Beauty is an odd term. It’s expansive. English uses the same word for a sunset or a ladybug, a kind person or a quiet moment. Beauty can also be a noun, or a criterion to superficially divide one person from another. It can mean a whole lot and therefore, not much at all. Maybe there should be a specific word for each of these feelings (as there are in some languages).
In this piece, The Lovepost explores different types of beauty that are made, noticed and lived. Enjoyment is at the core of each beauty, the good experiences and memories that you create when you set your mind to it. Each of these beauties can positively impact your mental health: embracing beauty is good for you.
There are a million beautiful things in this world. If you’re feeling inspired by these, consider some of the other ideas that were floated for this article like walking barefoot, going for a swim, going out to a jazz club, or doing your makeup. There is beauty, in all its many forms, to be found in nearly everything. This is your reminder to look for it.
Mouth heaven: banana cake
Look at those brown bananas—the ones that all too often meet their end at the bottom of the fruit bowl—with a new respect. Do you really need a proper recipe? You’ve done this countless times before. That’s the beauty of comfort food: you know just how it will make you feel.
Sugar. Butter. Melt it down into that delicious golden glue. Dash your vanilla in—however much you like. Now smash the hell out of those bananas. Take out your week’s frustrations—that annoying flatmate, that overbearing boss. Soothe those lasting frustrations by smoothing the banana into your sugar-and-butter mix. Sift your flour, baking powder and salt into the mix and stir it again. Watch the consistency evolve. See the different textures interact and combine to create something new.
Chocolate chips are not optional. They are essential to a mental health banana cake—as much chocolate as you can get your hands on. Dark chocolate. Milk chocolate. Whole blocks, chocolate chips. It’s cathartic to bash the shit out of a Whittaker's block. It’s also fun.
Into the oven it goes. After 30-40 minutes, eat it hot even though every recipe tells you to wait for it to cool down. Sift it against your palate. Let that chocolate drip slowly down your lips. If you have to check your face for chocolate afterwards, you know you’ve done a good job.
Food is the building block of mental health. Most of your daily nutrients are used by your brain. If you don’t feed it properly, you can’t expect it to work properly. Eating well and often is linked with better mental wellbeing, better sleep and better stress management.
Some might argue that beautiful, chocolate-dense banana cake doesn’t quite fit into the ideal food groups that keep your brain happy. Remember the 20-80 rule. Restriction never helped anyone. But chocolate? Chocolate definitely helps. “Dark chocolate has been shown to contain neurochemicals, such as serotonin, that have a psychoactive and euphoric effect on the mind.”
Take your beautiful self on a date
It’s good to need people. There is no denying that humans are social beings. The people around you are the ones who teach you, love you, support you and pick you back up when you fall apart.
Still, you don’t always have people around you. You might have a job on the weekends while your friends all work Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00. You might have moved to the other side of the world. Whatever the situation, make time to take yourself out on a date. There are many reasons why it is important to learn to be alone.
Ask yourself—what’s your ideal date?
Maybe it's an early morning walk to see the sunrise, finished off with a croissant and an iced almond latte. Maybe it's a trip to a roller rink in those under-used roller skates you convinced yourself were worth buying during the last lockdown. Or perhaps it's a slow weekend away at that cute seaside town you’ve always wanted to visit.
But here’s the real kicker—act like you’re on an actual date. Yes, with a real human being. As self-conscious as that may sound, dress up. Look the way that you like to look, not the way someone else wants to see you. Keep your phone in your pocket (aside from the selfies you need to send your parents and besties). Be as present for yourself as you are for others.
Compliment yourself in all the ways that you wish people would think to compliment you. “Hey, I’ve always thought that freckle just above your lip was gorgeous,” or “You absolutely glow when you’re wearing orange.”
Be your own best company. There is an important distinction between being alone and being lonely. They are two separate states, and the former should not have inherently negative connotations. Life is a balance between being alone and being with other people. Learn the balance that works for you and roll with it. You are responsible for creating your own peace, so do the things that light you up and make you feel fulfilled. Nothing is gained by waiting around for someone to do them with.
Notice the beauty: mindfulness
Pause. Name five things you can see. Five things you can hear. Five things you can feel.
Anyone who has had a panic attack will recognise this strategy. Ground yourself in the moment. Pull yourself out of your thought cycles and back into the present moment.
This is more than a strategy for panic attacks. It is also a basic mindfulness practice. Practising mindfulness in your daily life can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a pillar of positive psychology and it can be practised in numerous ways including body scanning, meditation, or becoming intentionally aware that you are surrounded by beauty.
Have a go. Sit still and explore your surroundings. Let each of your senses tell you five things.
Right now, maybe you can hear water boiling in the kitchen. You might be able to hear the soft blowing of the wind outside and cars occasionally going by on the motorway. Your flatmates are talking--or more like shouting—about Australian spiders. From the kitchen comes the sound of cutlery clacking against the plates. Hectic.
What can you see? The coffee table, perhaps. Your used peppermint tea cup teetering just slightly too close to the edge of it. The fireplace, standing proud in the middle of the room. Trousers, tops, socks and undies hanging from the washing line. The little, rarely used TV tucked away in the corner.
You can feel the carpet beneath you. When you stand up, it will be imprinted on your bare skin. You can feel the wind sneaking through the screen door. Feel the hair tie playing around your wrist, the wall behind you and the lining of the door against your spine. Feel your right foot folded on top of your left, and the ball of it grazing the coffee table.
Journal the things around you, in any way you wish. Draw a picture, write a list or a poem. Journaling doesn’t always have to record your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. Things don't have to be that heavy all the time. Write what is in front of you and start to feel more present in your daily life. Mindful journaling gives a kind of dignity to this moment.
There is beauty in every moment. When you feel sad and overwhelmed, train yourself to feel and notice that beauty. The laughter of your close friends around you can bring you joy. Notice the feeling of a cool breeze tickling at your ankles or hot peppermint tea going down into your puku (belly). The power of practising mindfulness is about finding these beauties in the moments when you feel less aware of them. Bring them closer. Let them revitalise and calm you.
Make something beautiful: knitting and crocheting
Remember the great knitting and crocheting renaissance of COVID? TikTok (at least the right side of TikTok) was saturated with crocheting and knitting videos from all around the world. Even Instagram stories were filled with friends’ crafting journeys.
Now crocheting is very much in vogue. Just a few years ago it was considered to be a boring hobby dominated by gossipy old ladies (which calls for a separate conversation on communication and sexism in traditional women’s art spaces). As the rest of the population learnt in lockdown, those iconic women had the right idea. Crocheting and knitting are great for your mental health.
Not only are they brilliant ways to express creativity, but active hands release chemicals that can lower anxiety and balance your emotions. Then there is the patient Zen of watching colours and textures layer themselves into a product that existed only in your mind a few hours ago. Don’t like it? Take it apart and create it again. The calming capacity of fibre arts is equal to that of yoga. The social inclusion and feelings of usefulness that knitting and crocheting can foster are huge benefits to mental health.
If knitting or crocheting is something you’ve been thinking about picking up, take this as your sign to begin! If you can’t learn from a book or haven’t learnt from your whānau (friends and family), there are now a number of dedicated YouTube channels that make the process engaging and fun, such as Sheep&Stitch, Studio Knit or BellaCocoCrochet.
Creating something—making your own beauty—is one of the most meaningful pastimes. You can find beauty in learning a new stitch, in seeing something that you had in your imagination come to life and enhance your home or your wardrobe, in sitting down with friends to chat and stitch with (or as one might call it, bitch and stitch).
Be humbled by the beauty: stargazing
Each night the universe puts on a show, reminding you that you’re only a speck in time. A whisper, a shadow.
Each night the stars and planets, asteroids, maybe even a few UFOs shine and dance across the sky, watching over us from the past.
But most nights we ignore them.
We huddle inside, flick on Netflix, put our feet up and become one with the couch.
People often talk about spending time in nature. Go outside and get your daily dose of Vitamin D! Go to a park and feel your mental health boost with exposure to green space! But half of every life is spent in darkness. Those who work to miss the daylight hours altogether in the wintertime. Goodbye mental health and hello seasonal depression.
You have probably paused between the car and the house on a clear summer night and thought, Wow, I really should look up more often. Do you follow through? Don’t overlook (or underlook) the stars, or forget how their beauty can inspire.
Research explains that time spent in ‘dark nature’ is differently beneficial to mental health. What better excuse to look at the stars, or walk at night to appreciate that the night is a distinct natural world with its own species, sounds and textures?
A number of things can happen while stargazing. Losing track of time and experiencing an increased sense of fascination is indicative of the flow state, which has a positive impact on mental health. The feelings of awe and wonder one feels when looking up at the sky also help for a very simple reason: an increased ratio of good experiences and good feelings to negative ones leads to better mental health.
Let the sky humble you. Go out into a field with the intention of feeling small under the night sky. Feel the awe and lose track of time.
If you take anything from these ideas, let it be that you make your own beauty. It’s good for your mental health to find beauty, see it, create it in a million different ways every day. Beauty is there to enjoy, to be used to carve out a meaningful and fulfilling life. Beauty lives in your willingness to look for it.