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Appreciation of Beauty

optimal LIVING • Aristotle group

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but seeing with new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust



Sometimes it is a brilliant sunset, a simple act of kindness, or an inspired musical performance that stops you in your tracks. At other times it might be a brave act of courage, the birth of a child, or a loved one’s recovery from a serious illness. In these moments, you feel a sense of wonder, awe or admiration. Awe is a powerful emotion and can be triggered by the simple everyday things in life as much as by the once-in-a -lifetime moments. Take a few minutes now and think of the last time you felt a sense of wonder.  What was it that triggered this emotion in you? How did you feel? What was the impact?

Appreciation of beauty and excellence, defined as the ability to recognize and take pleasure in the goodness present in the physical and social world, is one of 24 elements catalogued in Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman's handbook "Character Strengths and Virtues." Three categories of “goodness” have been associated with the appreciation of beauty and excellence: physical beauty, including visual and auditory beauty producing a sense of awe; talent, skill, or gifted performance displayed by others producing a sense of admiration, and the display of virtue or moral goodness (such as compassion, kindness, and forgiveness) producing  elevation. ­­­­


Researchers examining the impact of the appreciation of beauty and excellence report that experiencing awe and elevation motivate self-improvement, personal change, altruistic actions and devotion to others. In his book, "The Happiness Hypothesis," Jonathan Haidt explains that by stopping people and making them receptive, awe creates an opening for change. Active appreciation causes the heart rate to slow, brain waves to soften, and your endocrine system to synchronize.

Appreciation is a powerful antidote to fear. Psychologist Dan Baker, the long-time director of Canyon Ranch’s Life Enhancement Program, states that “it is a fact of biology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time.” Appreciation and fear may alternate, but they are mutually exclusive.

Appreciation is at the core of a powerful change approach called Appreciative Inquiry, which evolved in the mid 1980’s at Case Western Reserve University. The term “appreciate” carries a double meaning referring to the act of recognition and the act of enhancing value. The term "inquiry" refers to acts of exploration and discovery. This change approach achieves its power through the combination of appreciation and inquiry.  It has been likened to the possibilities that emerge when hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water. Appreciative Inquiry begins with appreciation. It is a simple yet powerful approach to system wide change that starts in the first of four steps labeled Discovery.  During discovery, the focus is on appreciating an organization’s positive core.  Discovery is followed by Dream: an exploration of what might be, Design: what should be, and Deliver: what will be.

A diverse range of organizations have achieved incredible success using Appreciative Inquiry. It has been used by the United Nations, the U.S. Navy, and even the Dalai Lama and other leaders of the world’s great religions. Leveraging appreciation has been equally successful in such businesses as John Deere, Avon, GTE and Wal-Mart. For additional information on the concept, please visit the Appreciative Inquiry Commons at www.appreciativeinquiry.case.edu.


At an individual level, a unique form of intelligence known as Appreciative Intelligence has been identified and is described as the ability to see the positive potential inherent in the present typified by three components: re-framing, appreciating the positive, and seeing how the future unfolds from the present. Framing is how we view a person, object, or scenario. A common example of framing is labeling a glass of water as half empty or half full. The water in the glass does not change, but our perspective does. Reframing allows you to shift your view of reality and can lead to new potential outcomes. Appreciating the positive is a process of selectively focusing on the positive value or worth in people, obstacles, products or events. Seeing how the future unfolds from the present follows as the natural third element of Appreciative Intelligence. Future direction flows from the new view of the present, made possible through reframing and appreciating the positive.

Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker in their book "Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn," provide powerful examples of appreciative intelligence. Asa Candler saw the potential for a top-selling soft drink (Coca-Cola) in a failing headache treatment. By reframing the use of their plastic materials, founder Bill Gore and his associates at W.L. Gore & Associates have innovated such disparate products as shred-resistant dental floss and cables that have gone to the moon. One of the most compelling stories is Rotary International’s 1979 decision to help eradicate polio. Rotarians began by reframing the situation as an organizational challenge rather than a medical challenge. They saw the possibility of a world without polio and leveraged Rotary’s established worldwide network of volunteers to reduce the incidence of worldwide polio by 99% in just 6 years! For additional information on this story visit Rotary at www.rotary.org.  

Take a few minutes today to look for opportunities to develop your appreciative intelligence. Practice re-framing, appreciate what is at the positive core, and discover new paths to future direction.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” - Voltaire

Gordon Parry is the President of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their full potential. In 2005, Gordon was one of 35 students selected globally to complete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.


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