Sometimes the bad parts of the world seem so overwhelming.
There are so many sad and depressing things going on in the news. People are killing other people, a natural disaster is destroying someone’s home or the economy is back in the dumps.
Even outside of the news, I see sad things. Every day I walk past the homeless as they beg on the streets. It’s hard not to look at them and feel as if the world is an uncaring, ruthless place.
It makes it hard to see the beauty going on around me.
But even among all this negative input, I can still manage to find something beautiful to focus on every day. In fact, there is a lot of beauty around you if you just look closely enough.
Seeing the Beauty in Life
Life isn’t entirely an ugly place. But we are conditioned to take more notice of the awful and negative things first. Negative imagery stands out; it’s memorable.
Think of all those horrible things you see in the news. There are so many images of war, terror and violence. They leave a lingering impression.
In contrast, the beautiful things around us don’t stand out as much. It’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking for them.
But there really is a lot of beauty going on all around you.
Have you ever watched the movie American Beauty? There’s a scene in the movie where a character is watching a plastic bag floating in the wind. The bag drifts back and forth and up into the air as the wind shifts direction.
As the character watches, he says, “sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it.”
It’s the rather humbling idea that beauty surrounds us. It’s here every day, only it’s hidden in the seemingly insignificant parts of our daily routine. How many of us would have passed by this floating plastic bag and never given it a second thought?
The character in the movie found immense beauty in an everyday item – a plastic bag floating in the wind. But can it really be that simple?
I think it is. There are many everyday things – things everyone else around me fails to notice – that make me feel as if the world is a very beautiful place.
He found everyday beauty in a plastic bag. I find beauty in my morning cup of coffee. It may sound strange, but if I pour my cup of coffee in the morning the right way, the contents swirl together into whitish foam that floats to the surface. If I do it just right, it looks beautiful.
Noticing the Beauty Around You
How many times did I wake up in the morning, pour my coffee like that, but fail to notice it? For that matter, how many beautiful things are going on around me right now that I’m failing to notice?
And then I wonder more deeply about my coffee. I think about all the people it takes to ship the beans here, package them and sell them to me.
All so I can enjoy a good cup of coffee every morning.
These people, whether they intend it or not, make my life so much better just by being there.
That, to me, is a beautiful idea.
A lot of everyday beautiful things surround us – only most people never take the time to see them. They’re all too focused on the tasks ahead of them or the routines in their life to take time out and look for them.
It’s as if they have blinders on and can only see what is directly in front of them.
It’s for this reason that I’m fascinated with some Andy Warhol paintings especially the ones that include Campbell’s soup cans and bananas. By putting those ordinary objects front and center, he’s trying to show viewers the everyday beauty we all too often miss.
That’s why I’ve develop a simple habit. Every once in a while, I stop what I’m doing and take five minutes to just look around me. I shift my focus away from my daily routine and check out my surroundings.
It’s crazy what beautiful things you’ll discover.
I remember one time in college when I did this. While walking on campus, I looked – I mean really looked – at the trees growing on the grounds.
I never really noticed before how beautiful they were.
I must have passed by them hundreds of times, but never gave them more than a glance. It was only when I stopped and focused my attention on them that I could recognize just how beautiful they are.
That’s the big difference between the negative images happening around us and the beautiful ones. Negative and ugly imagery gets in your face and forces you to pay attention to them.
The beautiful things in life require you to seek them out. And when you do take the time to search for them, you can find there’s a lot more everyday beauty around you than you realize. It’s just one way to bring a little more brightness into a world that can often be too gray.
photo credit: Steven Zucker