Our daily lives are filled with emotional experiences. We might feel joyful from having enjoyed a good breakfast, feel anger and frustration towards a sluggish Wi-Fi connection, or saddened when we realize that our partner has let us down by not keeping to a promise. Yet, studies do show a positive side to these every day emotional experiences. In general, individuals tend to report feeling joy more frequently than any of the other unpleasant basic emotions (sadness, fear and disgust, for instance) , . One part of the reason for why this is so is the surroundings that we constantly interact or come into contact with. Do you recall the last time you stopped to take in the orange glow of the sunset – during golden hour, for instance? Or when you smiled with delight (and possibly surprise) at the sight of confetti or fireworks? The natural and colourful vibrancy of our surroundings may actually be providing us with a renewable, and, importantly, easily accessible resource for joy.
Joy is defined by researchers as a sense of vigour, with feelings of strength, confidence, and competency . Put another way, it is an intense, momentary, and positive emotion that makes you feel like jumping up and down, and sharing your positive feeling with others around you. We can also distinguish joy from
‘happiness’, since the terms are often used interchangeably. Joy is a brief positive feeling experienced in the moment whereas happiness refers to positive feelings that occurs over time . Numerous studies and articles have been written about happiness – where to ‘find it’, how to attain it, and what you can do for a happier you. Strangely, the pursuit stands in contrast with how we view joy – a usually as a childish, unserious, ‘feminine’ or ‘self-indulgent’ emotion. Studies, however do show that feeling joy regularly is a critical component of happiness. The happy life is not one free from hassles, challenges or unpleasant emotions. Rather, it is one where there is a greater prevalence of positivity (relative to negativity) and meaning. According to the Broaden-and-Build theory of Positive Emotions by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, experience of joy and positive emotions broaden people’s thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build enduring personal resources . Joy, in particular, creates the urge to play, subsequently motivating discovery of new ideas and actions and elevating personal resources. Experienced over time, studies have shown that people experiencing joy build up their psychological resilience and enjoy enhanced emotional well-being .
The simplest form of joy may simply be the joy we feel when playing, interacting, or relating to those around us. Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, however, proposed that joy can be spotted everywhere – and anytime – in the physical world. Lee suggests that anything that represents a ‘pop of colour’, objects that create a sense of lightness and elevation, items which are round or symmetrical, and in abundance or multiplicity can give rise to a joyous feeling . Psychological experiments provide scientific evidence for Lee’s claims. One experiment by Rikard Küller and colleagues, for example, that lightness and colours within a work environment did impact the mood of staff. The participants in the experiment reported being more friendly, confident, alert, and interested when working in a colourful environment with decent lighting, compared to those working in a less colourful, darker environment. Another interesting study by researchers Moshe Bar and Maital Neta showed that we respond differently when viewing curvy, rounded objects, relative to sharp objects. A part of the brain known as the amygdala, activated when participants view sharp objects relative to round objects. The findings make perfect sense in view of the importance of the amygdala in relation to fear processing – sharp objects hurt; curvy or rounded objects are less likely to be dangerous, and thus prompts a more positive, inviting response, a reaction observable in terms of brain activation.
Consider how your environments shape or dictate your mood. We have heard from countless studies that we can find balance and calm by muting the outside world (say, via mindfulness meditation), but perhaps something as simple as adopting a spirit of curiosity and attentiveness towards our immediate environments, objects, and spaces, can be sufficient in giving us a small boost of positivity in our lives. Try this the next time you are out and about – make it a goal to appreciate the tiny details within your surroundings that could literally be personified joy. A cluster of colourful balloons. The colourful sprinkles around a glazed doughnut. The colourful curves of the rainbow after a light rain. Cherry blossoms in the spring. Joy is everywhere. You just need to pay attention to it a little bit more.