- “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
- “Seeing is believing.”
- “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”
Though cliched, these statements do convey some hard truths about our visual faculty. However, as most of us take the act of seeing for granted, we don’t necessarily direct our attention to the range of possibilities that this sense can bestow on us. As most of us just look at the world, usually on autopilot, we often fail to realise, let alone maximise, the immense power of our visual capabilities.
Instead of simply looking at the world through banal eyes, what if we train our minds to focus our vision on the umpteen wonders that surround us? By thus changing our visual perspective, we can both broaden our experiences and deepen our sense of well-being.
How you look at things matters
In her deeply insightful and though-provoking book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, writer and artist, Jenny Odell claims that her viewing of paintings made her realise that what she sees is a function of how she looks and the duration of her looking. Likewise, she avers that the experience of bird-watching enhanced the “granularity of my perception,” both auditory and visual. As a result of her heightened perceptual powers, the ‘reality’ offered by the world expanded. At first, she began to notice more birds, and then more plants and trees, followed by different types of trees to the innumerable bugs that inhabited them.
Thus, our mental representation of the world is not just a function of what is out there, as most of us mistakenly believe, but by what we bring to the experience of experiencing.
SeeingHappy.org: A smorgasbord of positivity
The newly launched website SeeingHappy.org, the brainchild of Mandy Seligman, who happens to be the wife of acclaimed positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, is a testimony of how viewing the world through a positive lens [in this case, quite literally] can enhance creativity and wellbeing. Combining her twin interests of photography and positive psychology, Mandy Seligman created this platform so that people could share their positive moments while building a community that emphasises our shared humanity.
A firm believer in positive psychology’s uplifting potential and an ardent artist who appreciates the transformative power of art, Seligman marries both these passions in SeeingHappy.org.
Just a brief glance through the website shows that though happiness can come in various guises, a common language of positive emotion can pervade every corner of the globe. A yellow and orange tinged rose, a leathery frog nestled in foliage, two kids with cherubic smiles, a dazzling skyline, an Indian couple in wedding finery, a bowl of luscious berries.
These photographs serve as a smorgasbord of positive emotions be it hope, awe, joy, pride, conviviality, gratitude, serenity or love. In the instructional guide, Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology, psychologists, Jamie Kurtz and Sonja Lyubomirsky suggest that mindful photography, wherein students are encouraged to capture images of positive or meaningful moments, and subsequently discuss them with others can encourage savoring and promote well-being.
Train yourself to seek the brighter side
Given the ubiquity of cell phone cameras nowadays, many people click pictures almost by instinct. But instead of mindlessly snapping photos, if we train ourselves to look and seek out the many forms of positivity that engulf us even in the bleakest of times, we are actually training our minds to focus on and find meaning in both mundane and momentous moments. Further, by sharing these memories, we may help others cultivate the art of looking at the world with “wonder-waiting eyes” as the 18th century poet Robert Southey eloquently phrases it.
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