Joyful, by author and designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, is one of the best, most interesting and helpful books I read all year. It is all about (in Fetell Lee’s words), the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness. I talked about it on the pod and in January’s reading list but I wanted to write a longer post about it.
My sister had been singing its praises (and Ingrid’s… she’s a fun follow on Instagram – she also has a blog called The Aesthetics of Joy). I ordered it in 2019 but for whatever reason it hung out in my TBR pile for way too long… it took me a while to sit down and read it. (And once I sat down and read it, it also took me a while to finish… I went into full nerd mode and was underlining and highlighting and taking notes and googling all of the different artist and architect references she made.
I have always been really interested in design but have no background in it so what I liked about this book was that it taught me a lot behind WHY we derive joy from the things that make us happy. Why round things make us joyful, why symmetry is so pleasing to the eye, etc. Harmony, play, surprise, transcendence… etc. I feel like I say “that sparks joy,” at least once a day… it was so interesting to learn more about why!
Joyful Book Review
I loved this book. It was so fascinating – really well researched and just plain interesting and fun to read! I think also, that right now it is especially important to find joy wherever we can, in whatever it is we choose to invest our time and energy in. And surrounding ourselves with things that help to positively impact our mood is so important (especially now when things like travel and gatherings aren’t able to bring us that joy!). I’ve always felt that it’s important for my home to feel like a place that energizes me. In fact, this book solidified that for me even more. Reading this book will give you such a better sense of what brings you joy… and why!
Joyful Book Key Ideas
The book is broken down into ten chapters (with an amazing toolkit at the end to help you implement the ideas from the book into your own life). Each chapter is based around one key idea (think freedom, harmony, play, surprise, etc) with examples from the design world but also the science behind why these things spark joy.
Key Idea #1: Energy
This chapter deals a lot with the power of color, particularly bright color! The idea that color and light can really challenge the world around you and that brightness can give you the power to create your own sun. She also gets into the color of light and how light can impact and change colors.
Key Idea #2: Abundance
As a bit of a maximalist, this one resonated for me a lot as I definitely tend to collect things which bring me a feeling of joy! Think of the happy feeling you get walking into Dylan’s Candy Bar and seeing all of that candy, grouped together.She also talks about abundance in architecture as well as interior design. On a personal note I loved learning more about Dorothy Draper (she was America’s first interior designer and a complete and utter maximalist… she designed the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia which is on my bucket list).
Key Idea #3: Freedom
This part talked a lot about plants and nature and the way our urban gardens can create a feeling of joy. Recreating a little bit of wild in our homes can also spark quite a bit of joy. Summer Rayne Oakes is brought up as an example… at the time of publication of the book, her apartment boasted 670 plants. Can you imagine!?
Key Idea #4: Harmony
This one also resonated big with me… why does organization and order spark so much joy? She gets into the science behind symmetry and other examples of order within nature. The parts about symmetry were most interesting to me as I’ve always found a lot of joy looking at symmetrical things. It was so interesting to learn more about the why behind that (spoiler alert: fertility plays a role!).
Key Idea #5: Play
Remember play? Ha. This is where those round shapes come in. You are going to want to add more rounded furniture and fewer hard angles to your space after reading this chapter.
Key Idea #6: Surprise
This chapter was all about the idea of surprise and novelty… adding elements to our world that will inspire wonder and delight. Novelty naturally goes away with age and our surroundings become dull with familiarity. This is about rediscovering joy in the objects we already have.
Key Idea #7: Transcendence
In this chapter, Fetell Lee talks about treehouses, towers.. hot air balloons, and our attraction to things that float and fly. This made me think of my Design Within Reach mobile and some of the “why” behind how things like mobiles can make us so happy. Transcendence detaches us from the world while bringing us closer to ourselves.
Key Idea #8: Magic
This chapter dealt more with the idea of creating wonder… creating magic with optical illusions and the idea that the world is bigger and more amazing than we could ever dream. She ended this chapter with a quote from Eden Phillpotts that I really love: “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
Key Idea: 9: Celebration
Ugh remember celebration? Ha. This one was all about the power of coming together and the communal experience. Things like a round dinner table and using space to promote a feeling of unity! Also, the idea that the more we share joy, the more it grows.
Key Idea #10: Renewal
I loved this chapter. I’m going to share one of my favorite quotes from it: “Finding happiness isn’t a matter of creating a perfectly even keeled experience of the world, where no sadness ever intrudes. Instead, it means riding the waves of joy, and trying to find our way back upward when we’ve been knocked down.” She talks a lot about flowers in this chapter (and why floral elements bring us joy) and also Eva Zeisel’s designs which used French curves (newly obsessed!).
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Top photo by Allie Provost.