The Wow Factor: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Swallowtail on White BlossomsWhat sets off the Wow inside you?  A breathtaking sunset?  An extraordinary sports play?  A masterpiece of music or art?  Witnessing an act of surpassing kindness and generosity?

The appreciation of beauty and excellence finds its focus both in nature’s beauty and in every endeavor known to man.  What brings it forth in you may be entirely different from what triggers it for me.  But whatever its focus, the feeling of it is universal – a thrilling sense of elevation and awe.

It’s no accident that positive psychologists classify the personal strength of appreciating beauty and excellence as one of the transcendent strengths.

When the Wow Factor strikes us, we’re momentarily swept into a world that’s higher and headier than simple emotion or thought.  In fact, it’s the kind of peak experience that’s often beyond words.  Beauty and Excellence speak to the very best in us; they raise us up.   Experiencing them with full appreciation adds more joy and meaning to our lives.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence Defined

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman,the developers of  the personal strengths classification, define the appreciation of beauty and goodness as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds.”

They go on to describe three types of “goodness” that can trigger this strength:

  • 1. Sensory beauty, such as a natural scene or a symphony, a work of art, or dance or architecture.
  • 2. Skill or talent, such as we might see in a sports performance, or in any field of human endeavor.
  • 3. Virtue or moral goodness, such as the dedication of Mother Teresa.

You may personally be drawn more toward one type than another.  Or, if this strength is one of your top strengths, you may find that your sensitive to all three.

How to Enhance Life’s Meaning

In our high-tech, achievement-oriented society, it’s easy to turn into “a head on a stick,” and to be so caught up in our internal, intellectual worlds that we overlook the beauty and excellence that life has to offer.

But cultivating the strength of appreciating them makes our lives more meaningful and worthwhile.  It allows us to get back in touch with our sense of wonder.

That’s not to say that we can’t find beauty and excellence in the intellectual world as well, if we choose to look for it.   In his book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins says,

“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.”

The time we have for living is indeed finite.  So why not fill it with all the richness and beauty we can?

Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  We can intentionally sharpen our senses and the strength of appreciation for beauty and excellence in many ways.

The key word is “intentionally.”   Each of us possesses all of the personal strengths to greater or lesser degrees, and by paying attention to any one of them, we can raise its degree of functioning in our life.  The first step is to make a commitment to yourself to look for beauty and excellence.  Remind yourself when you wake in the morning that this is one of your intentions for the day.

Psychologist Ben Dean, founder and CEO of Mentor Coach, suggests that you can increase your appreciation for beauty and excellence by keeping a nightly journal in which you record  “something you saw during the day the struck you as extremely beautiful or skillful.”  Or visit a museum and hunt for something that especially touches you because of its aesthetic value.  Afterwards, write down your impressions.

Dr. Clare Wheeler has some suggestions for increasing your appreciation for beauty and excellence, too.

  • Take a mindful walk, she says, where you stroll slowly, opening all your senses to the world around you.  Even if you do this for only a short while, say, from your house to your car, it will enrich you and clue you in to all that can be observed and enjoyed.
  • Add variety to your daily routine.  If you take a different way to work, for example, or to the store, you’ll be more apt to notice new things.
  • Create more time in your life for the things that you find beautiful and moving.  Buy yourself flowers or plant a garden.   Surround yourself with coffee table books about the things that you enjoy and find inspiring.  Read biographies of people who have excelled in their fields.  Attend more concerts and sporting events if they draw you and watch for the moments of high skill and artistry.
  • Use the camera on your phone or a compact digital camera to capture the beauty you spot in your daily life.  “Make a deal with yourself to take one photo of something you think is beautiful every day for a month,” she says.  “Before long, you’ll find yourself seeking, and finding, beautiful people places and things every day.

I have to admit that the last one is my personal favorite.  I started doing it three years ago and the result is my daily blog, “High on Happiness,” where I share my photos and the thoughts they inspire, just for the joy of it.  And I can attest that the activity has indeed added more happiness and meaning to my own life.

However you choose to develop it,  and whatever aspect of life’s goodness creates a Wow moment for you, the time you spend cultivating appreciation for beauty and excellence will enrich you beyond measure.

If you found this article worthwhile, please do pass it on.  And while you’re here, subscribe and get your free copy of the Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well-Being, along with my Sunday morning letters – both special ways to add more uplift to your life.

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy How to Live a Meaningful Life

 

Photo: c. 2013 Susan K Minarik

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