I shared how I failed of keeping space for unexpected events, like the impact meeting and filming Bart had on me. And how I then decided to make more space for myself. And the story of Kerrie, and how she creates space for herself to work. Two different perspectives, to then invite the participants to think about and write down how they create space for themselves, or what kind of space they need to be, live, work.
Next up: ‘Social’. How do you create space in relationship with others? I shared the story of Lilly, who found an easy way of overcoming space between people by learning herself a sentence in another language. Something simple like ‘Hello, how are you?’ Because it shows that you are making an effort, and therefore are more than what people see of you. Suddenly there is something in common, something equal, and what is apparently different is suddenly more equal. That creates space because that makes the space between people smaller. After the participants wrote down how they create space in relation with others, I invited them to find a partner to guide over de square, with the eyes closed. This created a strong sense of spatial and social awareness between the partners, having to entirely rely on and trust the other.
Finally, we explored ‘Societal’. How does what you create/leave/take/make space for others? I shared the story of Alain de Botton, about architecture. He shares how wonderful it would be if we weren’t so sensitive to the spaces we’re in. Because most of the modern world looks quite ugly. Most of the spaces we’re in are quite ugly spaces. He thinks we don’t really realise how much we suffer in those ugly places until we come across a beautiful place. That it is like a sort of annoying noise that we’ve forgotten is there: when it goes quiet, it’s a beautiful thing. He thinks the spaces that we need are those that will support us in being the kind of people we want to be. So spaces that make us feel cheerful, kind, compassionate, creative, generous. After everybody reflected and mapped out their thoughts on paper, we collectively experienced what it means to occupy space in society. We formed a human chain of 60 people and walked into the main shopping street without letting go of the hands of each other.
People shared the most personal and wonderful thoughts:
‘I left a relationship that gave me no space and took away all my sense of possibility to rediscover and live truly in my space.’
‘I treasure and guard the sanctity of my bedroom, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings fro creative inspiration to write. I can respond to the ideas that flood in and catch them with joy.’
‘I curate certain spaces in my home to be comfortable, beautiful and well-kept, so my mind can rest and my heart can open.’
‘A beautiful space communicates value to the inhabitants. When we feel valued, we are more kinds, creative and loving.’
‘Space for me is not geographical, it is a state of mind. To find that I meditate, so that I have space everywhere I go.’
‘Listening to and understanding others. If I do that, then they have a space where they can go to.’
‘A space where people can find quiet to hear themselves, where they can make connections, build bridges and grow.’
‘Creating space for myself means saying yes to me, not to the other ‘urgent’ things.’
It was a magical and beautiful journey. It helped me better to understand how people navigate the spaces we create for ourselves, in relationships with others and for others, both internally and externally.
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