Drive Your Own Delight: Q&A with Joy Seeker Ingrid Fetell Lee

“We are the architects of our own delight, the makers of our own luck.”

– Ingrid Fetell Lee

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Photo by Jelena Aleksich / The Confetti Project

Joy is a funny thing. It is gratifying to nearly everyone and yet it is rarely sought after. In contrast to happiness, which is so strived for that it has become commercialized, joy is simply a feeling or sensation, much like a fit of laughter, that we are lucky to experience.

Joy is powerful. It can heal; it can reduce stress; it’s even great for business. As makers of our own luck, joy is actually something we can design for. But how?

To start, you need to adopt a joy-seeking mindset. Decide that joy is something you want to experience more of, and you will begin to partake in delightful moments.

A person exists in the world who is so entranced by joy and the effects it has on overall wellbeing that she has dedicated her life’s work to finding, promoting, and spreading it. Her name is Ingrid Fetell Lee, and she is the woman behind the popular blog, The Aesthetics of Joy. Her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, reveals her groundbreaking research, which identifies how making small changes to surroundings in your life can bring you great joy. The small changes are simple, practical, and quite literally life-changing.

We had a chance to chat with Ingrid over the phone about how to bring joy into the workplace, why it can be a challenging emotion for men, and the most joyful place she’s ever been.

What is your Desire?

Finding and creating joy and helping others find ways to create more joy in their everyday lives.

In your experience, do men reject joy more than women? How do you connect men with joy?

I think women are more self-censoring and aware of societal pressures to temp down their joy. As women we think, oh I’d love to wear that colorful coat. Then we think, but it’s too gaudy, I can’t wear that, it’s too much. We naturally hold ourselves back. With men, I think it goes deeper because joy and its aesthetics are often associated with femininity. If you’re a woman, you don’t get taken seriously if you exhibit too much joy. But if you’re a man, you get treated almost as if you’re effeminate. Both genders face societal’s repression of joy — it just takes different forms. I follow middle school educator, and she said that second grade is when boys stop feeling safe expressing their emotions, and joy is one of those emotions. It’s not just that society says men can’t express their fear, sadness, or disappointment — they’re also not allowed to express joy. How do we find our way out of this? The question should be, how do we as a society begin to acknowledge joy? At the core of creating joy for me is giving people permission to feel and experience it, and changing the place joy holds in our culture.

What is one of the most joyful places you’ve visited?

Iceland. It had such a sense of magic because of its extreme landscape. You find yourself consistently surprised by things, like the way steam comes out of a frozen lava field. Or a waterfall. So much mist comes up off the waterfall that pretty much any time the sun shines on it there’s a rainbow. Or the northern lights, for a large part of the winter you have these magnetic disturbances that are ethereal and wondrous overhead. I think for those of us who live in more ordinary kinds of environments where we don’t have those natural forces happening all the time, an environment like this can wake us up to joy. It certainly woke me up to joy.

Photo by Nuno Antunes on Unsplash

“Steam wafts from snow-covered fields. Milky salt pools appear in the middle of nowhere, and double rainbows span vast waterfalls that run white with force.”

– Ingrid Fetell Lee on Iceland’s wild terrain

You have such a vibrant personality. If you were a color, which would you be?

This is cheating but if I could be any color I would be iridescent because it changes with the light and the direction you view it from. I like the idea of being multifaceted and uncovering different sides of yourself.

What are you reading?

One thing I’m reading right now is the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, written by friends of mine, Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien. It’s a really great look at why we often treat emotions as something that shouldn’t belong in the workplace and how we can start to understand the different kinds of emotions that emerge in the course of work. It’s fun, too, because it has lots of cartoons (Liz is an illustrator) and it’s really clever.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is pattern spotting. I can look at disparate pieces of information across disparate fields, bring them together and start to see a pattern. That’s at the core of my work – seeing similarities across a range of disciplines.

How can individuals to bring delight to their workspace?

  1. Add a pop of color. It can be as simple as a mug on your desk, just bring some form of vibrancy into your space. So many spaces are dull and gray, but research shows people working in brighter work environments are more alert than those in drab spaces. It can make a difference beyond just picking up spirits.
  2. Bring in nature. Research shows that plants decrease stress, restore our ability to concentrate and focus, and may even make us more generous. The changes in behavior that come with the presence of plants are powerful.
  3. Have something playful at your desk. Something playful can change the feel of the space and set a tone for the kinds of interactions that take place. I keep spinning tops on my desk. At home I keep a mini Jenga set on my coffee table. Every time my husband and I walk by we move a piece. It’s something that engages people in the act of play.

According to Ingrid, we are the architects of our own delight, and the ways in which we can create more joy in our lives are limitless. If joy is something you’re interested in feeling more often, we suggest you start small. Do any one of Ingrid’s three suggestions above. Take on the mindset of joy, and bright colors will reveal themselves to you, upbeat tempos will play for you, and joyful people will attract themselves to you.

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