Last night, I sat on the edge of the bed and noticed the picture hanging on the wall for the first time in a while.
As I studied it, I took in its form. The piece is composed of a circular shape formed by lines of silver foil paper, showing the moon transitioning from full to half, centered on a pink background. Though I bought it because I liked its aesthetic appeal, I have never before stopped to admire its true beauty, nor its complex printing process. As I sat for a moment, losing track of time, I realized I was smiling.
It came as a welcome relief. I’ve endured several days of late during this lockdown where I’ve felt everything but joy.
Joy might seem like something unattainable, given the current circumstances. Yet, according to Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer and the author of The Aesthetics of Joy, we can all experience it, even in times of unhappiness and upheaval. We are able to do this, because there is a fundamental difference between the two, as she explains:
“Happiness is a broad evaluation of how we feel about our lives, over time. So it involves a lot of factors, like how we feel about our health, our work, our connection to other people, whether we think we have meaning and purpose in our lives… and all these things are being challenged right now. So, it’s natural that we wouldn’t be happy in a difficult moment like this.”
What she said resonated with me. I have had spells of deep unhappiness of late, and it can feel like I’m under siege. But there was hope, as Ingrid went on to define joy:
“Joy is much simpler and more immediate. It’s an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion. It’s important to realize we can still access those moments of joy, even in difficult times.”
Ingrid’s words couldn’t ring truer, especially in times like these. No matter how happy or unhappy you are, nothing is stopping you feeling joyous. So stop whatever you’re doing for a second and look around you.
I mean, really look around you.
There are small pockets of joy everywhere, and they can come into our awareness and senses at any given moment. Maybe it’s that armchair you sit in hits the curves of your back just right. Perhaps it’s the way the sun trickles into your living room through the window and casts that beautiful warm light across everything in its path. Maybe it’s the pictures of your family that sit idle on the mantlepiece, reminding you of fond memories. Perhaps it’s the process of baking bread and the unmistakable aroma it produces as it rises in the oven.
With so many working from home, it’s more important than ever to keep morale high. To increase our joy, Ingrid suggests we should create a “sensory landscape” by introducing sights, smells, sounds, and greenery to our environment. It could be giving our eyes somewhere or something else to focus on, introducing ambient music, scented candles, or adding different textures to our surroundings. “When working from home, if you have the ability to create more of a sensory landscape for yourself, it doesn’t distract you from your work — it keeps you engaged.”
These joyous moments, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can elevate us. The critical thing to remember, as Ingrid advocates, is that while happiness is a state of mind, joy is not.
We don’t need the perfect job, a perfect home, or the perfect life to experience a moment of joy. It’s an instantaneous pleasure that we can find from even the smallest things in life, many of which are right in front of us. It’s up to us to open our eyes and start to look in the right places.
It’s time to stop discounting the smallest of joys. They are worthwhile. They elevate us.
And they may be all we have right now.