The magic of the moment

Un bol de prunes (Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, 1699-1779)

Un bol de prunes (Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, 1699-1779)

The magic of the moment by Jean-Claude Kaufmann

There’s so much going on behind the scenes in the word « well-being. » A huge sensory revolution that draws us in – and we’re not always totally aware of what’s happening!

A well-being revolution
Forget the one-dimension, easily quantifiable version of happiness from the Sixties that was particularly physically orientated. Well-being is a deeply existential and endless search, as the word itself indicates when the penny drops and you hear it correctly as ‘being well’. The desire for well-being compels the individual to actively seek out a concrete and palpable version of happiness, a modern quest of the Holy Grail that is, sadly, often too elusive. Well-being is happiness encapsulated right in the moment, the patient accumulation of endless tiny pleasures resulting from the smallest of gestures such as admiring a beautiful decorative item or touching a silly object. This new quest involves a metamorphosis of every aspect of our daily lives, mechanical buttons are replaced by the tactile touch of digital controls, even the sweep of a sponge can be less abrasive than at first thought and subtly generate pleasant sensations. For this new art involves turning dust into gold dust and delighting the senses with scent, colour and a touch that caresses. And no more so than in the home, this little world within a world, that we dream of being full of beauty and relaxing comfort. The home environment is first and foremost a sensory envelope.

New culture of the senses
We can delve further and further in to our perception of well-being and discover new dimensions of this happiness that has actually been experienced at any moment. And that’s because this particular experience is based on our sensations – letting the work of the five senses gradually spread their wings. Experimental psychological research has demonstrated for example that the eye is capable of capturing the information within an image in a fraction of a second faster than a few years ago. And the same goes for hearing, taste and touch. Moreover, we are becoming increasingly skilful at enjoying tiny sensations that were barely perceived before and triggered nothing. It has somehow become the most common art of our time: knowing how to transform the ordinary into something special, creating a little magic in the moment courtesy of our senses.


Jean-Claude Kaufmann, sociologist and research director at CNRS (the French national research centre), is the author of the book La chaleur du foyer (Méridiens-Klincksieck).