I just finished one article in which I admonished people against trying to buy their way into happiness. In it, I mused that I'd be coming back to the subject of finding joy in life and, sure enough, 20 minutes later, here I am. The overarching topic is the same; finding joy in life, but this time I'm going to write specifically about surrounding yourself with beauty.
I long ago learned to accept that it's the cumulative little things in life that really define our perceptions. It's a topic that's been studied to death, but everything from the color of your walls to the clutter that surrounds you can determine the way you experience your day. The color of your tie can influence people's impression of you. Sounds can set moods, smells can solidify memories. This is simple scientific fact. Out in the world, we have little control over our surroundings, but at home, where we spend the majority of our time, we are in complete control.
As I stood out in my backyard pondering this article, I noticed how much effort I've applied to filling my personal world with mood-altering affects and how broadly I've assaulted the senses. I've been unconsciously doing it for years and perhaps that's why I've never suffered an extended bout of depression in my adult life (though I had plenty of the stuff in my youth when my life was completely out of my control). In the hopes of helping you incorporate some beauty into your own world with the goal of leading a happier life, here are some examples drawn from my own surroundings.
I spent an hour sweeping my back patio and tidying up some clutter (branches, leaves and the like.) Clutter tends to imprint its own chaotic nature onto observers. I didn't consciously clean my yard with that thought in mind but, in doing so, I have a calming environment in which to relax (or I did before the clouds started rolling in). I'm mentioning clutter before getting to the rest of the beauty in my life because I feel it is a HUGE contributor to stress, anxiety and unhappiness in so many people's lives that it really deserves first billing. Visit the home of a deeply depressed person and you will often find a cluttered mess. Their misery leads to a struggle to stay on top of things. The resulting clutter contributes further to their misery. So, step one, get off your butt, suck up the lack of motivation for just an hour or two and clean up the space in which you spend most of your time. I'll bet you'll feel just a tiny bit better when you've finished.
My garden is a visual feast. In fact, it was blooming morning glories that inspired me to write this article. Despite living in a modest home with a small yard and a heavily traveled road a stone's throw from my garden, the liberal addition of trees, shrubs, flowering plants and vines in my garden has created a world within a world. I am simultaneously surrounded by suburbia and cocooned separate and apart from the chaos and confusion of that world. While I'll confide that keeping a garden neat and well tended will eat up some of your free time, it will also put you smack dab in the middle of all that beauty while you work. That means, the undesirable work of maintenance involves so much exposure to beauty that the less desirable element is virtually drowned out.
Bring the outdoors in. I have a half dozen plants surrounding me in my home office as I write this. Not only do they help clean the air of pollutants, being surrounded by greenery and life perks up moods. Again, there is the issue of care and maintenance here and I know that people struggling with depression find it hard to stay motivated, but the reward is definitely worth the effort. To reduce your workload, you may want to start with a few live plants mixed with a few fake plants. Not as good as the real thing, but once you've proven you can care for the living greenery, you'll probably feel inspired toss those plastic plants.
Sleep better. I struggled with this one for years before finally investing in a quality air mattress bed. I don't want to be a product whore but I'm going to mention this product because it really made a tremendous difference in my life. See, my wife and I have vastly differing sleep preferences. I already made the ultimate sacrifice when I gave up my chosen side of the bed to her, but the last straw was her purchase of a mattress I simply couldn't get comfortable on. For two years it contributed to the deterioration of our happiness before I finally got rid of it and replaced it with a sleep number bed. That one change has led to vastly improved moods, incredible sleep and a complete turn around for the better in our marital bliss. I'm not advocating you go out and buy a sleep number bed but I am desperately trying to get across that you must sleep well to be happy in life. What ever product you elect to buy, find a mattress that ensures you get a GREAT night of sleep.
Water soothes. My means of incorporating water into my environment is the addition of a 55 gallon aquarium sitting just to the right of me as I write this. I'll often turn and stare at it for a few minutes as I lose myself in a train of thought or consider a story progression. The beautiful tropical fish are relaxing in their own right but, even when I'm ignoring them and typing away, the sound of water spilling from the filter into the tank provides and audible mood-enhancer.
Smell is the most important sense you ignore every day.
Prolonged exposure to an unpleasant smell can lead to anxiety, frustration and
a general bad mood. It's a problem we never have here at the
Listen to music that improves your mood rather than makes you feel cool. I love modern alternative rock and classic rock (Doors, Zeppelin, etc). They're often just what the doctor ordered. But if I'm not actively listening, I'll elect for classical music, smooth jazz or even new age music playing in the background. All of these are more likely to evoke a peaceful or serene mood. In fact, Beethoven is playing in the background as I write this. Save the cool music for when you want to play your guitar, party with friends or stay perked up and focused on a drive.
Keep your body clean. This is an inside and out bit of advice. Eating healthy obviously matters, but even your exterior needs a little TLC. Sitting around unshowered in yesterday's clothes will have you unconsciously feeling like less of a person. Take it from somebody who has spent extended periods in the wilderness with no shower available. The first things you want when you make it back to civilization are to feel clean again and to eat a good meal. Get out of your chair, take a shower, pamper yourself with some pleasant skin-care products and you will feel better.
I've already passed my personally imposed word-count threshold so I'm going to stop here, but I hope the message is clear that surrounding yourself with beauty, life, cleanliness and order that caters to all the senses can be all it takes to turn a dismal day into a calm and pleasant one. Give yourself the gift you deserve and bring a little beauty into your life.