Does Beauty Make You Happy?

I don’t mean this in the sense that beautiful people are happier. I’m talking more about seeing something beautiful and feeling happy.  A passage in a book I was reading last night made me think about the issue. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

“In English, Armando calls out the names of what he sees. Tiger heron. Elegant quail. Squirrel cuckoo. They come as utter astonishments, bursts of color against the gray bajada. I didn’t know the world held such birds. I didn’t know the world held such colors. I didn’t know that happiness and beauty are so much the same thing.” From Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, by Kathleen Dean Moore, p.80

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Equating beauty and happiness like that. It interested me enough that I did a quick web search to see if anyone else had ever written about this.  I found reports of a study done in the UK that found that art stimulates the “feel good” centers of the brain, causing the release of more dopamine. (Video of study results here.) This is just the motivation I needed to get me down to the art museum more often! In fact, I immediately went online and purchased a family membership to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and will make a concerted effort to visit regularly this winter as a way to lift my mood. Now that I’m aware of this link between art and happiness, I’ll conduct my own personal experiment to see if I get the same results. Maybe you should try it too!

As I think about this now, I guess I have felt happiness when I look at paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. His use  of color and thick brushstrokes really does something to my brain. I don’t recall feeling this way with any other art before, but maybe I’ll find out differently when I go to the DIA next time. I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I do know that the beauty of nature fills me with joy. Have you ever been hiking and come around a bend or atop a hill and been taken aback by a gorgeous scene? Maybe a field of wildflowers, or a mountain view, or a pretty curving path through the woods. Here are a couple scenes that make me happy…enjoy!

Gardiner River in Yellowstone National Park

Rural Michigan, near Grayling

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