Why do we lose touch with life’s daily beauty? Poets have celebrated beauty for centuries, and today's positive psychologists have found that appreciating beauty leads to greater joy, health, well-being, and meaning in life (Diessner, Solom, Frost, & Parsons, 2008; Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
Yet all too often we ignore the beauty in our midst because we're caught up in what psychologists call rumination, a maladaptive effort to solve life’s problems. We dwell on unfortunate events from the past, using our critical thinking skills to try to “fix” them, over-analyzing,—asking “What went wrong?” “What’s wrong with me?” (Williams, Teasdale, Segal, & Kabat-Zinn, 2007), going around and around in a dark whirlpool of negativity that makes us feel hopeless, exhausted, and depressed. Wrestling with shadows, we lash out at life’s unfairness, at parents who didn’t understand us, inconsiderate coworkers, failed relationships, or friends who let us down, caught up in a tangle of resentments, problems, and petty annoyances.
Mindfulness, as we know from decades of research, can lead us out of the darkness. Becoming aware of the present moment, we can name our thoughts and feelings as we watch them float through our consciousness (Williams et all, 2007), becoming more centered, more peaceful, and resourceful, better able to create solutions to life’s problems and enjoy its opportunities.
Becoming more mindful, we recognize the beauty in our midst. It’s easy to take beauty for granted when we’re busy or preoccupied. I rush past the beauty in my garden when I’m hurrying, thinking of all I have to do. Being mindful means to slow down, focus on the beauty of this one precious moment that will not come again—the rosebud slowly opening, its inner petals a rich, velvety crimson, and the blue-green boughs of the redwood tree in my front yard. Studies have shown that simply focusing on nature’s beauty can relieve stress, bring us greater peace of mind, and restore our mental and physical health (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989).
Why not take a few moments of mindfulness to experience this healing power of beauty for yourself?
Diessner, R., Solom, R. C., Frost, N. K., & Parsons, L. (2008). Engagement with beauty: Appreciating natural, artistic, and moral beauty. Journal of Psychology, 142, 303-329.
Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The Mindful Way Through Depression. New York, NY: Guilford.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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