More than Pretty: Why Beauty Matters


When I was “finding myself” after college (and a little lost and lonely), I bought a book called Living a Beautiful Life. I sat on my combination futon/bed (which did a horrible job at both of its primary tasks) in my overpriced, aging apartment in the D.C. metro area and searched the pages. Author Alexandra Stoddard made “elegant rituals” of everyday life, from bathing to bill paying, often surprising herself with small bouquets of flowers tucked in the refrigerator. I was desperate for beauty in an unforgiving adult world, but…was she serious?

She was very serious. And she was neither alone nor ridiculous. Beauty is recognized as a basic need with important and practical implications for our wellness…even our survival.

What do you mean?

We use the term to describe things that inspire, captivate, and attract us. Think of one of your most memorable encounters with beauty: What did it do to you? Did your heart break? Were you moved to act? Stare? Sigh? Researchers report that, despite differing preferences or culture, we are biologically affected in similar ways: experiences with beauty light up the pleasure and reward center of our brains. Evolutionary scientists see the ability to recognize and pursue beauty as a survival instinct: we are drawn to a partner who shows signs of health and good genes, offering support, protection, and the opportunity to continue our species.

But is it really necessary?

Call it your soul or your spirit, inner life or animating force… you have more than a body that needs to be fed. When we let ourselves be taken by lovely things, our minds and hearts are nourished, and our stories are told more richly. Beauty invites us to slow the hamster-wheel-pace of modern life and contemplate bigger, higher, deeper realities. The arresting nature of a beautiful thing can shock us out of boredom or complacency. When everything seems terrible, it offers evidence that good exists. In chaos, beauty is a reminder of order. Architect Shigeru Ban employs this perspective:

“Aesthetics is a primary concern for Ban—not despite, but especially in humanitarian scenarios. He believes that beauty is a basic need, an aspect of a person’s dignity. Erecting beautiful, if simple, structures can ensure that a refugee camp is not labeled a slum.”

How do we pursue beauty?

Start where you are! Both natural and artistic beauty can be found in uncomplicated and unassuming places. Do the people that you love and respect appear beautiful to you? What about the corners of your home that are often overlooked?

Be a conscious consumer. Compare organic beauty to that which has been constructed. Ask: is reality distorted in this depiction? Does this distortion appeal to me? How do these tweaks change my perception?

Supermodel Cameron Russell challenges the way that we give power to people and things that are “pretty.” Challenge the beauty that you take in the same way. Pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout an experience, and pursue what fills you.

Take in an art museum, or an open field, or airport as you people-watch. Create or observe. Clean your room and consider how you deserve to live in a well-ordered space. Make a practice of writing, speaking or tweeting about the goodness you see or desire.

Talk about it! Share it. Gather with those who are also in pursuit of loveliness. And tell us here: what do you find beautiful? How do you experience it? How does it affect you?

“Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend. If there are people who are indifferent to beauty, then it is surely because they do not perceive it.” – Roger Scruton, Beauty

BY Tala Ciatti - April 17, 2017

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I’ve known that beauty matters a long, long time ago – even when I was very young. Maybe that’s why I grew up caring a lot about what other people thought of my looks. I don’t like it, but it certainly is true that beautiful people are favoured in society. Luckily, for the most part, I believe that beauty is perceptive. The key is to find your own perspective of what’s beautiful!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

April 18, 2017 9:56 am

This is an excellent post. Thanks

April 19, 2017 2:18 am

nice beauty Tips Good

April 21, 2017 4:20 pm

I only just realized how much I care about beauty. Less in a personal sense, and more in what I like to see and do. When I see old, rundown buildings, I think of how to make them beautiful, how to fix them. Beauty is almost like hope in that way. My husband, who likes to photograph abandoned things (something I HATE photographing), has given me a challenge to find the beauty in the abandoned. I’m looking forward to that project and learning more about how to see beauty in things.

July 8, 2017 9:00 am

Reminds me to share the prespective of Bishop Conley on evangilzation and beauty.

And I could not pass up this opportunity to share:
“It is the inner beauty that counts.”

August 18, 2017 12:44 pm

Beautifully written. Love this! Thanks for sharing.

Most-read posts:

Did you know W&D now has a resource library of  Printable Art, Templates, Freebies, and more?

take me there 

Arrow Alone

Get Our Best W&D Resources

for designing a life well-lived


Arrow Alone

the latest

Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

Hi, I'm Kate. Welcome to my happy place.











follow us on instagram @witanddelight_