The Joy Effect: Why You Should Stop Chasing Happiness and Start Recognizing Joy

Ingrid Fetell Lee at Studio/E

Though happiness is a highly sought-after state of being, it is difficult to pin down and measure and it’s a long-term process to achieve. But joy? It’s immediate and easily identifiable. Joy is when you unconsciously smile because you see a cute puppy or you shed a few tears while watching a video of a father on duty reuniting with his daughter. It is when you spot a rainbow after a storm or grab coffee with an old friend.

The capacity to experience joy is buried within us all. As children, joy used to run rampant throughout our lives, dictating our decisions and our reason for being. Why else were we alive if not to build forts and play hopscotch? But the propensity to experience joy dissipates with age because we begin to realize that our actions now affect our outcomes later, therefore we spend a lot of time (often too much time) worried about tomorrow when all we really have is today.

Joy is about doing something right now for no reason other than momentary delight. What’s great, though, is that while joy is about the present moment, over time it can contribute to overall happiness.

We recently had an event all about joy with Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of the popular blog Aesthetics of Joy and the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Objects to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Ingrid’s work reveals how making small changes to physical surroundings in your life can bring you great joy. While auditing our own surroundings and the joy they bring us, it got us thinking: where did joy go and how can we bring it back?

When we focus on happiness, we overlook joy. When we focus on joy, happiness finds us.”

– Ingrid Fetell Lee

What happened to joy?

In an interview with Ingrid, she referenced a middle school teacher who said that second grade is the age when boys begin to feel they need to stop sharing their emotions. One of those emotions is joy, and it’s being squashed out of boys at that impressionable age. Not only that, but expressing joy is typically looked at as a female trait, making it even more difficult for men to embrace. Ingrid said that in her experience, men have a harder time connecting with joy. In our patriarchal society, men come off as effeminate or weak if they express joy. Meanwhile for women, expressing joy can give off a youthful and unserious vibe.

In this article, Ingrid says that many small joys, particularly those enjoyed by women like flowers or home decor items, are seen markers of being superficial or self-indulgent. It’s almost like there’s a stigma around joy, as if by expressing it, you are not thinking about your future.

How can we make joy important again?

If accumulated joy leads to happiness over time, and if experiencing joy is a delightful feeling for everyone involved, then why not bring it back to the forefront of our culture? Ingrid’s Desire is to help others find ways to create more joy in their everyday lives. We love this idea, so we came up with a list of small ways to start changing the place joy holds in our world:

  1. Prioritize it. Give yourself permission to experience joy every single day. For many of us, that might require giving yourself nudges like post-it notes on your desk or even a small block of time on your calendar. If you need an accountability tool, check this one out.
  2. Surprise people. Surprise is one of the 10 aesthetics of joy and it can be procured in a number of ways. From a slight deviation in an otherwise harmonious pattern (like one circle in a sea of squares) to an encouraging hand-written note to a coworker, little surprises are a simple way to promote joy for yourself and others.
  3. Wear it on your sleeve. You can easily brighten your atmosphere with pops of color (this is especially effective in wintertime, when the default is to wear colors that match the weather). If bright colors aren’t your thing, consider idea #2 and incorporate a small element of surprise into your outfit, like patterned socks or shoes.
  4. Play like a child. Kids know joy like adults know work. Observe some kids in their element, then follow suit. Not only will watching them bring you joy (who doesn’t smile when they hear a child laugh?), but it will remind you that you, too, are capable of experiencing it. You were a kid once.
  5. Identify it. Using the hashtag #joyspotting, Ingrid fills her Instagram feed with designs and colors she comes across that bring her joy. Others have joined in on the movement too, demystifying the sensation and promoting the recognition of it. Joy is contagious, so help Ingrid identify it by using her hashtag.
  6. Laugh. Laughter is not only fun, but it enhances your intake of oxygen and increases the endorphins released by your brain, according to Mayo Clinic. Plus, it’s equally as contagious as joy, and it sends the message that joy is welcome here.
  7. Talk about it. Ask people, men included, when they last felt joy, where it came from, and how they intend to experience it more often. Encouraging conversation can make joy more familiar to people.

This list of ideas isn’t going to bring joy back to the forefront of our culture right away. But the hope is that we can enroll you — and you can in turn enroll others — into the these ideas to normalize creating, identifying, and spreading joy.

To start, we challenge you to find a way to experience joy right now. If you’re stretched for time, maybe you can spare two seconds to look at this.

Studio/E Mindset Icon

Why do we care about joy? Joy is a feeling that too few of us (ourselves included) prioritize. We’ve talked about why businesses should consider incorporating joy into their brand as an empathetic way to enroll customers, but we also think it’s important on an individual level. Join us in trying to bring joy back to the forefront of our culture?

Though our event with Ingrid is sadly over, we have four more Hero Speaker Series events like it this year, and we invite you to join us.

See our upcoming events

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