3 scientific reasons why visiting an art museum can increase your happiness
A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology explains how consuming art in a museum can help you reduce stress, fight loneliness, and find meaning in life.
“I have always found art museums to be calming and engaging environments, so when I started to conduct research in psychology, I wanted to better understand people’s experiences with the arts and to visit art museums. “says psychologist Katherine Cotter of the University of Pennsylvania and co. – author of the new research. “Personally, I’ve always been restored after visiting an art museum, and as I’ve seen nurturing-oriented museum programs pop up, it felt natural to dig deeper and exploring the connections between art museums and fulfilment.”
Cotter’s study defines fulfillment as an umbrella term that includes two elements:
- Welfare refers to the inculcation of positive strengths, meanings and states. This includes cultivating positive relationships with others in your life, feeling positive emotions, or feeling engaged in your life and experiences.
- malaise refers to the presence of diseases, disorders and negative states.
According to Cotter, to look at one’s quality of life holistically, we need to consider both components of flourishing.
After a thorough review of the literature and an in-depth evaluation of art museum-based programs, Cotter and his team identified three major benefits we can derive from frequent visits to an art museum:
- It is an enriching experience. Visiting art museums stimulates positive emotions, promotes feelings of engagement resulting in a better quality of life.
- It reduces cortisol levels. Visiting an art museum can help us reduce stress because it immediately reduces the production of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) in our body.
- He fights isolation. Works of art as well as museum visitors can make us feel connected and less isolated. It can even lead to building a like-minded community.
While researchers are still looking for concrete explanations as to why art has this effect on our mental health, Cotter is developing a few hypotheses, listed here:
#1. Art museums help us feel immersed
Since an art museum is a space that we do not visit frequently, it is natural for us to feel transported to another world when we visit one.
“We risk losing track of time or finding ourselves engrossed in a particular work during our visit. In our day-to-day life, we probably don’t have these kinds of experiences too often, so in that sense, it makes the museum a unique space. Through these forms of immersion, we can stimulate our positive emotions or feel a little more alive,” says Cotter.
#2. Art museums help us to engage in reflection
Visiting a museum can also induce states of reflection and contemplation that allow us to think about ourselves and our lives differently, create new connections and expose ourselves to new perspectives.
“Because we’re able to disengage a bit from the outside world, our minds can take new paths and help us gain new perspectives,” Cotter says.
How to discover an art museum
If you’re someone who feels intimidated visiting an art museum, Cotter has this advice:
- Join a guided tour. Guided tours can help provide information on a range of artwork, but also provide tips or ideas on how to view the art.
- Don’t think about it too much. Cotter reminds us that there is no right or wrong way to look at art. Simply observe a work of art and ask yourself the following questions: Do you like the work of art? Why? Does it remind you of anything or make you feel certain emotions?
“A big part of appreciating art is being open to the experience and realizing that it’s okay if you don’t get a piece of art or find it confusing,” shares Cotter. “I go to the museum and it happens to me all the time. Going to the art museum does not require any knowledge of art or art history to have an enjoyable and meaningful visit.”
A full interview with Katherine Cotter discussing her new research on art museums and mental health can be found here: Is art the answer to our mental health problems?