How often do you stop and admire the aesthetics of say, a chair, a building, or a beautifully manicured public space? While it’s not uncommon to admire the beauty of art and other objects when visiting an art museum, we often take everyday aesthetics for granted. But we shouldn’t, here’s why.
Simply put, aesthetics make us happy. On an emotional level they elicit feelings of happiness and calm. They connect us to our ability to reflect on and appreciate the world around us which in turn gives us feelings of contentment and hope.
Beauty Happiness Connection
It is often believed that things like success, money and a prestigious career can make us happy. However professor Abraham Goldberg and his team of researchers set out to uncover the main driving factors of happiness in five major cities including – New York City, London, Paris, Toronto, and Berlin.
Using statistical analysis on data gathered by Gallup happiness surveys, as well as data they collected on their own, they discovered that people’s happiness can be contributed to living in an aesthetically beautiful city.
The things they are surrounded by in their daily environment had the greatest effect on their happiness including – history, green spaces, beautiful architecture, and cobblestone streets to name a few.
They also concluded that our perception of beauty produces feelings we associate with happiness – like calmness, appreciation, reflection and hope. So in essence, experiencing beauty alters our emotions and makes us feel happier.
Our aesthetic sensibilities often start with something small like admiring the color of a flower or appreciating a delicious meal. However, just because these things can be perceived as simple and superficial, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. For the participants in Goldberg’s study, it was the culmination of these simple things that were determined to be their source of happiness.
There are whole areas of philosophical study that delve into the nature of art and beauty. Philosophers believe learning what a certain group or culture finds aesthetically pleasing can help us better understand what they value, how they interact with each other, and make decisions.
They are interested in learning more about the relation between aesthetic appreciation and our emotional response. Understanding how the brain processes what we see, and how our aesthetic impressions are formed, is also of interest to cognitive psychologists.
Both philosophers and psychologists acknowledge that our aesthetic perceptions of the world around us affect our emotions. And, when the environment around us is perceived as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, our emotions are affected in a positive way.
That is proof enough for me to create a beautiful environment to live in and seek out experiences that allow me to appreciate something beautiful as often as possible.
Ways to Improve Our Aesthetic Sensibility
So how can we improve our aesthetic sensibilities and not take for granted the many opportunities for appreciating beauty in our everyday lives? Below I’ve listed out some tips and observational exercises (adapted from Neera Parekh) that we can practice to develop our sense of aesthetics.
Appreciate Beauty All Around You
Take moments each day to just observe the world around you and the beauty that can be found there. Whether you live in a small town or a large city, there is much for our senses to appreciate. Whether it be a charming old building or the natural landscape around us. Seek inspiration in all things.
Enjoy All Forms of Art
Culture can be found all around us in music, paintings, literature, and films. Take time to enjoy these experiences in your home, but also make time to get out and be a connoisseur of your community. Go see local plays, seek out new bands and musicians to listen to, and visit festivals and art shows to see what your local artists are up to.
If you approach these activities with the goal of using your all your senses to reflect on what you find beautiful and enjoyable, you will improve your sense of aesthetics overtime.
Admire the Beauty in Yourself & Others
There is also much beauty that can exist inside of all of us. Qualities like kindness, affection, nurturing, and generosity are all forms of beauty. Take time to observe these qualities in others as well as yourself.
Appreciating the beautiful qualities in poeple is a great way to experience the happiness that aesthetically pleasing experiences can bring. This is a simple joy that we can create all on our own, just from honoring the beauty in ourselves and others.
Reject the Unnecessary
One of my favorite quotes is from the writer Jon Franklin and it states, “simplicity, carried to extreme, becomes elegance.” The idea behind this thought is that the more we strip away the unnecessary, the more beautiful something becomes. Beauty and elegance can be found in simplicity.
“Simplicity, carried to extreme, becomes elegance.” ~ Jon Franklin
This concept can be applied to the physical material world and represented in the way we live and what we choose to surround ourselves with in our homes. However, we can also apply it to our thoughts and our behavior, in which we are reminded that vulgarity and shallowness are not pretty, and are also unnecessary.
How often do we set the table or create ambiance in our daily lives? While it is common to light candles, play music, buy flowers, and other pleasing decor for parties and holidays, not many of us enjoy these sensory experiences on a regular basis.
Creating ambiance in our daily lives helps us to appreciate daily mundane routines. It allows us to use all our aesthetic senses. Ambiance doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy either.
For example, it can be something as simple as using your nice dishes everyday instead of saving them for special occasions. It could also be lighting a candle, listening to music and drinking tea from a pretty teacup. It’s more about thinking about little ways you can appeal to all your senses in a way that is pleasing on a daily basis.
This last suggestion is to widen your horizons and explore topics or activities that interest you. Taking on a hobby or learning something new is a wonderful way to develop your aesthetic sensibilities.
It often gives us a fresh perspective and motivation to try new things and a deeper appreciation of life. Now get out there and experience something beautiful!