Designing Joy

HOW AESTHETICS CREATE FEEL GOOD MOMENTS (A LOT OF WHICH WE NEED RIGHT NOW) 

One of my neighbors last week dropped off a box of pastel colored outdoor chalk with a handwritten note. The note explained how chalk was used by the children in Italy to bring peace and happiness to those who needed it during this time of uncertainty. My three-year-old immediately recognized the chalk and demanded we go outside that very moment. We both have a love for rainbows so that is the first thing we drew together followed by some clouds, a sun, and our names. Drawing those objects with bright colors brought me back to my own childhood—when feelings of delight seemed to be in abundance. Every day since, I look down and step over the rainbow, sun, and clouds, and those same feelings of joy come over me.

I didn’t immediately recognize those feelings as joy, but on a recent Monday we watched a very timely TED Talk in our morning Zoom meeting titled “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It” by Ingrid Fetell Lee. I smiled as Lee immediately caught my eye wearing a dress in one of my favorite color combinations, red and purple. She starts off her talk by recalling her senior portfolio critique and the feedback she received from several years worth of effort was “Your work gives me a feeling of joy.” “Joy? Joy is nice, but it’s kind of light—not substantial.” This idea set her on a journey to understand the relationship between the physical world and mysterious emotion we call “joy”. What she discovered is that not only are they linked, but that the physical world can be a powerful resource to us in creating happier, healthier lives. 

Like you, I am spending my days at home managing my life in an uncertain future; running a business, entertaining, and homeschooling my kids while trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, and being overly cautious in all of my actions. It feels unrealistic to focus on the pursuit of overall happiness, but drawing and walking over chalk rainbows brings me joy—an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion. As psychologists explain, joy is different from happiness, which measures how good we feel over time. Joy is about feeling good in the moment, feeling good when life feels out of our control.

This week I have made an effort to notice objects and things around me that bring me joy. Things like the fresh flowers on my coffee table, the new VW electric bus I saw an ad for, the artwork hanging on my walls, the rainbow sprinkles on our ice cream cones, white clouds against the blue sky, pink frosted sugar cookies, artists I follow on instagram that use color and whimsy in their work. Like Lee, I too noticed that although feelings of joy are mysterious and elusive, I am able to access them through the tangible, physical aesthetics that surround me. While these observations may seem juvenile at first glance, if we hold ourselves back from the enjoyment of aesthetics in color, patterns, and symmetry, we might miss hidden opportunities of joy. 

This realization sent me on a crusade to create and design, for myself and my family, a space where moments of joy can happen often. We are wearing more color and making our beds. We are drawing, coloring, and creating art. I have a separate instagram account that is curated with artists, objects, and animals that make me smile. We are getting balloons when we pick up our groceries. There are more fresh flowers, bubble baths—I am intentionally putting us in the path of joy. 

Seeking and creating joy offers an alternative to seeking out “happiness” in our current state of affairs. Perhaps in several years when we reflect upon this time, the little moments might add up to more importance and significance. Because if we stop, seek, and create joy in our surroundings, we might see it’s already happening around us. And we all need to take notice of that right now.