Experts urge us to find balance and calm by looking inward and muting the outside world. But what if the natural vibrancy of our surroundings is actually our most renewable and easily accessible joy?
In “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness,“, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explores how the mundane spaces and objects we interact with every day have surprising and powerful effects on our mood. Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology, she explains why one place makes us feel anxious or competitive, while another fosters delight and sharing — and, most importantly, she reveals how we can harness the power of our surroundings to live fuller, healthier, and truly joyful lives.
We’re often taught that the objects in our homes are just incidental to our happiness -she says-. But as a designer who has spent the last ten years studying the relationship between our physical surroundings and our emotions, I know that our homes have a profound influence on our joy and wellbeing.
For Ingrid, the aesthetics of joy runs counter to the prevailing idea that happiness is about mind over matter. In the author’s view, many of us are not sufficiently aware that colour, texture, form and movement can make a great difference in how we feel. Yes, the mundane objects we interact with on a daily basis can have a surprising effect on our emotions.
Our current obsession with turning inward (through techniques such as mindfulness and yoga) is cutting us off from our natural inclination to seek joy outside ourselves – she explains-, and current research in neuroscience and Positive Psychology is now underpinning these ideas, that happiness is not only something we find but something we can make.
But how can we rearrange our environments, to feel better? We don’t need a mansion to create a joyful space.
We can start by adding a splash of vibrant colours in our rooms – she suggests-. Brightness is universally associated with joy, so adding a pop of saturated colour is one of the most immediate ways to bring a joyful energy to your home. I’m also a fan of a mirror in small spaces. Lastly, if you can choose rounder furnishings, it can help with the flow and movement in the space. Angular furniture can slow your movement and make the space feel more compressed than it actually is.
Houseplants are also a great stress reliever for our home. Research has shown plants in the home can reduce tension in people by almost 40% because they remind us of the outdoors, nature, and a slower pace of life, which is instantly calming. If our home doesn’t have nearby green space, or even if it does, adding houseplants to our space can provide a surprising degree of relief. If you are a beginner, opt for low maintenance plants like yucca or dracaena. They will instantly inject green into your space and you will feel a sense of zen.
Some research also shows that when we’re in a negative mood, our brains naturally prioritize tactile stimuli over visual ones. So, don’t underestimate the power of a fluffy shag rug or a new throw blanket. Soft textures do a lot to decrease anxiety in a home. They soften a space visually, smoothing out hard edges. They also absorb sound, making the acoustics of a space warm and gentle, as opposed to jangly and agitating.
Last but not least, avoid clutter. A study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute discovered that individuals surrounded by physical clutter in a disorganised environment are less productive and more distracted than otherwise. Mess can also trigger emotional eating. People spending time in a dirty kitchen ate more unhealthy snacks than those in a clean one. Clutter isn’t just physical. It could also be mental, emotional, spiritual or digital. Any one or a combination of these could lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. You don’t need to wait for a few weeks every year to experience this. You can cut the clutter from your life and live a stress-free life today.