3 simple steps to a beautiful life
How often do you intentionally slow down so you can see the world around you? Are you aware of the beauty that exists in your everyday life? What does it mean to live and create a beautiful life?
I was pondering this question while walking the streets of Paris last year at Christmas time with my husband. We had been to Paris a few years previously but this time we were back as husband and wife, having just married a few months before.
There was something about Paris that enticed us back and left a mark on our hearts. I wasn’t totally sure what it was the first time, but being back it seemed so much clearer: it was the beauty.
The act of de-cluttering became a process of reconnecting with myself and what truly mattered to me and what I wanted for my life.
I’m not just referring to the twinkling Eiffel Tower at night, the stunning architecture steeped in history or the fashionable women walking the streets. The beauty that exists in Paris runs much deeper and appears to emanate from a choice to live a slower, more aware and more intentional life — to turn the everyday into something special.
The Parisians take time out of their day to eat and chat over a long lunch, valuing quality over quantity in how they eat and drink. They take pride in their shopfront displays and care about the aesthetics of how their products and produce are created and sold.
Staying in a flat, we did all our Grocery shopping at the local boulangeries, boucheries and fromageries. Our meats and cheeses were wrapped exquisitely and our pastries placed in boxes and wrapped in such a unique way to protect their shape and beauty. The smallest of details mattered.
I could feel in Paris that there was an appreciation for balance and a commitment to enjoy life; a way of living reflected even in their laws, which govern that the work week be only 35 hours, allowing for a quality of life that most city-dwellers only dream about.
I needed this shift in perspective when I arrived in Paris. I was feeling pretty exhausted after what had been a massive year launching my business and organising our wedding. I’d put on hold so many simple everyday things that make me feel grounded and happy: weekly yoga, time in the ocean, sleep-ins, coffee with friends and family, reading a great novel.
Living in the fast-paced city of Sydney and being part of the business world, it’s the norm to work long hours and be forever pushing for the next big thing. The problem with this approach is that it leads to burnout and can take you away from the very things that restore you and make you feel great about your life. This way of living makes life feel hard, not beautiful.
Travelling opened my eyes to how other people live and gave me the much-needed distance from my own life to see how I was living and what I wanted to change. Seeing some of the lifestyle differences in Paris, I knew my life could be far more beautiful if I slowed down and made time for the simple things that bring me joy.
Having researched the brain and the latest in neuroscience, I know both empirically and scientifically that what you focus on magnifies and sets the tone for your life. By being busy all the time and feeling as if I didn’t have the time to do the things I loved, I was training my brain to see life through a lens of scarcity rather than abundance. I wanted to return to a place of beautiful abundance and Paris showed me how, by demonstrating how to become more aware and intentional about how I lived my life and the choices I was making.
What is a beautiful life?
One of the definitions of beauty in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “the qualities in a person or a thing that give pleasure to the senses or the mind”. When it comes to thinking about beauty in life, however, I believe it’s both what pleases your senses and what pleases your soul and spirit.
Beauty in life comes from those moments when life feels good, when you feel loved, when you feel deeply on-purpose and when your senses are engaged and you feel happiness and pleasure. I spoke with six people in my life to ask what a beautiful life meant to them and they shared experiences like seeing their child smile, seeing the ocean, achieving their long-held goals, having a beautiful bunch of flowers on their kitchen table — the simple things.
Being in Paris reconnected me with what had been lost in the daily grind — and that was an appreciation for the beauty that exists in the simple everyday things.
When I close my eyes and think of what a beautiful life means to me, I feel a deep sense of contentment. There is no rushing. There is no frantic busy mind. There is a sense of spaciousness. I feel grounded and happy. I can see the beauty around me and I am making time to do the things I love: enjoying coffee in the sun, yoga, watching a stunning sunset, enjoying a hug from my husband. In these moments of beauty, the heart fills. You feel happy, blessed, excited, content and a deep sense of gratitude.
Awareness & gratitude
These moments of beauty are happening around you all the time if you’re conscious and aware of them. It’s not always the case that you pay attention, though, particularly when you’ve made your life as busy as I had. In his book Capturing Mindfulness, Matthew Johnstone writes: “This may come as a surprise to some, but we are constantly surrounded by beauty and incredible moments. The problem is we’re often too busy, self-absorbed and distracted to notice what is going on in front of us. If we train ourselves to become more aware of the present moment, the ordinary can become extraordinary.”
Do you hit “pause” on your life so you can reflect and reconnect with what brings you joy? Do you take time to savour the simple moments in life or do you rush through them, not seeing and experiencing their inherent beauty?
It was cartoonist and poet Michael Leunig who so insightfully said, “Nothing can ever be loved at speed.” By slowing down and appreciating the beauty that is all around you, you prime your brain to perceive yourself and the world in a way that is positive, not stuck in a mindset focused on stress, deadlines and scarcity.
Are you doing the things that reconnect you with yourself and which leave you feeling amazing? Do you make time to meditate, journal, get into the Garden, have a warm bath, go jogging, enjoy a cup of tea, sit in the sun and read the paper, go to a yoga class, make art?
Life becomes truly beautiful when you make time for these activities in your life and when you begin to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. From this place of awareness, you can move your mindset and outlook on life to a place of deep gratitude, which has a profound flow-on effect to all areas of your life.
Studies have shown that feeling thankful for your life wires your brain for happiness and changes the way you see the world. In a recent article on INC.com, Jessica Stillman writes, “Practising gratitude seems to kick off a healthful, self-perpetuating cycle in your brain — counting your blessings now makes it easier to notice and count them later. And the more good you see in your life, the happier and more successful you’re likely to be.”
Living a beautiful life is about being intentional in what you focus on, what you make time to do, but also what you choose to surround yourself with, because your environment greatly affects your mindset.
Freedom & authenticity
We lived in a small Parisian flat during our honeymoon and, coming Home, I realised I had far too much “stuff”. It became clear that my home had become cluttered and this lack of spaciousness had bought feelings of stress and frustration. I wasn’t enjoying what I had: I was resenting it. I really wanted to embrace the idea of “less is more” and “quality over quantity” that I had experienced in Paris.
In an article on the University of Minnesota’s website, called How Does Your Personal Environment Impact Your Wellbeing?, the writers explain that “our home and work environments affect our emotional as well as our physical health. Among other things, research reveals that our physical surroundings can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies in multiple ways. … Visual ‘noise’ increases stress. A cluttered, dirty or confusing environment can cause us to feel worried, sad or helpless.”
Creating and living a beautiful life means considering not only what you’ve surrounded yourself with but also what effect this has on your mind and your life. I wanted to look around my home and see beautiful things, be inspired and enjoy a clear mind. I looked to Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying to help me transform my living spaces.
Beauty in life comes when life feels good, when you feel loved, when you feel deeply on-purpose and when your senses are engaged and you feel happiness and pleasure.
I thought it would be easy to toss things out. It wasn’t. I quickly discovered that objects hold meaning and energy and not all of that energy is positive. Kondo writes, “Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life.”
I had never considered this before but it resonated with me as I came across objects that made me feel a sense of guilt when I thought about tossing them. I have always felt it “wasteful” to throw things away but I hadn’t realised I’d been surrounding myself with things that were holding me back emotionally.
Peter Walsh, a professional organiser and writer, says, “If your house is full of stuff, all the blessings that could fill your house can’t get in. The stuff takes over. It robs you psychologically. You can’t be at peace.”
Being aware of what you are creating and hanging on to in your life gives you the opportunity to let go of the things that are no longer serving you. The act of de-cluttering became a process of reconnecting with myself and what truly mattered to me and what I wanted for my life. I was reminded of what French fashion designer Coco Chanel said: “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
When you live a rushed, unaware and “unconscious” life, you move further and further away from your authentic self and the things that make your life truly beautiful. Being in Paris reconnected me with what had been lost in the daily grind — and that was an appreciation for the beauty that exists in the simple everyday things.
Creating a beautiful life is about resisting the need to be busy and “productive” and the temptation to devalue the experiences that bring you joy and spark gratitude. It begins by moving through the world more slowly, stilling your mind so you can notice, feel, sense, taste and see the Beauty that exists around you. Creating a beautiful life is the art and magic of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.
3 steps to a beautiful life
- Be aware. Slow down and take the time to observe, connect and reflect.
- Be grateful. Focus on and be thankful for all the wonderful and beautiful things you have in your life.
- Be free. Be intentional about what you surround yourself with and what you need to let go of. Have the courage to be you.
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