Allowing joy to renew your spirit

Our daily news is so full of anxiety-producing information and media distractions that it is difficult to focus on this joyful holiday season. We need to take time to rediscover joy in daily life and find ways to encourage joyfulness all year long.

The concept of designing for joy first came to my attention when Guy Raz interviewed Ingrid Fetell Lee on NPR’s “Ted Talks” in November. Lee is a young engineer who designs joyful spaces and researches the effects of color and shape on human behavior in public places like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools where people feel vulnerable.

When Lee interviewed individuals about what brought them joy, they mentioned soap bubbles, balloons, balls, fireworks, flowers, hummingbirds, rainbows, etc. The universal design elements of joy are roundness, color, light, and multiplicity of repeated patterns. Modern cities are full of angular, gray buildings designed for practical use. American tradition honors the right to long-lasting happiness, but we often fail to acknowledge the need for impromptu moments of joy that can encourage vulnerable people.

Researchers find that schools with colorful paint and murals on the walls have better attendance, and young folks stay longer when they visit elderly family members where colored balls are suspended from the nursing home ceiling. On the darkest days, when we become depressed and discouraged, we need to find ways to inject joy into daily life.

One rainy day YMCA Day Campers came out to study color at Kump Education Center. We had planned to show how a prism bends sunlight to create a rainbow effect, but we had no sun that day.

We went back into the darkest room of the basement where we could use a flashlight and prism to refract light and create rainbows on a wall. We could see the red, orange, yellow green, blue, indigo, and violet (ROYGBIV) pattern that Sir Isaac Newton found when he first used prisms 250 years ago. Then I talked about seeing a sunbow last winter on a cold, sunny day when sunlight hit ice particles on the horizon. Later we went into the unfinished part of the basement to blow soap bubbles and see the prism effect on the surface of those ephemeral spheres.

This holiday season West Virginia glass blowers capture an ephemeral prism effect of soap bubbles in glass balls to be hung in a window where they add a bit of joy to our gray winter days.