Modern science has come to somewhat of a hybrid conclusion. Researchers conducting a meta-analysis of the psychological literature found that wellbeing is influenced by the sum of three factors: 50% is based on a person’s setpoint (their baseline level of happiness); 40% is the result of intentional activity (actions, thoughts and routines); the remaining 10% is related to external circumstances (surrounding environment and possessions).
This means that wellbeing is modifiable and within a person’s control to improve through intentional activity. It also means that it can’t be significantly changed by environmental adjustments alone.
This seems to suggest that had I stayed in Luang Prabang for much longer, my initial exuberance at just being there probably would have worn off. Had I not made a conscious effort to continuously renew a positive outlook, I would have returned to my setpoint.
A similar reaction has been observed among people who work in green buildings. Researchers have found that occupant satisfaction in green-certified offices is at its peak in the first year and then declines over time. (They speculate that this could be avoided with better mechanisms for occupant feedback.)
The same would be true for anyone, anywhere, anytime. To improve wellbeing, it isn’t enough to work in a beautiful office, live in a walkable neighbourhood, have access to healthy food and be close to family and friends. A person must also cultivate (and continuously renew) a certain kind of positive attitude towards them. (It’s also why it’s entirely possible, though less likely, to have none of these things and yet still flourish.)