It seems part of humans’ appreciation of beauty is because it is able to conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope.
“Beauty manifests a hope that life would be better if the object of beauty were part of it,” writes Princeton philosopher Alexander Nehamas in Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art.
He weighs both sides, writing, “We may discover misery in pursuit of beauty, or find that beauty offers no more than a tantalizing promise of happiness. But if beauty is always dangerous, it is also a pressing human concern that we must seek to understand, and not suppress.”
People’s physical beauty can help with dating and often it spells a path to economic success. But the beauty around us—the sky-high nave of the Westminister Cathedral, the ability to appreciate a simple lunch—offers hope that life can inch closer to perfection.
“So long as we find anything beautiful, we feel that we have not yet exhausted what [life] has to offer,” writes Nehamas. “That forward-looking element is … inseparable from the judgment of beauty.”
*Image of “flowers” via Shutterstock