reading on the road: joyful

New York City, January 7, 2019.

New York City, January 7, 2019.

Last week, I shared a selfie on Instagram, and talked about how I’ve noticed that the last year took a physical toll on me. I don’t know how noticeable the changes are to the outside world (although my sister-in-law could see it), but I can look at photographs of myself before Hurricane Harvey and after, and tell when they were taken without any other context. Because the change seems so sudden to me, I’m convinced it has less to do with naturally aging, and more to do with stress. And so this year, now that we’re back in our home, I’ve decided to do a little experiment: is it possible to reverse the toll of stress by taking mindful steps to reduce stress, improve health, and add joy?

So far, so good — I’ve been drinking more water, getting outside more, being still more. In 5 days, none of these things have become a habit — not even close — but we’ll see how it goes. But because I always try to take a book with me when I travel, this week I finished Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, and wow, am I inspired. The book explores why certain things bring us happiness — like sprinkles on ice cream cones, or rainbows, or polka dots, or flowers, or … you get the picture. She argues that there are 10 “aesthetics of joy”: energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration and renewal, and backs up her claim through personal anecdotes and conversations with renowned designers, architects, and even a magician.

Honestly, I raced through the book, and my four-hour flights — both going and returning — sped by. So I thought I’d share some of the passages that I underlined, because I think you’d enjoy this book too.

• As we look up or rise above the ground plane, the shadows recede, and we begin to enter a world of light. In this way, light becomes an aesthetic not only of energy but also of transcendence.

• At the heart of celebration is a kind of mathematical paradox: the more we share joy, the more it grows. … Because the more generous we are with our joy, the more we have for ourselves.

• People who regularly celebrate positive events with others are happier than those who keep their good news to themselves; and couples who celebrate each other’s good news are happier in their relationships.

• As Julia Child famously said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.”

• Ruth Lande Shuman, the founder of the nonprofit Publicolor, which paints New York City schools with vibrant hues, put it this way: “I think many of us hide behind an idea of good taste,” she said, “because we’re afraid to really be ourselves.” … While good taste wants things simple and normal, joy thrives out on the edges of the bell curve.

• [America’s first interior decorator Dorothy] Draper urged women to think of their homes as places of delight and fantasy. She advocated for ignoring popular opinion and for feeling, rather than thinking, your way through the process of creating a home.

• You have a whole world of joy right at your fingertips. There’s no method you need to learn, no discipline you need to impose on yourself. The only requirement is what you already have: an openness to discovering the joy that surrounds you.

I so loved this book — and now I’m energized to see how I can infuse my home, workspace and even my clothing with elements of joy, at least in service of my year-long quest and experiment to reverse the effects of stress. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(Incidentally, her 2018 TED talk is equally wonderful. Click here or on the image below to watch.)