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Life is Art.

Dear Friends,

Just the other day, I saw a beautiful quote from Helena Bonham Carter, and it made me stop to think:

Photo courtesy of Festival de Cannes

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”  

– Helena Bonham Carter

SeeingHappy invites you to notice what is beautiful in your world, to pay attention to it, to photograph it, and to share it to inspire others. What if, instead, we asked you to think of your entire life as a work of art, as Helena does? Can we create more beauty in our own lives? Can we create more beauty in our communities? Can we create a more beautiful world?

Beauty makes us happy, so increasing the amount of beauty in our lives may make us happier. Jer Clifton at the University of Pennsylvania certainly thinks so. He says that seeing beauty in our world is associated with higher wellbeing. So, it follows that adding beauty should make us happier, right?

Why does beauty make us happy? I don’t think we have a good answer yet, but I believe it’s true that beauty has this effect on us. We recognize beauty when we see it, and we associate beauty with goodness.

What we find beautiful varies across time, culture, and individuals. However, certain aesthetic rules increase the likelihood that we will find an object beautiful: symmetry, proportion, harmony, contrast, simplicity, balance, color and texture, focal points, and leading lines. Studies have shown that artwork adhering to these aesthetic principles is more likely to be considered beautiful and to make the observer happy. These patterns are rooted in nature and have helped us survive over eons.

Beauty is more than a set of rules; it is also associated with familiarity. Places we are familiar with, like home and hearth, we see as beautiful. We see familiar people, those we love, as beautiful. We are emotionally attached to things that have meaning for us, and these we find beautiful.

There is even the suggestion that beauty, like love, is an emotion not under voluntary control. Rather, beauty is an instinct that comes with an abundance of pleasure because we associate beauty with love, truth, and goodness. This is grounded in evolutionary biology, where we are attracted to people, places, and things that offer safety and food.

So, how would we go about adding to the beauty in our world? Well, we could start by surrounding ourselves with objects we consider beautiful. We can take the time to arrange our homes with an appreciation for symmetry, harmony, and simplicity. We can take pleasure in color and add it to our appearance. That is going to be tough for me—I only wear black from my days of being a mom to five children. There simply wasn’t the time to think about “outfits,” and black always matched and didn’t show the dirt. Maybe I can add a colorful scarf or jewelry? I vividly remember seeing an old friend wearing a beautiful purple sweater and how joyful it made me. 

In her book, Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee says that black became the color of sophistication way back in 1810 when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote that color is a mark of immaturity and a lack of education. Ever since, we have associated black with educated, sophisticated people. Fetell Lee also points to the beige or gray color scheme we adhere to in our modern homes—very beige or gray but not much fun. Who dares to put in color? I personally am about to take a chance and add color to my decorating—not a whole lot because I don’t want to be too out there but just enough.

I don’t think we have to overhaul our lives, wardrobes, or homes to add beauty. Small changes can add up to big changes over time, and we can all add a scarf here or a cushion there, rearranging the room to have symmetry and a focal point.

Perhaps as we go about our daily life, as Helena Bonham Carter suggests, we can keep in mind that taking extra time to add an ounce of beauty may pay dividends in our wellbeing.

Think of us when you add something beautiful to your world, take a photo, and share it with us to inspire others.

Your Friend,

Mandy Seligman

Mandy Seligman

Mandy Seligman is the founder of SeeingHappy, a nonprofit whose mission it is to promote wellbeing through photography using positive psychology. She is a psychologist who believes that we can all benefit from using using positive psychology at every stage of life.

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