“From the moment I first started studying joy, it was clear that the liveliest places and objects all have one thing in common: bright, vivid color. Whether it’s a row of houses painted in bold swaths of candy hues or a display of colored markers in a stationery shop, vibrant color invariably sparks a feeling of delight.”
Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” is probably one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It is different from your typical self-help book where you are encouraged to find positivity within yourself, but instead chooses to focus on how your surroundings and the outside world in general can provide an uplifting mood, influencing how you feel inside. I have read the first American edition of this book but I have noticed that the Italian edition has added a subtitle on the cover that translates as “Forms And Colors That Make Your Life Happy”; in fact, throughout the book the author emphasizes the importance of bright, vivid colors and harmonious shapes in having a positive impact on our mood and well-being.
Fetell Lee mentions the city of Tirana (which I visited about four years ago), where the mayor has carried out an urban redevelopment project that includes repainting building façades in bright colors and artistic designs; this has led over time to a drastic reduction in crimes like theft and can be linked to the improvement of the buildings and the feeling people get from living in a city that is pleasing to the eye. I always feel better when I am surrounded by beautiful things; I know it is not the solution to all the problems one might face, but it definitely helps to feel at peace.
The book is divided in ten subject areas that Fetell Lee calls the “Aesthetics of Joy”; Energy, Abundance, Freedom, Harmony, Play, Surprise, Transcendence, Magic, Celebration and Renewal. The author provides us readers with different examples on how we can approach each subject to improve our lives, mainly focusing on interior design advice to improve the spaces we inhabit. At some point in the Play section she writes about her visit of Palais Bulles, a French Riviera mansion owned by Pierre Cardin which is organized in bubble-shaped rooms and whose curved forms extend to the decoration of interiors, furnished with beds, shelves and sofas that are almost always round, aiming to merge decoration with architecture.
It is perfectly possible that our external surroundings can become a source of joy. Not only can this happen with our home design, but also with the beauty that can be found in the natural world; a lake mirroring the mountains, an amazing sunset or a wonderful seascape can undoubtedly have a positive effect on our lives.
I have read a few self-help books over the years, but before reading Joyful I had never come across a book that focuses primarily on the theme of joy; I think we are spiritual beings but we live in a physical world, so it is good to cultivate our surrounding environment as well, especially our homes.
I have found out that it is very important for me to live in a space filled with natural light (my family and I used to live in a house that had giant terraces that were wonderful but prevented all the light from entering the house; we constantly had to rely on artificial light and it became quite bad for our mood), so I now look for apartments that have good exposure in terms of natural light whenever I am searching for a new home.
Minimalism seems to be all the rage at the moment, but I am not really able to embrace it because I am a fan of colorful walls and prints. I don’t enjoy plain, white spaces and I prefer to have many pictures hanging on the walls; it seems like Ingrid Fetell Lee and I are on the same page when it comes to interior design choices!
There are many chapters in the book that I truly loved and appreciated; in the Renewal section, the author talks about the beauty of cherry blossoms in Japan (which I really hope to see in person sometime in the future), relating this to the concept of joy as something which always comes back in cycles. “Whether in hard times or good ones, the benefit of cycles is that they give us something to look forward to, and this anticipation can be a pleasure in its own right.” In the Magic section she writes a lot about the mirror interpreted as an instrument of wonder, especially when it comes to small spaces, as “mirrors can be used to transform ordinary spaces into magical ones.”
There is also a very interesting and highly-researched Joyful Toolkit at the end of the book, which is made to extract various ideas in order to figure out how to bring more joy into your life.
I recommend this to everyone who is interested in finding new ways to bring more joy into their daily life, especially if you are interested in home decor, interior design and traveling to beautiful places. The author made an excellent job of research with this book (shout out to Gabriele Wilson, the cover designer, since the American edition is visually beautiful, especially the hardback edition) and it really made me reconsider how my surroundings can help my inner feelings and improve my creativity.
OTHER BOOKS YOU MAY LIKE: there is a blurb on the cover by Arianna Huffington that describes Joyful as “an inexhaustible and exciting guide to what makes life good”; I am a huge fan of Huffington and I highly recommend one of her books, “Thrive”, which is about redefining success and create well-being into your life. I would also like to read “The Power of Fun: How To Feel Alive Again” by Catherine Price because I think it has similar vibes to Joyful. I have also been recommended “Visual Thinking” by Temple Grandin and “The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig, so I am looking forward to reading these books as well!
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