Friday, January 13, 2006

Does Living Amidst Beautiful Objects Promote Longevity?

A woman who came into Greenjeans today left me with a compelling idea. She really liked the shop and as she walked out the door with a pretty new pair of earrings she said to me over her shoulder, "I've heard somewhere that being surrounded by beautiful things makes you live longer." Then she smiled and disappeared.

I've been thinking about that all day now. And related thoughts have crossed my mind from time to time throughout my life. But could it really be true that working at Greenjeans and being surrounded by beautiful things all day is extending my life and Jae’s? And what about our customers? Could a visit to Greenjeans bring them a dose of good health? Could bringing beautiful pieces from our shop, or from anywhere for that matter, into their own homes add hours, days, years to their lives? Has anyone studied this?

I’ve had feelings that hint the woman’s notion is plausible. For example, I spent the day yesterday at the Met with a close girl friend (the Rauschenberg Combines show is worthwhile and the Rara Avis show is pure inspiration!), and just walking around the well-ordered galleries harmoniously filled with beautiful, interesting objects made me feel lighter, comfortable, happy. I often get that feeling inside museums. Or gardens. Or libraries. Or nicely-kept homes. Or charming shops. And it seems to me that feeling like that can only be beneficial to one's health and well-being.

I studied Heidegger in grad school and was very taken with phenomenology, which is basically the study of things and how we relate to things. A phenomenologist would say that my feeling actually comes from the objects in the surroundings themselves. It isn't just an idea in my head or a feeling caused by circumstances. The mood is real and it comes from the things. (It's really a more complicated intersubjective experience, but the point is that the things are not cold, lifeless objects that we merely project onto. They are issuing forth their own business as well.)

Well, if this is the case, then it would make sense to me that living amidst beautiful things, things that bring good vibes and joy and peace and pleasure, would be beneficial to one's health, maybe even extending one's life. And that living in disorder, in squalor, in a mess of ugliness, would be detrimental to one's health. Maybe that’s why William Morris famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I think those who advocate feng-shui or other studied practices of balancing and harmonizing one's surroundings would attest to this. But I wonder if there have been any Western studies. Not that studies would really convince me any more one way or the other. But still.

Moreover, I think there is something added to this since everything in the shop is made by hand. I think there is something even more powerful about beautiful handmade things than beautiful manufactured things. There is definitely a different vibe or mood given off by a work made by hand than a thing made by machine. But that’s a topic for another day.

I think William Morris, John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, and their ilk during the Aesthetics Movement have spoken to these ideas. I've done a few google searches (beautiful surroundings longjevity, beautiful objects live longer, etc.) but haven't come up with anything. If anyone has suggestions for reading more about the relationship between beautiful surroundings and longevity I'd love to hear them and explore all this some more. (Incidentally, I came across one lovely blog by a British woman called "Three Beautiful Things" where she writes every day about three things she's found beautiful that day. Very nice.)

Meanwhile, I'm just going to take a little more pleasure in my job, knowing that in addition to being good for my soul and my mind, it may just be good for my body as well (if indeed there is any difference among the three). And I will take even more pleasure knowing that the beautiful things we offer at Greenjeans are here for everyone to come and see, and even to take home with them. That is really what motivates Jae and I every day. And we hope it brings some inspiration to you, too.

1 comment:

Mad said...

I love your thoughts on beauty, handmade and longevity.I agree that the beauty of our surroundings and the source for the goods we fill our lives with fill us with a greater sense of calm, of peace and therefore reduce stress related poor choice making. Who won't live longer that is experiencing life as a joy rather than a drudge?

Great work you are doing in the shop and reflecting on it here-