The “Happy Tourist Bias” And Why This Might Be Good For You

Working from coffee shops has its perks. I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years now (before it was cool and even before Starbucks thought to brand their coffee shops as “the third space” – the one you use in between “home” and “work”). Sometimes it’s too noisy, of course, sometimes it’s too crowded or it’s just not conducive to work, but, overall, it’s a better experience than a fixed office.

One of the subtle benefits of working from coffee shops is that you get to see a lot of “happy tourists”.

Let me explain.

Not matter where it’s your coffee shop located, every once in a while you get to see some tourists popping in. It’s very easy to recognize them: most of the time they smile, they have a very contained behavior (not knowing the surroundings makes them cautious) and they look very eager to see more, to soak in the views, the people, the experiences. They almost never argue. They’re polite and just, you know, happy. They’re completely and totally immersed in this thing called “life”.

Sometimes I do an exercise: I look at one of these “happy tourists” and try to imagine that person in her natural context. Like working in an office, or being at home in the evening. No need to smile, because you work, right? No need to have a contained behavior, because you already know the surroundings. And, obviously, no need to soak in new experiences, new people, new views, because you already did that, long time ago.

Being a “happy tourist” is a highly biased experience. A lot of the “nice” stuff you get to see or experience would be, in other circumstances, just boring. But because you set yourself up to be “in a holiday”, to “discover” things, to “experience”, your entire approach changes. Reality changes, suddenly, in a beautiful thing.

Deep down, at the matter level, there’s no difference between the wood of a coffee shop table and the wood of your work office. There’s no difference between a cosy chair in a Starbucks and your cosy chairs at home. They’re all made from the same material.

What’s different is how you see them. How you choose to experience them.

That’s why I call this “the happy tourist syndrome”.

And, during the last few years, I became quite fond of it. Like, literally, I try to decompose what makes this syndrome appear and try to reproduce it in my own life as often as I can.

One of the things in the syndrome is, like I said, the ubiquitous smile. Like, you know, there’s nothing really that bad going on so you can’t even smile at it. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize bad shit as being bad shit, but I do try to maintain the smile while still incorporating the bad shit going on.

Another one is to look at the surroundings (or, even more effectively, at people) like they are brand new. In a sense, they really are, because nothing stays the same. But acknowledging this intentionally and trying to cope with it is another thing. Doing it consciously is really refreshing.

And, of course, the other very important thing is to just be prepared to soak in any new experience that comes up. Like just accepting what comes your way. Mind you, the things that are coming your way aren’t always nice. But avoiding the so called “bad shit” will eventually numb our very own ability to experience the “good shit” too, so better treat both the same.

So, if you happen to see next time in a coffee shop a guy working on his laptop, but still smiling, acting like he’s a tourist (despite the fact that the barrista may already know his usual order by heart) don’t be shy: come and say hi!

We’re both tourists in this world, anyway.

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