The Aesthetics of Joy
Updated: Jun 16
It’s been a heavy couple of weeks.
The tragic death of George Floyd and the riots that spread cross-country added a couple tons of weight to the backpack of pandemic-o-rama gloom I was already trying to shake off my shoulders.
I know I’m not alone. These past two weeks my body wanted to just …. Lie Down. My eyes wanted to stay SHUT. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and I really wanted to take a nap late-morning, early-afternoon, mid-afternoon… you get it. Exhausted and sad. But what do I have to complain about? I'm a privileged white woman feeling guilty for feeling exhausted and sad. So many feelings. I certainly haven't felt like writing any blog posts. I certainly didn’t feel like writing about “the comforts of home” or “the magic of houses” when we’re all disturbed and grieving at our core.
I admit I did feel a bit better after I wrote and posted the “Cleanse” topic last week. It got me thinking about how happiness is connected to our energy level. The world needs change. BIG Change. And I want to help. And the truth is, I cannot assist in creating and activating any change whatsoever if I’m in bed under the covers all day.
“The Aesthetics of Joy” is a brand and company created by designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee. Looking at her website’s home page, we learn right away that her purpose is “to help you create more joy in life and work through design.”
Fetell Lee spent ten years researching the question “how do things make us feel joy? How do tangible things make us feel intangible joy?” The answers she uncovered are found in her book, “Joyful”. And on her website. And in her Instagram posts. And in her TED talks.
During those ten years of looking for joy, she uncovered a pattern that she has named ‘the aesthetics of joy’.
The pattern is: round things, pops of bright color, symmetrical shapes, a sense of abundance & multiplicity, a feeling of lightness or elevation. YES!!!!!!! We can access joy through aesthetics. We can access joy through design. YES!!!!!!!!!!
Our blog character Kate (my grandma) introduced me to my own personal life-altering reality that decorating a home can bring joy. Kate was like the Tazmanian Devil when it came to experiencing and expressing pure joy through her hobbies. There she was, always whirling and twirling about the house with a roll of wallpaper and paint brush in hand, leaving a trail of joy in her wake.
You could feel it. All that whirling and twirling with reckless abandon … it charges the air. You could feel it oozing from the walls. You could cut the creative energy in that house with a knife. You could feel the joy that immersing herself in a decorating project brought her. I know now that she was my first lesson in the joy of Design Delight – in the joy of aesthetics. Sigh. I love it so much.
Before I learned of Ingrid Fetell Lee and her work, I spent a year of my own searching for joy. I guess I was feeling fed up with routine and I needed a BOOST. I was traveling A LOT for business during that time, and one day I was strolling through another blah airport when I felt a jolt of *delight*. It was the bright green chairs in an otherwise boring sea of airportness that lifted my spirits. The spark reminded me how important it is for me to experience that kind of “design delight”. I need it. Underline, Underline, BOLD, italics. I NEEEEEEED IT. It feeds my soul. So I challenged myself to post a picture to my Instagram feed that evokes what I call “design delight” every single day for one year.
For 365 days beginning on January 16, 2018 I did just that.
AND GUESS WHAT. IT WAS A FUN YEAR!
I was on a treasure hunt every day for design delight! There was no rock left unturned that year, let me tell you. And some days it was a challenge finding it. But the hunt was half the fun. AND, by the end of the year, I was less shy about owning my need for pops of color and the joy of aesthetics.
You see, I’ve often felt SHY about it. I’ve often felt that it was weird.
Yes. I’ve always felt funny about it. I painted my kitchen cabinets. TURQUOISE. Who does that? How weird is it? I think it’s weird that my kitchen cabinets are turquoise. And I think it’s weird that we have a fuzzy turquoise fake deer head (a lime green one too) (with a wreath of peacock feathers around its neck no less) hanging on a wall in our living room. I also think it’s weird that I have a colorful yarn-wrapped moose displayed with great pride on the sideboard in that same room. And I think it’s weird that I hung an ENORMOUS photo of a colorful lifeguard hut on a beach in my kitchen. I think it’s weird that I need all the drawer pulls and cabinet knobs in my kitchen to be fun and unique and different from each other. I also think it’s weird that I have a spray-gold bust of a Greek god with a colorful scarf around his neck on my bedroom dresser.
But I need these things around me. I need them because they bring me joy.
So – I’ve been brave and I “take risks” and I do things like paint the kitchen cabinets turquoise without asking my husband how he would feel about that. I “take risks” like when I sneak the spray-gold bust (that made me squeal with delight when I spotted him in the antique shop) through the kitchen and up the stairs when no one is looking. I “take risks” and wrap the gorgeous scarf that my husband brought back for me from Asia around the spray-gold man and place him proudly on my dresser. I “take risks” and reply “It’s my spartan.” nonchalantly every time someone sees it for the first time and says, “Mom! What the heck is that!??!” I take all the risks because they feed my soul and if I don’t do it I will shrivel up and die.
You think I’m being dramatic. Ingrid Fettel Lee’s research points to the fact that the evolution of the human race needs the aesthetics of joy. We need it for survival. Well then, here’s the question: if this is true, then how did we end up in a world that looks like this?
Ingrid Fettel Lee and I would like to know. She poses the question along with the beige-blah pictures above during her first wildly popular TED Talk (linked above)
And there you have it. I suppose the reason I feel so WEIRD and silly about my colorful decorating choices is because that is not what our culture teaches us to do. We’re taught in beige schools to grow up and become beige worker bees in beige office buildings.
The not-for-profit organization ‘Publicolor’ paints all their schools colorfully. These schools report back that the colorful environment improves attendance, graffiti disappears, and the kids say they feel safer in the painted schools. Research also shows that people working in colorful offices are more confident, more alert and friendlier than those working in drab spaces. Read Fettel Lee’s book, “Joyful”. SO MUCH REINFORCING RESEARCH . Color is a sign of life, it is a sign of energy.
People come to my home and their eyes light up with a curious wonderment. “I love your home” they say slowly as their eyes linger on one of my weird décor choices. Or, “OH! I love this place!” they say with surprise. One lady said, “I can feel your soul in every inch of this house.” There’s something to that. I AM feeding my soul by expressing it in my environment. Unabashedly. And that’s the energy that charges the air and oozes from the walls here. That’s the feeling of curious wonder that strikes a chord.
This month’s blog theme is “Let’s Get Weird”. I chose the theme a while back because I really wanted to talk about the turquoise cabinets and the lime green deer head. But it’s so-so-so much bigger than that. I implore you: Trust your authentic design instincts and to hell with the messy consequences (there never are any – except maybe …. Pure Joy).