How to see more (physical) beauty in the world


Illustrated by Bridget Daulby

Seeing beauty can promote feelings of awe and gratitude. When we appreciate something as beautiful, we tend to feel a natural urge to take care of it better. Awe is an expansive emotion.

It helps us see the big picture, not sweat the small stuff and see how things fit together. Experiencing awe can be useful for problem-solving, strategising and goal-setting. Therefore, seeing more beauty in the world has psychological benefits. Here are some practical tips for seeing more beauty in the world.

Bring more colours you like into your life

Recently, I saw a tiny home video in which the owner said she’d unconsciously taken the colours from a treasured painting by her grandmother and used them as the palette for her home. Identify colours that have a special attraction for you and bring them into your surroundings. 

Pick a colour and observe it on a walk

A lot of what we see every day, we don’t notice. Identify a colour you like, e.g., purple. Take a walk and aim to notice all the purple you see.

See beauty in function

Self-criticism can make it difficult to see beauty. When it comes to body image, you can counteract this by cultivating body neutrality, which is often more realistic and helpful than body positivity. My five-year-old and I do an exercise each evening she calls, “thank you to my parts”: we thank different body parts for the important job they do.

For example, skin keeps bacteria out of our bodies, eyes allow us to see each other’s smiles and arms allow us to hug. This also serves as a biology lesson! Other ways to cultivate body neutrality include curating a social media feed of diverse bodies, limiting your exposure to unrealistic beauty standards and taking care of your body.

Remember that our behaviour influences our thoughts and feelings. The more we look after ourselves (even if it’s just a visit to the dentist), the more caring thoughts and feelings we will experience. 

Delve into the beauty of complex systems

Beyond the body, you can train yourself to better appreciate the beauty of other complex systems. Pick whatever interests you  and learn about how it works.

As a starting point, the YouTube channel Wendover Productions does deep dives into lots of complex systems. When you pay attention to a few complex systems, you’ll be able to observe this type of beauty in your day. 

Draw

Drawing causes us to focus on the details. It’s a phenomenal activity for relaxing, especially if you’re ruminating or overthinking and need a task that will occupy your mind. Draw anything you like. One option is to draw a self-portrait.

Take a photo of a body part, e.g., your foot, and draw from that. YouTube has lots of self-portrait tutorials. Describing your body in neutral terms is part of eating disorder treatment and drawing your body is a version of this. You can start by drawing a loved one or pet (or anyone) if drawing yourself is too challenging initially. 

Make art (or support an artist)

Instead of drawing, you can make other types of art. One of my doctors makes mugs and gives them to patients. Having a creative practice like this, that’s focused more on expression and vision than achievement or practicality, can be key to mental health.

If you don’t want to make art, try supporting an artist. If you invest in beautiful art (behaviour), you will appreciate it more (thoughts and feelings.) Etsy can be a good source for this, including as inspiration for your own projects.

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