Beauty can be a double-edged sword. Even the most wondrous experiences can sometimes elicit melancholy. Why do beautiful things occasionally lead to sadness? Here are 15 potential reasons behind this bittersweet phenomenon:
1. Beautiful memories remind us of the passing of time.
Looking back on beautiful times that have gone by – like graduations, weddings, or vacations – can make us wistful. We’re reminded of how quickly life changes, which can be sad. A stunning wedding photo might bring joy at the memory itself but also a mournful sense of how fast time has passed.
2. Beauty highlights life’s impermanence.
When we experience incredible beauty, in nature or in art, it underscores that nothing lasts forever. We become aware that the beauty before us is transient, as are we. This realization of beauty’s and life’s impermanence can leave an ache in our hearts.
3. Beauty contrasts with darkness in the world.
When we see goodness clearly manifested in beauty, it throws the pain and problems of the world into sharp relief by contrast. A magnificent sunset distracts us briefly from sorrow or ugliness. But its end returns us to reality, somehow sharper than before. This juxtaposition can be mournful.
4. Beauty can remind us of what we’ve lost.
A stunning sunset might conjure warm memories of a loved one we’ve lost who used to watch them with us. Or seeing something remarkably beautiful can remind us of faded youth and health. Beautiful things revive these now-absent presences.
5. Beauty makes us conscious of our mortality.
Truly experiencing beauty can have an uplifting but also solemnizing effect, reminding us viscerally of the limits of our time here. We become aware that our chance to encounter such beauty is fleeting. This causes longing and sorrow.