I reported for jury duty to a small room in the municipal court building. The walls were tired shades of neutral, from beige to brown, with no decoration or windows. The drab ceiling tiles were dingy and grey, and the room was lit with fluorescent bulbs. It was depressing. I didn't realize how sluggish I felt from sitting there until we were released from service and I walked outside.
Dazzling sunlight! A kaleidoscope of color! A glorious beautiful day! It was invigorating.
Do not underestimate the power of beauty.
Humans have appreciated beauty for eons. The earliest known cave paintings date to 32,000 years ago in France. Neanderthals wore prehistoric jewelry 130,000 years ago. The first sign of art goes back 400,000 years. While we can only speculate what motivated our ancient ancestors, modern research shows the benefits of appreciating beauty: improved psychological and physical well-being and greater life satisfaction.
What is it about beauty that affects us? Philosophers have debated this for centuries. Beauty is defined as the quality that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, beauty is something that meets three criteria -- it is: 1) interesting, 2) memorable, and 3) worth revisiting.
As someone who can be distracted by a flower and stopped in my tracks by a butterfly, I find these definitions are too analytical. Beauty goes deeper than a list of checkboxes. I prefer a simpler test for beauty (succinctly described by Professor Gardner): "It gives you a tingle."
In other words, you know it when you see it because it makes you feel good. And feeling good is the best reason to cultivate more beauty in everyday life. Plus, it's easy! You don't need someone to tell you what is beautiful or where to find it. You aren't required to go to a museum or take classes. You enrich your life and surround yourself with more beauty right from where you are.
Start with these easy ways to bring beauty into your life:
Connect with nature
The natural world is teeming with opportunities to discover beauty.
Go outside. Admire a tree (bonus: hug it). Look up at the sky for clouds and stars. Listen to the chorus of crickets, cicadas and frogs at dusk. Watch the sun set. Plant a garden. Set up a bird feeder outside your window.
Bring nature inside by posting pictures of your favorite landscapes. Get some houseplants. Give yourself flowers (this is my favorite "to me from me" treat). Force spring bulbs to bloom through winter (how to).
Collect pinecones or seashells or acorns or pebbles or whatever nature drops at your feet and keep a collection within reach.
Indulge your senses
What do you love the sight of?
Find ways to see them in person or post pictures in spaces where you spend a lot of time.
What do you love the sound of?
Ocean surf? Wind chimes? A cat purring? A concerto?
Make or find recordings of your favorites so you can listen whenever you wish.
What do you love the smell of?
Natural scents? Carry an essential oil for a burst of fragrance anytime.
Rain? Open a window during the next storm.
Books? Visit your local library or book store.
Crayons? Get yourself a coloring book and a box of 64 Crayolas.
What do you love the feel of?
A coffee mug? A favorite pen? A silk scarf? Your dog's fur?
Hold it, use it, wear it, pet it.
Do you see a pattern here? Add more beauty into your day through the many little things that light up your senses. Make a list of what delights your senses and find ways to experience more of them.
Where is the beauty in front of you, right now?
It could be the grain of wood on the floor, the smile of the next person you see, the milky pattern a barista makes in your morning latte, the sound of a train whistle, the symmetry of an old building, the light through a window, the style of a classic car you pass on your commute or your favorite song on the radio.
Stop reading and look around where you are. (Really. Look around!) Take in the beauty that's right here, right now. As Evelyn Underhill said, "For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day."
Want to give yourself a lift any time? Infuse your daily routine with more beauty and savor every bit of enjoyment it brings.