The flowering quince blossoms by my front gate bring their bright beauty to the darkness of winter.
Why do these small blossoms affect me so deeply, more than the abundant wildflowers, honeysuckle, and roses on long summer days? Now when most of the trees and shrubs are bare, these tiny rose-colored blossoms are a rare exception, a harbinger of hope.
Reacting to the political turmoil around us, rushing from one task to another, moving mindlessly through our days, we can become habituated to the good and beautiful in our lives (Siegel, 2007). We focus instead on what's wrong with our world, in our politics, our jobs, our health and relationships, caught up in what Shakespeare called "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" (Hamlet, 3.1.64-65).
But a moment of unexpected beauty can wake us up. Winter blossoms, a shaft of sunlight through the clouds, or a rainbow arching overhead can fill us with a sense of awe (Keltner & Haidt, 2003) and gratitude (Emmons, 2016). These positive emotions can heal us, activate our immune systems, broaden and build our personal resources, and enable us to see new possibilities so we can take positive action to begin solving our problems, looking to the light (Fredrickson, 2001). As Emerson, Thoreau, and centuries of poets have realized, a moment of beauty can transform our whole world view.
So if you're experiencing a winter of discontent during these dark days, try connecting with the beauty of nature. Step outside, slow down for a mindful moment:
- Look at the sky. Notice the shapes in the clouds.
- Look closely at tree or perhaps a winter blossom.
- If it's deep winter where you live, look at the patterns in the snow or sparkling icicles.
- Or spend some time with a living creature—a dog or cat.
Take a long, deep breath. Breathe in the beauty around you and breathe out stress. And remember you are always free to connect with the healing power of beauty to help you find new hope beyond the darkness.
Emmons, R. A. (2016). The little book of gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. New York, NY: Hachette.
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
Shakespeare, W. Hamlet, quote from Greenblatt, S. (Ed.). (1997). The Norton Shakespeare. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.
Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.