Prisms, rain chimes, textured pillows, the Fete de la Musique in Paris and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Any guesses what these all have in common?
They’re all examples of things that bring joy which Ingrid Fetell describes in her book Joyful, the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness. As the former design director at global innovation firm IDEO (who Steve Jobs tasked with inventing the mouse), she knows a thing or two about design. What she came to learn, after prioritizing design for form and function, was that we can deliberately design our environments to spark joy.
Stop the presses. This is momentous.
The idea that our physical surroundings can be proactively designed to spark joy is, well, joyful! Can I get a high five?!
Fetell writes that we have a history of denying and detaching from joy. Think about the saying ‘put your nose to the grindstone.’ If that’s not a metaphor for blood (literally), sweat and tears, aka the opposite of joy, I don’t know what is.
Joy is all around us and we can dip into it at any time.
(And yes I completely acknowledge that that is easier for some than others especially when power and privileges are added to the mix. But still, she’s onto something incredibly powerful.)
Fetell traveled the globe researching her book and come up with 10 joy aesthetics.
Think of each aesthetic below as a sub-category of joy or an individual ticket to joy if you will.
- Energy; which includes things like colour and light
- Senses; we should be feeding our senses, including seeing food as sensory not just nutritious
- Freedom; Fetell cites research saying we are biologically programmed through our evolutionary history towards reacting joyfully to the acacia tree savannahs of East Africa (which yeah!, is where I live) and similar wide open spaces
- Harmony; can you give me an ohhhhhm. Harmony is about flow, symmetry, and things organized neatly.
- Play; babies are born with brains 23% of their eventual size. As someone who is about to be an empty nester, that’s a whole lotta caretaking that ensues. To help keep us engaged we are programmed to respond to playful, cuteness factors (such as baby’s larger, round eyes). It’s not just humans. Mother birds feed fake baby birds more when their beaks are cuter (in this case redder and wider).
- Surprise; joy can be found in surprise and delight, in hide and reveal. Think treasure hunts and surprise parties.
- Transcendence; the joy in transcendence pulls us up and out of ourselves, towards awe. (Ironically Fetell points out our mobile devices do the opposite, they pull our heads down).
- Magic; joy is to be found in magic and wonder. Fetell even travels to Iceland for her research and finds out 50% of the population believes in elves.
- Celebration; celebration is about social, inclusive delight, and not just for humans. Elephants, chimps and wolves all celebrate. Music often plays a role in celebration (we sit 12% closer when music playing; it synchronizes our brains and heart rate, and makes us more likely to help, and cooperate).
- Renewal; Fetell describes how necessary renewal is to spark joy, that time moves not just in lines but also in (renewable) loops. As someone living in Africa, I can really relate to the different ways time is dealt with here and other places, for example, she describes how the Japanese have 72 seasons. Yes, 72! How renewing is that?
Apart from all the delightful stories she tells from around the world, of various wildly creative ways to spark joy, my favourite part of the book is her Joyful toolkit.
How to use the joyful toolkit:
- Simply keep track of what sparks joy for you.
- Use those examples to figure out, from the 10 joy aesthetics above, which you’re drawn to
- Then deliberately draw those aesthetics into your environments and even your events.
I don’t know about you but that leaves me feeling pretty joyful.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead.
Fetell talks about hedonic adaptation in her book (aka when we become numb to our environments). See how I used that in “What I learned from visiting the pearly gates.”
Children are often a source of unfettered, unrestrained joy. Check out this lovey joyful video and celebrate great truths from little people.
Check out her book and use the Joyful Toolkit. Keep track of when joy is sparked for you and determine which of the 10 aesthetics you’re most drawn to and then amplify those in your environments, such as your home and office and the next event you’re planning (like a birthday or a party).