Why drawing beautiful moments makes you happier

Experiencing many beautiful moments is good for your level of happiness. The more beautiful moments you experience the happier you are. These moments don’t all have to be new. Reliving moments, like you do when you draw a beautiful moment, also works. Reliving the experience can bring joy and comfort at the times we need them most. The more vivid the memory, the bigger the impact on happiness. Reliving and savouring a positive experience repeatedly helps you retain the positive emotions associated with the memory and increases your happiness. Research shows the more time people spent remembering happy events, the more they feel equipped to enjoy their lives (1).

Drawing is one of the best ways to cherish moments, to register and relive them. You could also write about the moments, but it isn’t as beneficial. Several studies have shown good results when people write down their good experiences (2), but there’s also research suggesting that writing down good moments can have negative effects on your happiness level: writing can lead to the systematic analysis of the experience, rather than just letting you relive it.
Drawing, however, always works. Drawing engages the senses in a way that does not lead to step-by-step analysis and diagnosis (3). If you draw a moment, you remember what the moment looked like and you most likely also engage your other senses: you recall smells, sounds and feelings. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pencil artist or you just draw stick figures. Either way you relive the moment, and that makes you happier.
You’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of noticing something more often if you’re concentrating on it, like being struck by how many learner cars are on the road when you’re having driving lessons. The same thing happens if you decide to draw beautiful moments. If you come across a beautiful moment, you think ‘Hey, that’s one,’ or ‘Awesome, I’m gonna draw that later.’ In this way you teach yourself to recognize beautiful moments, so you notice and experience more of them.
But you don’t only have more beautiful moments, drawing them helps you experience them more intensely too. You can relish them more. Being able to appreciate these moments is one of the most important elements of happiness. People who are good at savouring the present moment have more self-confidence, are more extravert, more satisfied and less desperate and neurotic.6 People who are good at enjoying the present are less prone to depression, stress and feelings of guilt and shame.5

How can drawing help you enjoy the now more? Firstly, you notice the beautiful moments more, so you can realise what you’re experiencing at that moment. Secondly, the drawing helps you do this. During the drawing you recollect how the moment looked, smelled and felt – you need these details to recreate the moment in a drawing. When you notice a beautiful moment and know you want to draw it later, you pay better attention to soak up the details of that moment; this helps you can savour your experience more.

1) Bryant, F.B., Smart, C.M., & King, S.P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 227-260.
2) For example. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T.a., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60 410-421.
3) Personal commuication with Sonja Lyobomirsky.

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3 years ago

I like what you said about how drawing engages your senses without leading to analysis and diagnosis, which can dampen a happy memory. This article made me think about my little boys. They are always drawing happy pictures of the things they love. I think I could learn a lot from them, but just drawing doesn’t engage me as much anymore because I’d rather push myself a little more to be better. I think in this case getting some drawing lessons would help me make this a habit.

janne willems

3 years ago

Hi Daniel, Thank you so much for sharing this. I love how your little boys inspire you.

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