Number 7 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how art makes us happier and more satisfied with our lives…

The difference the arts make to our wellbeing have long been understood, and more importantly felt, by those engaging with arts practices, dedicating their lives to participation and engagement with this diverse field of creativity.

Research is beginning to affirm these understandings, demonstrating that arts are clearly associated with wellbeing and good health.

Of course, what makes people happy and satisfied with their lives is subjective, specific to each individual and their tastes. Yet in a 2010 study of 1,500 people, cultural experiences such as theatre, concert and gallery/museum visits, was the second most important determinant of psychological wellbeing. It was second only to the incidence of disease.

Cultural experiences were seen as more important than factors such as job, income and education. This seriously suggests that the link between art and happiness is true for many more people than just those who consider themselves to be ‘arty’.

A review of the current literature and research available suggests that arts and cultural participation improves self-reported happiness and life satisfaction. There is a growing movement within the academic and literary fields to help people understand how art can influence happiness.

Art is magic.

Bridget Watson Payne

Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy and Bridget Watson Payne’s How Art Can Make You Happy are prime examples of how we can let go of the traditional notions of art as elite and exclusive, to connect with it on a personal level. As Watson Payne says, “art is magic”.

Further to this, researchers at University College London, have conducted a series of brain-mapping experiments, led by neurobiologist Professor Semir Zeki. During the experiment, volunteers underwent brain scanning whilst viewing a series of 28 pieces of art.

The scans show that viewing art triggered a surge of dopamine, the happy chemical, into the brain, which results in feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It appeared that the reaction was almost immediate, in that when looking at things we consider to be beautiful, activity in the pleasure reward centre of the brain is increased.

Research such as this highlights the key role that the arts can play in increasing the wellbeing, satisfaction and happiness of us all.

This weekend is the perfect time to organise a trip to an exhibition. You don’t have to miss out on the sun either. Why not head to the Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, or the Serpentine Pavilion and London Mastaba in Hyde Park?

And for those who are confined to healthcare at the moment, don’t worry. If you don’t already have wonderful art nearby, let us know by nominating your care site. We’ll get in touch with them and see what we can do about it!

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