Romanticizing Life: How People Seek to Appreciate the Simple of Everyday Life

by

The New York Times

On YouTube, a Utah filmmaker tans in the morning sun, enjoys a freshly baked croissant and sprays lemon scent on a bedspread decorated with pink roses. Her videos, a cozy escape into a simple world, are inspired by “Anne of Green Gables”, the Jane Austen novels and the period drama “Bridgerton”, and offer tips on “how to be happier and appreciate things little ones in life”.

Others use TikTok to promote more enjoyable breakfast routines, and encourage the purchase of flower bouquets and the practice of gratitude. Rachel Hess, 21, a content creator on the app, uses a rolling pin to crush eucalyptus leaves and then hangs them in the shower, in a video that has been watched by 6.8 million people. “Romantize suuuuua vidaaaaa”, reads the caption.

“I want to make even the most mundane of days feel unique, because days like these make up most of our lives — not the holidays, or the special events that come along just once in a while,” said Hess, a Pennsylvania university student. .

Over the past two years, the phrase “romanticize your life” has emerged on social media as a call to action, and gained popularity during some of the darkest months of the pandemic. The motto asks us to appreciate what we have right in front of us, and to live with intention, no matter how banal our everyday rituals may be – a reminder that we must always be on the lookout for moments of beauty, and embrace minimalism.

Videos with the hashtag #romanticizeyourlife, the overwhelming majority of which were posted by young women, have been watched over 525 million times on TikTok. There are also more than 28,000 posts referring to the phrase on Instagram, accompanied by images that include waterside twilights, dinners served with elegant dinnerware and delicate cups of tea.

While some of the content is clearly aspirational — not everyone can take a quick trip to Italy or escape to a flowery field in dainty spring clothes — most videos reject the kind of message that drives people to acquire material things. And they also renounce the “that girl” aesthetic, which promotes a unique path to wellness, filled with green juices, journals and exercise.

One commenter on Reddit said he found joy even in washing coffee pots in the office. “After I put some detergent in the teapot, I slightly squeeze the package to create soap bubbles,” the user wrote in a comment about romanticizing life. “I love soap bubbles.”

Another Reddit commenter wrote that “I buy celebratory paper plates at the $1.99 store and use them to eat when I want to feel festive. They all have drawings of the different holidays, or mermaids, robots, weddings, or sayings like ‘it’s a boy’. I’m moved”.

On a YouTube channel called Malama Life, a lifestyle blogger based in Hawaii watches birds outside her window, waters her plants and slices her favorite fruits for breakfast. “That gives me reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Experts say the tendency to romanticize may have endured in part because it’s a new way of exploring “mindfulness”—the practice of paying attention to the present moment and becoming aware of physical sensations, thoughts and emotions in a non-censoring way. The practice also offers a sense of power, of control, which is sorely lacking while the pandemic persists.

“It’s the practice of being positive about what life has to offer, regardless of whether the circumstances are what you imagined or wished for,” said Ashley Ward, 26, whose 2020 TikTok video about romanticizing life has been watched more than three times. millions of times. “You can’t control everything in life, but each person has control over how they see the situation they’re in.”

Jake Cohen, 28, a cookbook author whose video of avocado toast has been watched nearly 400,000 times on TikTok, said romanticizing “is finding meditations in our daily rituals.”

Some people might consider the practice “fancy and pointless,” he added, “but if I want to romanticize my avocado toast or my unleavened bread, that’s my business, it’s my way of bringing more beauty into my routine.”

The trend draws wisdom from different domains such as mindfulness, positive psychology and the Danish custom of hygge, “but it’s being presented in a fresh and engaging way,” said Eric Loucks, associate professor of epidemiology, social science. and behavioral science at Brown University, and director of its Mindfulness Center.

Loucks’ research and his latest book, “The Mindful College Student,” illustrate how mindfulness can reduce stress and symptoms of depression, and improve sleep quality and physical activity levels. “Romanticizing your life” intertwines with “mindfulness,” he added, in part by helping us find a better attunement to ourselves.

“If we’re trying to build a life that makes us happy and that puts us at the center in a loving way, well, each of us is different,” he said. “Which methods resonate the most? This is a form of self-awareness.”

Intertwined with the online conversation about “romanticizing life” is the “main character” trend – videos with the hashtag #maincharacter have already received 6.9 billion hits on TikTok, and a spin-off trend, that of “main character energy”, also has many adherents.

The meme about the main character has spawned numerous parodies, which poke fun at cinematic clichés and narcissism. It’s “a fun way to downplay some of the crappy stuff that people romanticize,” Ward said. But “being the main character” has also become a heartfelt reminder that one needs to let one’s actions drive the narrative, much like a protagonist in a movie would.

In Ward’s video for TikTok, the camera is positioned high up, facing a beach where she appears reclining on a towel. The shot taken from above conveys that she is the main character, and the simplicity of the images allows her frank voice to occupy a central position.

“You need to start romanticizing your life,” the narrative begins. “You need to start thinking of yourself as the main character. Because if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by. And all the little things that make you so beautiful will go unnoticed. So take a short break and look around. around you, and realize what a blessing it is for you to be where you are right now.”

The audio of her video was used by numerous other content creators such as Angela Liguori, influencer and travel photographer, who combined the sound with a montage of images from the faraway places she visits.

“A main character has a full sense of agency, and what the pandemic took away from us was exactly that sense of agency,” said psychologist Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who researches the relationship between being human and technology.

Becoming the main character is also a way to create a more authentic self, and to make room for who you are, Turkle added. “I think there is a convergence between wanting more intensely to find an identity – in the midst of our isolation – and asserting our individuality,” she said.

Livia Boerger, a mental wellness coach in London, has written about the many ways people can romanticize their lives, and on her website offers a 28-day challenge to “help celebrate the idea of ​​living for minor reasons, and to fall in love with life again”.

During the pandemic, she said, many people were “looking for ways to create joy and to find that joy within themselves, and to make the most of what each of us has.”

Which can also lead to a broader question: what truly brings us happiness? Expensive vacation or a new outfit? Or should we stop waiting for those perfect moments and start enjoying the present?

“There’s a lot of joy to be found in free stuff,” Boerger said. Playing with children in the rain, for example. Or take a break to enjoy a cup of tea, instead of continuing to work while drinking. “It tastes so much better when your focus is on the tea,” she said.

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