Life in Five Senses Book Summary - Life in Five Senses Book explained in key points
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Life in Five Senses summary

Gretchen Rubin

How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World

4.2 (36 ratings)
18 mins
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    Life in Five Senses
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    Don’t just see – look

    The artist Andy Warhol once observed: “Nobody ever really looks at anything. It’s too hard.”

    Now, your first instinct might be to disagree with Warhol. Hang on Andy, you might think, I’m looking at a banana or a teaspoon or – insert whatever you’re looking at here – right now. But are you really looking? Are you paying attention to the brown spots and streaks splashed across the banana’s yellow skin? Or the blurred convex reflection in the teaspoon’s silver bowl?

    Most of us use our sight in a utilitarian way much of the time – we use it to negotiate a traffic crossing, weave through a crowd, or scan a supermarket for milk and eggs. We can become so focused on our visual objective that we miss what’s surprising and unexpected – how else did those Game of Thrones producers not notice that infamous Starbucks cup on the table in one of the fantasy drama’s tense final scenes?

    Luckily, you can learn to look – really look – instead of contenting yourself with seeing. Here are a few exercises to sharpen your sense of sight:

    Give yourself homework. The next time you go for a walk around your neighborhood, set yourself a challenge to notice three hats or find five diamond-shaped things.

    Stare into the face of someone you know well. Everything you see is actually filtered from your eyes and through your brain before you register it. Your brain spends a disproportionate amount of processing power on other people’s faces. That’s because faces are a trove of useful information. Notice this person’s expression – the arch of their eyebrows, the shape their mouth is held in. What does it tell you?

    Notice color. Did you know different languages label colors differently? For example, Pirahã speakers in the Brazilian Amazon only use “light” or “dark” to describe colors, while in Russian there are two different words for light blue and dark blue. What colors speak to you and how could you describe them? Mushroom gray? Frog-belly green? McDonald’s arches yellow?

    Make a point of looking at the same thing twice – or more! Pick a favorite sight – the view from a certain window at a certain time of day, for example – and revisit it over and over. What stays the same? What’s different?

    Finally, perhaps there’s something you’d like to spend less time looking at. It might be resting in your pocket or sitting beside you on the table right now. That’s right, I’m talking about your mobile phone. It’s specifically designed to be visually enticing. That’s why it’s so hard to put down. If you change it to grayscale you’ll soon find you spend way less time gazing down at a tiny screen – leaving you with more time to experience the magic of looking around.

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    What is Life in Five Senses about?

    Life in Five Senses (2023) is a meditation on how activating and exploring the five senses can lead to a richer, more meaningful engagement with life.

    Who should read Life in Five Senses?

    • Burned-out workers feeling disconnected from the world around them
    • Sensualists who want to sink deeper into exploring sensory pleasures
    • Anyone who’d like to look closer, hear better, smell sharper, taste more, and touch with intention

    About the Author

    Gretchen Rubin is a world-leading expert on happiness and human nature. Her internationally best-selling nonfiction titles include The Four Tendencies and The Happiness Project. She’s cohost of the popular podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.”

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