All dressed up for her daily Instagram Live Hello Cindy! chat and ready to go, Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen was joined by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Lee, the designer and author behind The Aesthetics of Joy, it turns out, is waiting out isolation in house nearby Allen. This chat likely brought them even closer, figuratively speaking.
While studying industrial design at The Pratt Institute, one professor’s comment about feeling joy from her work started Lee on the journey to bring the intangible and ephemeral feeling of joy into the tangible and measured world of design. Our “surrounding and emotional well-being” is highly linked to the spaces we create and put ourselves in. Design plays a huge role in cultivating joy and physical well-being, and Lee knows these elements contribute to happier and healthier lives. An unofficial 10-year research project has led her to be a pseudo-psychiatrist, neurologist, and scientist while acting on designer disciplines. In short: Lee is a triple threat—designer, scientist, and author—who is adept at layering items in homes to spark joy. Read all about it!
Lee’s book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness is very apropos of this pandemic moment. Curious about why things such as confetti and cherry blossoms seem to bring joy the world over, Lee dug into how designers can use “attributes of our surroundings that we have found to be joyful.” Lee explains that our brains are shaped by the natural environment around us—biological evolution has in no way caught up to our urbanized and industrialized world—and “round shapes are the safest and most playful.” Backed by neuroscience, Lee noted studies that have shown the amygdala part of the brain lights up in the presence of round objects.
She cautioned that it is important to distinguish between happiness more broadly and momentary feelings of immense joy. In uncertain times, joy—simpler to achieve by definition—comes everyday in little moments. Surprise, for example, is an aesthetic of joy. One of Lee’s solutions to cook up some more bright moments today is a Joyful Conversation sheet, an array of lighthearted conversation starters. Because there’s always more to talk about, even in tough times.
“Joy is a part of resilience,” Lee says, in fact, it makes us better at facing adversity. With a baby two months away and a world practically flipped upside down, Lee’s still got a wide smile on her face. Professor Cindy Allen even assigned her book as required reading to everyone who joined in. Homework, but make it joyful.
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