Kat, etching by Marcel Schellekens (Ann’s Art Gallery)
Like nearly everyone, there are periods in my life where feeling happy seems like the hardest thing in the world to me. When I’m lucky, these only last a few days or hours instead of weeks or months. No matter how long they actually last, what always helps me is romanticising my entire life. If I can appreciate all the little things around me, it is easier to start appreciating life in general again; in any case, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be able to take pleasure in the small things. Once you’re in the practice of romanticising things, it doesn’t take very long until you’re actually looking forward to the little things that you previously didn’t really appreciate or even notice.
The original source of inspiration for me to start romanticising life were the movies from Studio Ghibli. This is a Japanese animation studio best known for its animated films. Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder and one of the most prominent filmmakers for the studio, especially focuses his work on re-instilling the sense of wonder that has been lost in young people through living in a materialistic world- a sentiment that I agree with, and his movies have helped me regain some of that enchantment with the world. Many of these films romanticise aspects of a regular life, even if there are fantastical elements to the world it takes place in. For example, in Howl’s Moving Castle, there are many scenes romanticising simple life and the world in general, even if the plot around it is filled with action. The main character, Sophie, spends a good portion of the movie cleaning the house and completing necessary tasks such as hanging the laundry out and buying groceries at the market. For me it’s usually very hard to begin these kinds of chores but watching the characters enjoy it and seeing it so beautifully animated almost makes it impossible not to romanticise doing it. Also, one of the most beloved scenes in the movie is that of the main characters preparing and eating breakfast. Working together to prepare eggs and bacon; setting the table; then enjoying a breakfast that looks heavenly despite its simplicity, made to look all the more appetising by the smooth cuts of bread: all these little things motivate me to enjoy things such as my own breakfast more, too.
When observing my own life and actions through the eyes of an audience watching a movie, it is easier to pick apart the smaller things that I would appreciate while watching it myself. In that way, something as simple as my cat purring on the couch next to me or a particularly well-brewed tea can bring me joy where it might otherwise escape my notice or immediately slip my mind. The best scenarios are when something that otherwise might have annoyed me are instead transformed into something lovely. For example, the bus driver waiting a bit longer for someone running to catch it or a group of friends being a little too loud in a public space; it is easier to see how I’d enjoy it in a movie, but it also helps me to put myself into someone else’s shoes. I would have been really glad if the bus waited on me rather than leaving me to wait in the rain, and I have certainly stopped paying attention to the volume of my own voice and laughter when having fun with my friends.
Another aspect of my life that romanticisation has helped me with is the improvement of my self-image. By imagining myself as a character in a movie or a book, I can see myself as imperfect but not any less pretty because of it. Honestly, I rather appreciate it when a character isn’t flawlessly beautiful. It lets me disregard my stretch marks or body hair as something natural instead of something to be ashamed of; it is only a result of my body growing and trying to protect me. In any case, it makes me appreciate the parts of me that I was impartial to before: the small beauty marks on my face and the bigger ones scattered over my body; the freckles I get during summer; the brown eyes that I used to want to trade for blue or green. Through romanticising everything about myself, I have become my own body’s biggest fan, even if it is hard to believe in it sometimes.
However, my romanticisation is not only focused on myself and my own life. Someone holding a bouquet of roses on the train can make my day: they most likely are either on their way to surprise someone with it, or have been gifted the flowers themselves. Humanity in general is a very easy object for romanticisation. No matter how cynical we’re becoming about ourselves and the state of the world, we are filled with wonderful little quirks and habits that make us a not entirely terrible species just yet. Yes, people often seem selfish and greedy on a surface level but it is usually the case of a few rotten apples spoiling the bunch: bad actions tend to get far more publicity than good ones. Days are filled with people helping each other in small ways: lending a pencil to a classmate you’ve otherwise never spoken to, or complimenting a complete stranger in the hallway on their outfit or hair can be more meaningful to someone than you know. Even the things we do that aren’t altruistic can be romanticised to make them beautiful. From a detached point of view, unabsorbed in our culture, it is adorable that we decorate our home with things that serve no purpose except making us happy, or that we try to befriend random animals on the street that we come across, or that we adopt those animals and build a stronger friendship with them. Did you know that our noses are around 200.000 times more sensitive to geosmin, the source of petrichor, than a shark’s is to the scent of blood in water? As far as we know, we are the only species that can enjoy the scent of earth after rain this well; kind of incredible, if you think about it.
Of course, the world itself is also a beautiful thing and romanticising your surroundings is a good way to get yourself to get out a little more, something that certainly also helps against feeling depressed (especially if you also romanticise yourself taking these walks). The changing colours of the leaves in autumn, the feeling of the breeze in your hair during winter, the new life emerging in spring, and the smell of the earth after a summer storm are only a few examples of all the things in nature that pass by far too quickly if you’re not consciously paying attention to it. Even if you live in the middle of a city, there are still beautiful things to appreciate all around you: the colour of the sky or shapes in the clouds; the few weeds still stubbornly growing through the cracks in the pavement; or of course the other people passing by you on the street, caught up in their own vivid lives. Beauty and romance can be found in everything around you, if only you take the time to look.
Written by Merel Langeveld