Mental Health Benefits of Visiting a Museum: What is Positive Psychology?

When was the last time you took a trip to a museum? If it’s been a while, you might want to consider making a trip soon – especially if you’re looking for ways to boost your mental health and overall well-being. According to recent research, art museums can provide a range of benefits that promote human flourishing.

In this blog post, I will take a closer look at what positive psychology is and how visiting a museum can help put you on the path to happiness and success!

What is positive psychology?

In short, positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life worth living. This includes everything from our individual strengths and virtues to the ways we can create fulfilling relationships and work lives.

In other words, positive psychology is all about finding what works for you – and using that knowledge to build a life that you love.

The impact of museum visits on our mental health

So how can visiting a museum help you? Researchers from the Humanities and Human Flourishing Project in the Positive Psychology Center at Penn have found that visiting art museums can lead to wide-ranging benefits to mental health.

In a paper published in The Journal of Positive Psychology – Art museums as institutions for human flourishing – they write that “art museums are institutions for human flourishing, offering opportunities for the kinds of experiences that can lead to increased happiness and well-being.”

There are many behaviors and activities that people can engage in to benefit their personal flourishing. Visiting art museums, a popular leisure activity (National Endowment for the Arts, 2013, 2018; Sharpe & Da Silva, 2020), is one such activity that has been shown to have positive effects for both ill-being and well-being factors at the individual level. Benefits at the community or collective level seem promising but have yet to be thoroughly examined. Positive individual effects appear to occur both in self-directed visiting contexts (i.e., under normal conditions of a visit; Grossi et al., 2019; Mastandrea et al.,2019) as well as when participating in specialized programming to benefit a range of flourishing outcomes (e.g. loneliness, quality of life in people with dementia; Roe et al., 2016; Rosenberg et al., 2009).

Art Museums as Institutions for Human Flourishing

Some of the specific benefits the researchers mention in the paper include:

  • Improved mental health
  • Increased self-esteem and life satisfaction
  • A sense of belonging and social connectedness
  • Enhanced creativity and imagination
  • Greater knowledge and understanding of the world
  • A sense of calm and relaxation

The arts and humanities help us weather the storms of life, but more than that, they can help guide us to new possibilities as we imagine and create more fulfilling lives and thriving communities.

Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania

I am convinced that in the twenty-first century, culture will be to health what sports were in the twentieth
century: cultural experiences will be seen to contribute to our well-being the same way sports do to our physical conditioning.

Nathalie Bondil, Institut du Monde Arabe

Museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide opportunities for people to understand and celebrate
who they are, were, and might be.

Jeffrey K. Smith, University of Otago

Final thoughts on the mental health benefits of visiting an art museum

All of these benefits are important for our overall health and well-being. And the best part is, you don’t have to be an art expert to reap the rewards of visiting a museum! Whether you’re looking for a mental health boost, a dose of creativity, or just a fun afternoon out, there’s a museum out there waiting for you.

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