Beautiful Pursuit: How The Search For Happiness And Beauty Mix

Photograph and art by Maria Magdalinou

The notion of happiness has tantalized philosophers, poets, and, in our modern era, even marketers. But what does it mean to grasp happiness, and how does it really entwine with the world of beauty?

Dr. Frank Martela, a lecturer at Aalto University, recently shared his insights on the matter to a group of visiting journalists at the Oodi library in Helsinki. He gave his thoughts on why Finland consistently ranks as the happiest country in the world, but was also quick to clarify that happiness is a deeply personal experience, intricately linked to the quality of life one enjoys.

“What I know is that when people appreciate beauty in their surroundings, they experience more meaning in life,” Martela says. It’s a profound insight; the appreciation of beauty isn’t merely superficial but can deeply enrich our existence. A life with meaning, he believes, is one of the critical components of overall happiness.

His studies, conducted in collaboration with American professor Joshua Hicks, propose that appreciating beauty in the everyday may be just as potent as a grand sense of overarching purpose. This revelation resonates deeply with the ongoing evolution of the beauty industry, which is shifting to a more scientific perspective, offering products and experiences that go beyond the superficial.

For the past two years, the market research firm Ipsos has collaborated with beauty brand Lancôme. Their mission is to delve into the levels of happiness in eight diverse markets around the globe: France, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, Brazil, and China. It’s a daunting task, especially given the backdrop of a population currently recovering from a worldwide pandemic.

Surprisingly, despite the collective struggles and uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, Ipsos’ research paints a rather optimistic picture. Their findings reveal that 76 percent of the 8,000 respondents identified themselves as happy. But what precisely contributes to this happiness?

The resounding answer, as articulated by the Ipsos researchers, is freedom. It’s a sentiment that Martela’s research has also championed as a cornerstone of sustainable happiness. Freedom, in its multifaceted forms, lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s the autonomy to make choices, to be the architects of our own destinies, and to shape our lives in alignment with our authentic selves.

A woman wearing red lipstick
Photographs and art by Maria Magdalinou

Martela’s years of dedicated research have consistently pointed to the significance of freedom and autonomy in one’s life. It’s the first building block of happiness. The ability to navigate life with a sense of self-determination lays a sturdy foundation for contentment. It’s the liberty to be who we genuinely aspire to be, an aspiration not always easily fulfilled in societies constrained by rigid norms.

Self-expression has become closely associated with the concept of beauty. To express oneself through beauty requires a certain degree of freedom, a canvas where individuality can flourish. Finland and other nations at the zenith of happiness rankings have understood this connection deeply. They foster environments where self-expression is encouraged, and individuality is celebrated.

But there’s more to the journey to happiness and meaning. Martela introduces us to the concept of eudaimonia. Unlike the ephemeral thrills of joy, it encompasses a broader spectrum of emotions, ones that resonate long after the initial elation has waned. 

Martela explains that eudaimonic well-being goes beyond mere self-satisfaction. It’s about personal growth, about nurturing the greater good. It beckons us to journey not just to happiness but to personal development and positive societal influence. 

Martela’s counsel extends to gestures as simple as donating to charity, nurturing our neighborhoods, or cultivating meaningful relationships, all of which align with personal growth and the sense of making a positive contribution.

In alignment with this, Martela also introduces the notion of “mattering.” It encapsulates the profound sense that our existence bears significance, not just for ourselves but for the broader tapestry of society.

He underscores that “mattering” finds expression by making a positive impact on friends, colleagues, through our professional endeavors, or in championing causes we hold dear. It’s about understanding that few objectives are as meaningful as realizing your tangible, positive contributions to the world.

Martela’s studies also come with a word of caution. “Too much focus on happiness makes people unable to be satisfied with anything. They are always looking for ’something better’ and miss out what is already good in their life,” he explains. “Thus, paradoxically, the ability to maximize happiness easily backfires, leading to less happiness.”

Ipsos reports that people’s happiness is not without its challenges. Their research casts a spotlight on the pivotal role that financial constraints play in shaping our happiness. The burden of these constraints waxes and wanes from nation to nation. For some, it’s the relentless battle against inflation, while for others, it’s the looming specters of war and poverty that cast long shadows over contentment. However, it’s also good to note that when respondents were asked what they would do if they were given more time, their aspirations reflected their values. Travel, self-care, quality time with loved ones, and a connection with nature surge to the forefront of their desires. The thirst for authentic experiences also remains an enduring sentiment.

In this intricate dance between happiness and beauty, it becomes evident that they are not solitary endeavors but, rather, are deeply intertwined. It’s easy to find beauty in your surroundings when you’re happy, and it’s equally effortless to be happy when you appreciate the beauty around you. They form a symbiotic relationship, each nurturing and enriching the other, much like the eudaimonic well-being Martela champions, where the pursuit of happiness blends with the pursuit of beauty, beyond the physical sense. Together, they illuminate a path to a more profound and meaningful existence, where happiness and beauty are melded in harmony. 

Vogue Philippines: October 2023 Issue


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