Finding the Beauty in Everyday Life

by STEVE BLOOM

Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans with viewer

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

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Comments

  1. Steve! Snap! I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. Although I didn’t think of the ‘American Beauty’ reference (awesome movie) but that’s by the by….

    Totally agree that our brains are wired to think/notice the negative. And it takes concerted effort to change this – there is no shutting it out. Just, as you say, forming a habit to replace the negative with positive.

    I stopped reading/watching the news over 2 years ago because all I ever saw/heard was negative. At first I figured I’d miss out on current affairs, but as it turns out, I don’t!

    – Razwana

    • There is a lot of good things out there if you look for them. It really doesn’t take me that much effort to see the beauty in the world. It just means stepping back from all the bad so you see the good.

  2. Lovely post Steve. I think you hit it right on the head. Negativity is just so in your face that it’s hard not to notice, but beauty can be subtle if you’re not actively looking for it.

    And often times it depends on your state of mind. Sometimes — when you’re preoccupied with something or you’re in a foul mood — it can be difficult to spot the beauty all around you. Yet other times — when you’re feeling good and upbeat — it can be damn near impossible to ignore all the beautiful things in life.

    Your ability to recognize beauty in the everyday course of life can be though of as a reflection of your state of mind. If you see beauty everywhere you look, then you’re doing just fine. But if you’re finding it hard to spot, you’ve probably got some work to do.

    Cheers!

    • It does help when you’re in a good state of mind. When you’re positive and upbeat, you’re not going to dwell on anything bad around you. So if you’re in a good mood, you might see good things around you. The opposite could be true too though. What’s going on around you could influence your state of mind.

  3. I have never forgotten that scene from American Beauty. It was many years ago, but that scene still resonates with me as much today as it did way back then. I often think of my guitar as you think of your coffee. There is a little man by the last name Granados somewhere in Paracho, Mexico, along with all the others who got my guitar safely to me in Houston, who made my daily life better;)

    A gorgeously written post, Steve.

    • That’s a great little story. There are so many people out there that make daily life good simply by doing what they do.

      You must have bought a guitar and brought it back to Houston with you? If you’re going to get a guitar, I think Mexico would be a good place to get one.

  4. Steve, this post made me tear right up. What writing. Wow.

    I do not watch news for the very reason that it makes me sad. I am so sorry for people who are killed, and so sad for those who lose their homes (or don’t have one to begin with). It does them no good for me to sit and watch or read about this sadness. What good are my tears unless I plan to take action?

    I am sad when I get through a whole five mile walk and say, Hello first squirrel! only to realize CJ has seen many. Too caught up in my head. I work very hard every day to notice all that is around me. Your post is a great reminder to do just that. Thank you.

    • I still watch the news, but I’m just careful about it. I’ll just get the information and go. You can easily get wrapped up in hours of negative programming about one topic. Usually they just repeat the same information over and over again so you don’t learn anything new. All it does is bring you down.

      I’m like you in that I want to do something about it, but what can you do? All you can do is try to make the world a little better place simply by being a better person.

  5. Yeah. True.

  6. Beautiful post and reminder Steve! One way to see the good and beauty around us is to have child like eyes. To try and see and think about things like it was the first time. Also to really take time to think and reflect on what’s going on around us.

    I recently spent time with my 3 year nephew and it’s amazing how big his imagination is (like most children’s). Being around children or adults with a big imagination can cause our imagination to grow. Great post!

    • I’m glad you said this. I’ve spent time with young kids and you’re right. They do have an imagination and sense of wonder about the world that we lose as we get older. I remember being little and watching bugs and looking at cracks in the street and being fascinated. Now it’s too easy to get caught up in the routine of daily life.

  7. “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.”

    That’s a great habit. For me, it’s a bit different – rather than discovering beauty, it’s more like me deciding that it’s beautiful. It seems like simple semantics, but my perspective is that our brain is so flexible that, should we decide it, anything can be considered beautiful.

    • It might be semantics, but you make a good point. Perspective is important when deciding what’s beautiful. It reminds me of a painting my dad made once. It’s of an old disheveled man with missing teeth. My mom thinks it’s ugly, but I think it draws me in. Technically she’s right in that it’s not beautiful, but somehow I still like it and think it has it’s own weird charm to it. It can be like that old saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Antaeus says:

    Since I started practicing Zen a couple of years ago, I noticed so much more than I did before. My observation skills improve steady but also the way I see things. Sometimes I will just open the door for a min and just appreciate the trees, the sun, rain or whatever.

    Realizing how beautiful life really is probably the greatest and rarest gift in the world.

    • I feel like my observation skills get better when I meditate. Just quieting the mind helps you see more things around you. Anything that can get you to appreciate the things around you is a good thing.

  9. This works for almost anything – especially in those things incredibly complex yet simple. Think of your hand – there is beauty in the FUNCTION if nothing else.

    • That’s true. You can find good in a lot of things around you or even in things that are a part of you. There’s a lot you can notice.

  10. This is great. The more we keep the beauty in every life the more our life and all around will be really beautiful. Thanks to God this is how the world works.

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of beauty around us. I think it just makes life a little better when we take the time to look around and see it.

  11. I am addicted to news this time and it is a lot of negative news which create the negative feeling. I have started to limit my time with news and see news very consciously to see the positive side of it.

    • It’s good to look at the positive side of the news. Not everything happening out there is bad. I’d try to find a good news source that reports some of those good things too.

  12. I guess, that’s why Newspaper is better; it tells you what’s happening (maybe not in real time) but doesn’t control you. When you put the newspaper down, that’s it, you are informed. And indeed, it takes an open heart to see beauty…

    • I haven’t read a newspaper in a while – mostly because it doesn’t update in real time. You can always put down your computer if you’re getting your news from there too.

  13. Hi Steve!

    I love your post. I recognize a lot in it. I’m a graphic design student and when I was wondering about a project to work on, I poured milk in my coffee and saw the fantastic spectacle of the milky clouds in the black of the coffee. At that moment I knew I wanted to do something about this kind of little things that we often miss. Since then I’ve been making video’s and photographs about these observations. I’ve been experimenting a lot and posted it on a blog. On the blog there is also some research stuff and things that might not really fit in the subject, but its a research blog. With my project I hope to inspire others to sometimes stand still, look around and find little things that can be so wonderfull. Thanks for your post, it really inspired me to continue with this project.

    • It sounds like an interesting project. You can probably find a lot of little things all around us that most people overlook.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees beauty in a cup of coffee. It is like a milky cloud when that foam comes up just right.

      Good luck on your project.

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