I stood speechless in awe for several minutes. The impressions flooded my senses and I enjoyed the splendour of the bright colours. Like so many times before, it was like I couldn’t get enough. Right then, all thoughts disappeared from my head. I was enjoying myself to the fullest and the trivialities of everyday life were momentarily absent. This time I was standing on the balcony at my job and watching the striking sunset.

Perhaps the awareness of the present moment is part of my experience of beauty? For a shorter or longer moment, all thoughts are blown away and I am absorbed in the presence. What I consider beautiful occupies my whole being and I am filled with bliss. Growing up in a secularised Sweden, moments like this are perhaps my closest experience of God?

A joy for aesthetics

A sunset can be undeniably beautiful, but how does this beauty relate to needs? I believe we, humans, have the ability to go beyond instinctive inherited behaviours and creatively form experiences that are not directly connected to our survival as individuals and as a species. We have capacity and a joy for aesthetics that goes beyond evolutionary pressure and the survival of the fittest.

Beauty as a source for survival

At the same time, it seems that beauty is also linked to evolution and our ability to produce offspring. Here we get support from nature and other beings to understand beauty as a need. There are some animals that have developed traits that at first sight seem to be a disadvantage. Peacocks, for example, have enormously colourful feathers. This burden makes well-equipped male peacocks an easier prey for predators. Still, evolution seems to reward the males with the largest “burden”, because the females seek them out. How come?

One theory has been presented by Jared Diamond in the book “Why Is Sex Fun?” According to this theory, male peacocks signal a message of “Look at me! My colourful tail is so large and beautiful that I am an easy target for predators. But since I have survived, I must be very capable and have excellent genes that I can pass on to future generations. So pick me!”

What we find beautiful

Although I can enjoy a sunset, a piece of art or the beauty in human interactions, my first association when it comes to beauty is linked to appearance and what I find attractive in people. I haven’t studied the subject that deeply, but I’ve come across two main theories. In the past when I read about what people are attracted to, it was very much connected to culture and social constructs. Based on these theories, what we consider beautiful is something changeable and influenced by fashion and images from our culture

In recent years, on the contrary, I have come across theories where what is considered attractive has many similarities between different cultures. According to this theory, different body compositions – such as symmetrical facial features, wide hips in women and tallness in men – signal health and ability to produce offspring. The kind of traits we perceive as sexy. At the same time, it seems that the people we interact with on an everyday basis shape our view of beauty. Many couples have a more similar appearance than is statistically likely.

There are probably many more theories about the foundations of what we perceive as beautiful. I will not try to claim that one theory is more plausible than another. Regardless of our point of view – social constructs, biological heritage, or something else – we will find enough evidence and sources to support our view (and dismiss others).

Addicted to beauty

When I think of beauty, I also think of addiction. Our brain likes rewards and something that is beautiful is pleasurable to look at. Because beauty and reward are so closely tied together, we can become addicted to beauty. Earlier in life I connected attraction and desire with beauty. In the past I have allowed myself to be swept away by instant pleasure and neglected the long-term consequences of my actions. Often it has been wonderful in the moment, but the aftermath has not been as fun.

A life with beauty

Thanks to writing this text and reflecting about beauty as a need, I have come to a couple of conclusions. It seems that in the past I have seen beauty as a non-necessary but lovely part of life. Something to enjoy but not be preoccupied by. Now I want to include beauty in my life as a necessary part of a life worth living. To surround myself with beauty as a support for a fulfilling existence.

How do you want to include beauty in your life?

Leave a comment below or, if you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, at the online platform: https://empathiceurope.com/online/courses/the-needs-year/modules/week-43/

Author

Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 4 November at 17:15-18:00 CET, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Kathleen de Laet. We will talk about the need for beauty.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

If you read this afterward, you can watch the recording when you become a premium subscriber. Check the details HERE.

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