Where Joy Hides and How to Find It

In this TED Talk, author and designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explains how joy can be found anywhere you look — and why it's important you seek it out.

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An ice cream cone covered in small, round sprinkles, brightly-colored hot air balloons floating through the air, a pristine blue swimming pool sparkling under the sunlight — if these images sparked a sense of delight in you, you’re not alone.

In this TED talk, Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer and author of Joyful: the Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness,describes her 10-year journey to understand how an intangible concept like joy could manifest in the tangible, physical world.

The short answer? Joy can be found in the simple things you’ve most likely written off as being too old for.

Here are four takeaways from her talk:

Joy is hard to explain

Even scientists don’t always agree on what joy is, and often use the words joy, happiness, and positivity interchangeably.

“Broadly speaking, when psychologists use the word joy, what they mean is an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion — one that makes us smile and laugh and feel like we want to jump up and down,” Lee explains.

Joy differs from happiness. Where happiness is a measure of how good we feel over time, joy is about what makes us feel good in the present moment.

Joy differs from happiness. Where happiness is a measure of how good we feel over time, joy is about what makes us feel good in the present moment.

“As a culture, we are obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, and yet in the process, we kind of overlook joy,” Lee says.

Joy is universal

Once Lee began studying what brought people joy, she realized that the sources of this feeling cut across the lines of age, gender and ethnicity.

“I mean, if you think about it, we all stop and turn our heads to the sky when the multicolored arc of a rainbow streaks across it. And fireworks — we don’t even need to know what they’re for, and we feel like we’re celebrating, too.”

She explains how having things that are joyful for nearly everyone speaks to the universal experience of human nature.

“Though we’re often told that these are just passing pleasures, in fact, they’re really important, because they remind us of the shared humanity we find in our common experience of the physical world,” she says.

Joy can be found everywhere

Joy may be elusive, but it can be accessed through physical attributes like bright colours or fun patterns.

“I began spotting little moments of joy everywhere I went — a vintage yellow car or a clever piece of street art. It was like I had a pair of rose-colored glasses, and now that I knew what to look for, I was seeing it everywhere,” Lee says.

But if these fun patterns bring us joy, why does so much of our world — offices, schools, nursing homes, grocery stores — look so bland?

Lee argues that while we all appreciate whimsical designs when we’re young, we stop seeking them out in adulthood.

“Adults who exhibit genuine joy are often dismissed as childish or too feminine or unserious or self-indulgent, and so we hold ourselves back from joy,” Lee says.

Joy can benefit us

While images that elicit joy may seem inconsequential, Lee explains that they add up to something greater.

She points to schools painted by Publicolor, whose administrators report that when their schools get a dose of bright color they see attendance improve, graffiti disappear, and kids report feeling safer.

What’s more, research has found that people who work in more colorful offices are more alert, more confident, and friendlier than those working in drab spaces.

“Joy isn’t some superfluous extra,” Lee says. “It’s directly connected to our fundamental instinct for survival. On the most basic level, the drive toward joy is the drive toward life.”