I belong to a small book club that is just getting started. One of the group chooses something to read, we all get it on Kindle and read it, and then meet to talk about it. And of course since we do this in the late afternoon, we have something nice to eat.
Our first book rather surprised me – it wasn’t a novel and the title seemed strangely upbeat in times such as these. It was called, simply, Joyful.
It started out with sort of an academic horror story like many I have heard in my life: you write out your thesis or gather your material, get your critics around a table, and wait with bated breath for their verdicts. In the case of writer Ingrid Fetell Lee, who was a young designer, dead silence fell when she presented her projects. Finally one of her esteemed professors looked up from the display and said “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but these pieces make me – – – happy!”
There was widespread agreement. She had designed pieces which brought Joy.
In the rest of her book, and for the next ten years of her life, she tries to discover where Joy comes from. And it is fascinating.
Colors – especially bright colors – especially in unexpected places – bring joy. I guess I’ve known this since I became a senior – and suddenly wanted to wear brightly colored clothes, or was attracted to colorfully painted walls in rooms or on exteriors. I’ve never been much for jewelry but I began to love brightly colored beads. I bought a red car. I love it when the drawer of a plain brown or white desk or table opens to reveal bright yellow lining or pictures of sunflowers. When I snorkel, I seek out the tiny bright blue fish darting around in coral reefs. I look at the way color is balanced on dinner plates. For me, there has to be something bright – at least lettuce and tomato salad, or some orange slices.
Round shapes, too, bring joy. Think circular designs, smiley faces, babies’ faces. Pictures with circular frames, polka dots, whirling dervishes with those incredible circular skirts. Songs that come out as rounds. Cakes and pizzas. (Those square ones just never look right!) Balls, the forever and always child’s favorite. Yoyos that you can swing in a big circle. Balloons – especially balloons that fly!
Flowers are usually round or circular, and usually bright colored as well. But they have qualities of their own, too, that produce extra joy. They smell good. They are often delicate and flutter in the wind. Fields full of flowers bring almost overwhelming feelings of joy. Think of a field of tulips. Or Wordsworth’s daffodils.
Nature produces joy. Just being outside is a pleasure, and looking out over fields, flowers, mountains and valleys, the sea. There is something about being free, not being shut in or surrounded by walls, that allows the spirit to rise. Green is a wonderful color – the color of life and growth, nourishment. Flowers burst forth and bloom in green fields. In cartoons portraying the devastation of the world, brown, grey, dead, suddenly a little green bud pops out and grows, and that one bud is answered by others bursting out and growing. Life returns!
There is lots that is dead in our world, in our schools, hospitals. City streets can close us in and gray facades pull us down. In some places people have experimented with brightly colored paint on school buildings – and this apparently cuts down on absentees and reduces disruptive behavior. Flowers and beautiful pictures in hospital rooms actually speed recovery. As does giving patients a chance to walk or be wheeled around in a small garden.
The good news is that you can make a little joy almost anywhere, on your own – and it is good for you, and good for your brain. You don’t need to be the one in charge. You don’t have to have a giant budget. We see the bright red flower on the windowsill of a very run-down house in a dark, crowded area: we smile. Someone in there, probably a woman, is doing what she can to make her world better, lighting up her own heart and giving a little encouragement to everyone!
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