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Bringing in Joy

With Ingrid Fetell Lee

Season 4, Episode 4  | April 13, 2021

Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer, blogger, and author, joins us to talk about joy: what it means to seek joy, how it relates to our other emotions, and ways to make joy more tangible and real so we can bring more of it into our daily lives and physical spaces.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Ingrid Fetell Lee is a designer, blogger, and the founder of The Aesthetics of Joy. Her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, came out in 2018.

Lee’s work investigates and sheds light on the many different facets of joy. Here are four areas she speaks to in the episode:

  • On joy and happiness: “Happiness is more of a broad evaluation of how we feel about our lives over time, whereas joy is much simpler and more immediate,” says Lee. “It’s an intense momentary experience of positive emotion, one that you really feel in your body: It makes you smile or laugh, or it gives you that feeling of wanting to jump up and down.”
  • On joy and resilience: “Negative emotions help us narrow our focus, so we can deal with immediate threats,” says Lee. “Positive emotions evolved to broaden our focus. If we only lived in the short-term mindset that negative emotions instill in us, we would never be able to play, to explore, to build human connections. Moments of joy enable us to shore up resources so we can withstand more difficult times.”
  • On joy and grief: “Grief is an acknowledgment that you had something joyful that lit up your spirit and your soul,” says Lee. “To lose that is crushing. But joy is possible even as we’re dealing with pain and sadness — and recognizing those moments of joy can help us make sense of our loss and allow us to find enough light to move through our grief.”
  • On joy and our spaces: “It’s not just about making a place feel cheery,” says Lee. “When we infuse joy into overlooked spaces, it changes the way people engage with them. It changes the way we engage with each other.”

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Transcript: Bringing in Joy

Season 4, Episode 4  | April 13, 2021

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, the national digital performer brand leader for Life Time. We’re all in different places when it comes to our health and fitness, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode, we break down the various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, health issues, and more. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman

And we’ll also be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond, who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

Jamie Martin

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Wahiwater is available at select retailers, Amazon, and of course, Life Time’s LifeCafes. You can learn more about plant powered Wahiwater at wahiwater.com.

[MUSIC]

Jamie Martin

Hey everyone, I’m Jamie Martin.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman.

Jamie Martin

And welcome to Life Time Talks. In this episode, David and I are yet again stepping aside to hand the mic over this time to Kaelyn Riley. Kaelyn is a senior editor at Life Time’s Experience Life magazine, and she recently interviewed Ingrid Fetell Lee for the upcoming April 2021 issue of Experience Life. Really excited about this conversation, as Ingrid and Kaelyn talked all about Ingrid’s work that relates to the concepts around the aesthetics of joy, and that’s the basis of Ingrid’s book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Kaelyn, thanks so much for taking this on.

Kaelyn Riley

Hey, you two, thanks for having me. I’m a big fan of the pod, so I’m really excited to be here.

Jamie Martin

We’re so glad you’re here.

Diane Faulkner

So, Kaelyn, if you can, tell us a little bit about your experience interviewing Lee and give us a little bit of sneak peek of her work including her whole concept around aesthetics of joy.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeh, so this whole conversation with Ingrid was honestly just a real treat for me, and one of the things that sort of stuck with me most is the case that she makes for creating this space and the circumstances in our daily lives for these small moments of joy and kind of how vital that practice is. So, I’ve been mostly staying at home for the past year, and one of the things that I’ve been sort of reflecting on is how in these circumstances sort of withdrawn from most of my social life, it can be hard to keep the bad stuff in any sort of context, right, so I feel like sometimes the negative things, this piece of news that’s really hard to swallow or this particular injustice or like this horrible tragedy, sometimes those things can feel sort of boundless, like they’re hard to navigate, and I think one of the things that Ingrid spoke to me about is how joy in the face of all that can feel sort of superfluous, right, like it’s an indulgence or it’s like a reward that we get for doing good work, but joy shouldn’t be a luxury item, you know, we are all of us entitled to it, and training ourselves to sort of seek glimmers of light in the darkness is really what gives us the capacity to ride out the bad stuff when it comes, and so to me, like one of the lynchpins of Ingrid’s work is that joy, it’s really not superfluous at all, it’s really a matter of our most basic survival.

David Freeman

I love that. I love that so much. I mean, the beautiful ability to tap into joy within our everyday experiences, and it’s all around us, and I always talk about the emotions that we have as individuals, whether that’s good or bad, whatever might come our way, how we react to it, is so key, and I love the fact that it’s all around us, it’s the ability to tap into it is the gift or our superpower that we have to definitely tap into, so I love that.

Jamie Martin

Yeah, and I will tag onto that, there were a couple of takeaways here, I mean, there were so many parts of this conversation that I absolutely loved, and I’m excited for our listeners to hear that. A couple of things that Ingrid mentioned and that you’re touching on a little bit, Kaelyn, is, you know, one, she distinguishes joy from happiness, which I’m going to let her do in the episode, but the other thing that she talked about and you were talking about, Kaelyn, is here’s this connection of like joy…the relationship between joy and adversity, and building resilience, and also the relationship between joy and grief, and that’s a lot of what many of us have been feeling in different ways over the past year, so how through the grief and however we’re experiencing it, do we find those moments of joy, and how does that help us come out the other side, so there’s that element.

The other thing that I’m hoping you can touch on for a second, Kaelyn, is you know she also talks about how she’s been doing some exploration around individual joy and how that contributes to collective joy and wellbeing as a whole, so can you talk a little bit about that part of your conversation with her?

Kaelyn Riley

Absolutely. Yeah, I think it would be really easy to sort of glance at the 10 aesthetics of joy, which is the kind of principle that Ingrid’s book is designed around, and assume that something like this kind of starts and stops at home, right, and Ingrid’s book does contain tons of cool insights that you could use to rethink your own space, and I’m excited for our listeners to hear about that kind of stuff including this cool design personality quiz that you can take on her website, but something that really struck me right away about her book is how involved it is with the rest of the world, you know, she writes about traveling to Japan, and New Mexico, and France, and Albania, and how joy is manifested often in these public spaces and while we all experience joy differently, the aesthetics of joy, which are like these particular properties that make everyday objects appealing to us, they speak to all of us on an unconscious level no matter our age or our race or ethnicity, and so I think it’s really a beautiful reminder of our common humanity, you know, at a time when I think a lot of us could really use that.

The other thing that I would add that I think is a real force in Ingrid’s work is this sort of designer’s mindset. It allows you to kind of approach most things with this assumption that they can be redesigned, and I think there’s something about our current circumstances that’s given people a real feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, like the world around us seems fixed or if it’s not fixed, it’s at least really hard to change, as though it’s someone else’s world, you know, and we’re all just living in it, and so I think what Ingrid’s work can give to us on that note is the knowledge that the way things are is not the way they have to be and that there is, as she writes, there’s this whole world of joy at our fingertips, and we can harness it to sort of bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.

David Freeman

Joy, joy, joy. The takeaway that I heard just now from that is the commonalities that we all have. I know I’ve shared this before, I said, we all have something in common as far as a heart and a mind, and what we choose to do with those things can help change this world, and when we continue to celebrate what it is that makes us unique as well as what makes us different with all these different things that we have, this is what makes us stronger together, so let’s not make our listeners wait any longer, let’s get ready to take ordinary to extraordinary with this episode.

[MUSIC]

Kaelyn Riley

Maybe just by way of getting started, we could talk a little about what brought you to this work, why joy.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Sure. I didn’t actually set out to study joy, so it’s a really good question. I set out to study design, and it was in my first year of design school at Pratt Institute when a professor made an offhand comment, it was at a review, and I had all of the stuff that I had made over the course of the semester lined up on a table, and I had this panel of professors in front of me, very high pressure situation, as you can imagine, and I had changed careers from I was a branding consultant, and so I really wasn’t very confident, as a designer, at this point, because I was just beginning, and he said, your work gives me a feeling of joy, and I thought, well, that’s weird, I mean, good, I guess I didn’t fail, so that’s a good beginning, right, but then I thought, how does that happen, how could things create this feeling of joy. I mean, we’re always taught that joy doesn’t come from material things, that material things aren’t supposed to matter, and that it’s actually superficial to care too much about them, so how could a bunch of things that I had made, I mean, there was a cup, there was a lamp, a stool, how did those things create the feeling of joy, and so I asked the professors, and there was a lot of handwaving and everyone on the panel tried to chime in and explain it, and no one really was able to explain to me, at least from a scientific perspective, what was actually going on. Everyone could explain it from an intuitive perspective, and designers are very intuitive, of course, but I really wanted to understand what is happening in the brain when I look at something that gives me a feeling of joy, what’s happening, how does that happen, and because if I know that then, as a designer, that’s something that I can replicate, I can create more joy, and that was a really exciting possibility to me, and so that’s really . . . that was the beginning of it, and that was 12 years ago now, and I’m still — I think I’ve gotten a fairly good idea of how that happens, and yet there’s still so much to understand and explore.

Kaelyn Riley

I love that, as sort of an origin story because I feel like there’s this tendency for a lot of us to think of joy as this sort of . . . it’s kind of ethereal and slippery, it sort of exists on this like other plane from other physical selves, right, but I find that like so much of the power in your work is in really bridging that distance. Yeah, it just seems like an incredibly powerful thing to give to people.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

I love that you put it that way because I really think it is about bridging that divide between the emotional and the physical, and I think that we . . . I mean, we inherited this from Descartes, right, this idea that body and the mind are split, that they’re two separate things, and that the mind is superior and that the body is subordinate, and I think that that carries over into pretty much every aspect of western thinking that rationale is better than emotional, that the mind is superior to the body, and that these things are divided, when in fact, we now understand that there’s a profound dialogue happening all the time between those two things and that the senses are the origin of so much of what stimulates and excites our emotions and our minds and that the way that we think can often happen through our interaction with the physical world, and so I am really excited that you framed it that way because I think that that is something that it’s really important to bring that back together.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah, sure, and it also seems to me, I guess, like you know many of us have been spending a lot more time inside over the past few years and just sort of . . . the past year, I guess, getting sort of more intimate with our spaces, I think is the way that I’ve seen you phrase it, which I think is a lovely way to say, you know, I’m trapped inside these four walls, how can I sort of make this space feel a little more conducive to my own happiness.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Yeah.

Kaelyn Riley

And so, people might be kind of waking up to this idea, you know, perhaps for the first time that our spaces are more powerful than we maybe realized, that they can stress us out, that they can give us comfort or sort of anything in between, so I guess what would you say to somebody who maybe hasn’t had that thought before but who wants to understand more about how the power of ordinary objects can help us to live with more joy?

Ingrid Fetell Lee

I think that it would help maybe to explain a little bit about what joy is and then why objects actually do, you know, give us that feeling of joy. When I left that review, I started out just by asking people about the things and places that brought them joy, and I noticed that there were certain things that seemed to bring joy the world over. Everyone I would talk to, you know, these certain things kept coming up again and again and again, and there are things that are often stereotypically associated with joy, so bubbles, and balloons, and confetti, and rainbows, and rainbow sprinkles, tree houses, birds flying in the air, and I started to wonder what is it about these things that gives them this little spark of joy that crosses boundaries of gender, and ethnicity, and age, and what I noticed, when I started to look at these objects, is that there are certain physical patterns that recur, that are consistently associated with joy, so bright colors is one example. All the world over, we find bright colors associated with celebrations, we see that children’s drawings, when they’re happy, they use bright colors. When children’s drawings depict sad subjects or angry subjects, they use colors like black, and brown, and purple, dark purple, for example, so they use dark, deep colors to represent that.

Another one is round shapes. Round shapes we see associated with childhood and a sense of playfulness everywhere you go, so the merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel. Again, those balloons, and bubbles, and balls, and hula-hoops. There are so many things that have that bubbly, rounded shape that have a joyful aspect to them. Also, a sense of abundance and multiplicity, so when we see all the colors of the rainbow together, when we see confetti, when we see rainbow sprinkles, and we see polka dots, polka dots are a really great example because it’s just one thing repeated many times over, and why is it that that one element that, when we repeat it, it suddenly becomes joyful, it’s that sense of abundance, and so I noticed that there were these things that seemed to recur that could help explain why the physical world might give us this spark of joy, and joy is not something — it’s not happiness, it’s not this sense that it’s something that’s going to endure for a really long time, it might just be a little moment, a little spark, but I think that’s still powerful to know that we can look at our surroundings and get these little sparks of joy from them, and as we savor and take note of those, they grow.

Kaelyn Riley

Yes. Yes. And maybe set the stage for sort of more joyful moments later on in our day, yeah?

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there are different ways to look at it. There’s one just, you know, my eye lands on a thing in my home and it gives me a feeling of joy. For me, that’s my color-coded bookshelves. As I’m walking past and I catch light of that, there’s just a feeling of joy that comes from that wall of books.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Then, there are things that have what designers call affordances, they have a way of inviting us into interactions that are joyful or playful, so for example, I recently became a mom, and when I was pregnant, I had one of those exercise balls, those big, bouncy exercise balls that they call birthing balls, I guess, because you use them a lot in labor, I didn’t have a traditional labor, I had a c-section, so I don’t know actually how you would use that in labor, but we had it around for a really long time, and then, after the baby was born, I thought, oh, well, it’s time to deflate that, and then I realized he really liked bouncing on it, of course, and so, now, it just sits in our home, and every now and then, I’ll look over and take a break and go sit on the ball and bounce a little bit, and that’s something that has a joyful movement that it shifts my perspective, it changes the way that I interact, it sets up the possibility of a joyful interaction me and my baby, so there are things that you can add to your space that are just purely joyful to look at, but then there are things that actually invite playful interactions and that change your behavior, as well.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah. I love these two examples, the birthing ball and then your color-coded bookshelves because they’re also examples of why the recommendation is not that people need to go out and amass more stuff to help them feel more joyful in their homes, it’s really about like arranging things in a way that allows for joy or seeing an ordinary object in sort of a different light in a way that can, you know, as you say, invite a joyful interaction with you and your family.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Yes, I always say shop your home first and look around and see what are the things that give you joy, and sometimes, those things are tucked away or they’re hiding in storage. I teach an online course about designing a joyful home, and one of the things that students have told me is that they have realized that they had objects that brought them a lot of joy, collections or family heirlooms that they thought were maybe too precious to display or that they weren’t sure how to display them, and then, once they took those things out and put them into a place in their home where they could see them all the time, that brought them a lot of joy, so sometimes, we have all the things we need, we just need to give them a little bit . . . a new life or you know I have a lot of furniture in my house that is thrifted, and I have these chairs that are painted bright green and they have stripes on them, we painted stripes on them, and that is something, it’s an old piece of furniture, but it has such a different feeling when it’s painted bright green than when it’s brown and kind of a little bit forlorn, so sometimes it’s a coat of paint that can transform something you already have into something joyful.

Kaelyn Riley

Oh, I love that. Yeah. I’d also love to talk, if you’re willing, you became a mother this past year, I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on maybe how your experience with parenthood has shifted your understanding of joy.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

It certainly deepened it. I don’t think you can come through the experience of becoming a parent and not be changed and not see pretty much everything in a different way. I think there were things I anticipated, the seeing everything in a new light, right, getting to sort of see him discover things and then rediscovering what that feels like to really see with new eyes, the feeling of just overwhelming love that you feel, and then I think there are things that maybe I didn’t know what they would be like. I think parenting is very difficult on the day-to-day. It’s very demanding, and you’re not sleeping, and you are on 100 percent of the time, right, because you’re taking care of a very small person who can’t do all these things for themselves, and yet it’s amazing the amount of resolve that just the joy of being in his company, it overwhelms all of that other stuff.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

That’s what I find so fascinating, and so the way to make that more concrete would be to just express that no matter what time he wakes up in the morning, early or late, I am so excited to go see him every morning, you know, I walk into the room and he just pops his little head up, and I’m just so excited, and that’s a really profound and joyful feeling.

I mean, the other reflection that I’ve had is that I haven’t yet talked about the difference between joy and happiness, and I think it’s worth just pulling those two ideas apart because we use them interchangeably a lot in our culture, and I alluded to this, but I didn’t really pull them apart, happiness is a broad evaluation about how we feel about our lives over time, and it takes into account a range of different factors, how we feel about our work or whether we feel like we have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, how connected we feel to other people, how well we feel our life is going compared to our ideal life or other people’s lives that we know. All that goes into this complex equation that we call happiness.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Whereas, joy is much simpler and more immediate, so when we talk about the feeling of joy, what we’re talking about is an intense momentary experience of positive emotion, one that has direct physical expressions, things like smiling, and laughter, and this feeling of wanting to jump up and down. Those feelings are really that mind, body bridge that we talked about because it’s not just something that I reflect on and I think about, it’s something I really feel in my body, it’s visceral, and it’s momentary. It’s not something that lasts a really long time, it’s these little spikes, and I think parenting is a little bit like that, too, where you can have days where nothing seems to be going well and he’s fussy and he’s cranky, and you don’t know why, and you’re trying your best to try to understand and make this small, angry person more comfortable, right, or to alleviate whatever distress he’s feeling when he can’t even talk to you, and then there will be a moment where you do something, and lately, it’s been this thing where I take like a piece of cloth, and he’s lying on the ground, and I throw it over him, and I would think he would be scared when it would drop on him, but he’s not scared at all, he gets so excited, and then I pull it off, and he just laughs and laughs and laughs, and you have a couple moments like that in a day, and you realize that you’re not going to be perfect as a parent, you’re not going to get everything right, but if you have those moments, I think that’s what you really remember, and hopefully, I mean he’s too young to have actual memories of this time, but the feeling of it, I hope will carry through, so I think it’s understanding that, especially now in the pandemic, we are not always going to have this sense of happiness, overall wellbeing. Right now. We’re worried about our health, we’re worried about the health of our families and our neighbors, we’re worried about the economy, we’re stuck inside, and we can’t go and celebrate and do all these things that we love to do with other people, but we can find these moments of joy, little ones, and that can sustain us through these more difficult times.

Kaelyn Riley

I love that, that distinction between joy and happiness precisely because it does feel so timely, you know, as you say, none of us have had the perfect year, we’re all living with a lot of stress and anxiety, and then it’s, you know, it’s just been a big time of reckoning, of grieving, but it also, it feels really implicit, to me, in your work that joy is like maybe most vital in those times and places when it feels least accessible.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Yeah, I think one of the things that has surprised me most in this journey is how connected joy is to resilience, that I think we think of joy as this lighthearted thing, it’s an extra, it’s what we get when we’ve worked really hard, and then we get that on the weekends, we feel a little bit like we have to earn it or deserve it, but in fact, the relationship is flipped, that when we allow ourselves moments of joy, we become more successful, we become more resilient. I mean, there are actually studies that show that we’re more productive in a state of joy, that managers who are more joyful have teams that work in a more coordinated way and they complete their tasks with less effort, that negotiators who come in with a joyful mindset actually reach more win-win agreements, so I think there are a lot of ways in which joy can make us more successful and not just be a reward for hard work, and then, from a physical perspective, when we experience and we exhibit joy, studies show that that can actually help to mitigate the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system, so instead of working, working, working, and burning out, if we allow ourselves these little moments of joy, we avoid that sort of terminal end of the stress cycle, and we actually allow ourselves to recover, and that enables us to be more resilient over the long haul.

Kaelyn Riley

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s really great. I think there’s this tendency to maybe think of joy, as you say, like as a reward but also as a sort of superfluous thing or maybe even childish, you know, like it’s unserious, you know, it’s not for grownups, sort of.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Yes.

Kaelyn Riley

But what you’re saying is that it’s actually a matter of survival, especially in these kinds of really trying times.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

And that’s how joy evolved. I think, we have positive emotions for a reason. We often think of them as superfluous, as you say, but positive emotions evolved just as negative emotions evolve. Negative emotions evolve to narrow our focus, to help us deal with immediate threats and challenges, so when we feel fear, there’s usually a reason we feel fearful, it’s to help us deal with something that might be threatening to us and manage that, and that’s why negative emotions really tend to narrow our focus in.

Positive emotions like joy, on the other hand, evolve to broaden our focus out. When times are good, if we only lived in this sort of short-term mindset that negative emotions instill in us, then we would never be able to play, to explore, to build connections that we need when times become more difficult down the road, and so these little moments of joy are actually a way of sort of helping us to shore up resources so that we can withstand these more difficult times.

Kaelyn Riley

Absolutely. Yeah. On that note, I’d love to circle back to grief for a moment. We talked a little bit about how joy and resiliency work in tandem, because it does seem to me like a really heavy moment for grieving, right now, you know, many of us have lost loved ones or jobs or even just the loss of the way our lives used to be sort of, and in some ways, I think grief might seem like the opposite of joy, but I have this sort of hope, this, you know, the weight of our incredible collective grief is what is going to ultimately make space for sort of more joy down the road, I wonder if that resonates with you at all or if you have any other thoughts on how these two sort of tricky feelings might work together with one another?

Ingrid Fetell Lee

We measure the height of our joy by the depths of our ability to feel our sorrow, and when we do not allow ourselves to feel that sorrow, what happens is we numb, you know, we become numb to protect ourselves from sorrow, and that also blunts our ability to feel joy. When we’re not able to feel the full spectrum of the human emotional experience, it gets clipped at both ends, right, and it’s a necessary fact of life, and part of that is that being joyful is acknowledging that you have something precious that losing would be devastating, and grief is an acknowledgement that you had something joyful, that lit up your spirit and your soul, that made you feel more alive, and to lose that is crushing, and so I think that we need to acknowledge that these are two sides of the same emotional understanding and allow ourselves to see grief as something that we move through, and joy is not impossible within that. That moments of joy are not impossible within that and that they may actually . . . you know, feeling moments of joy may actually help move us through the grief, and what I mean by that is, to be more specific, when you’re grieving and you witness something joyful that you would’ve liked to share with the person that you’re grieving, whose loss you’re grieving, that is a moment of joy that you can allow into your soul and also recognize that it helps you simultaneously understand the loss, that those two things go hand-in-hand, and so I think the experience of understanding joy amidst grieving is really one of acknowledging bittersweetness and recognizing that it is not something to be embarrassed of or ashamed of if you do feel moments of joy while grieving because you’re human, and we’re complex, and that those moments of joy actually can be things that help you find enough light to move through that experience of grief.

Kaelyn Riley

You wrote on Instagram recently about how you’ve been thinking about the relationship between the individual and the collective, and I’ve just really been sitting with that for the last couple days, honestly. It’s, you know, this incredible isolation, but then, of course, a time when I think a lot of us are thinking about how we can help sort of protect and support our fellow humans, so I wonder if maybe we could talk about sort of why collective joy matters and how our individual joys can kind of contribute to it.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

I think there are so many things this year that have contributed to that line of inquiry for me, the pandemic, of course, and exactly, as you mentioned, we’re more isolated than ever, and yet our behavior needs to be cognizant of the collective to help everyone survive. You can’t go outside without a mask and not expect that that will have consequences not just for you but for your neighbor. I mean, the reason we wear masks is to protect other people even more than ourselves, and if other people choose not to, then that has consequences for us, so I think the pandemic has shown us that we are all connected, we don’t get to opt out of this, and similarly, we don’t get to opt out of climate change. I think as we see some of the effects around the country and the world, as we see the fires in California, and the growing storms, again, we don’t get to opt out of that, that affects all of us, and again, with the election, right, that we are living in a time where it almost feels like truth itself, a collective experience, truth should be a collective experience, and yet that is fragmenting, we’re losing even that. Even truth is becoming something that people are trying to lay individual claim to, so when you have all of that, I think, against that backdrop, I’ve been thinking a lot about what does it mean to seek more joy and how do we do it in that very complicated landscape, and I think that the answer a lot of the time is self-help, right, it’s self-focused, it’s I’m going to go inward and I’m going to improve myself, and I think that is effective to a point but only to the extent that even if you find a lot more joy for yourself and your family, you’re still a participant in this collective project of human existence on this planet, and so what does it mean then to say, how do I create more joy for others not just for myself, and how do I contribute to the creation or the evolution of our society into something that is joyful for more people, and that, I think, it’s a big question.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

I don’t know that I have answers yet, but I do think that it’s always in this dialogue, it’s always in the if I find more joy, at the most basic level, I have a duty to share it.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah. Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

And I have a duty to be of service to others in helping them find it and bring more of that to their communities.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah. Yeah.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

And I think that’s where it begins.

Kaelyn Riley

It just seems so true to me. That’s incredibly resonate that . . . you know, been reflecting a lot about mental health over the past year and self-help, and I think it’s really easy to get stuck in that sort of endless quest for self-improvement, which is not to say that it’s bad but only worthwhile in so far as I can take it out into the world and sort of do more good for the people around me, I feel like.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

And I think there’s the other part of that feedback loop, which is that your own self-improvement is going to be limited by the society in which you live, and so if we live in a society where it’s hard to be well, and we look at what’s coming out of this pandemic, the levels of anxiety, and the levels of depression, I think that anxiety…I think, according to the CDC, they said that it has tripled since the beginning of the pandemic, and we look at what are the things that are contributing to that anxiety. We have a tendency, in American culture, in particular, to make all of these things about the individual, but I do think that we have to acknowledge that there are certain societal factors at play here that it is natural for people to be anxious in a world where they have to worry about paying their rent when they can’t work because of a pandemic, or they are worried that they’re going to lose their job because of the pandemic and then lose their health insurance, at the same time, and possibly get sick and be without health insurance, that is not anxiety as an individual pathology, that’s anxiety as a cultural societal construct, right, or as a consequence of societal construct, and so I think that recognizing that there’s a dialogue here between…we can work on ourselves all day long, but at some point, we have to start addressing some of the societal factors that stand in the way of us finding joy or I think in many cases, the least fortunate in our society finding joy.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah. Yeah, this is getting at a question I wanted to ask you about that came up in your 2018 TED Talk, I think — “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It” for our listeners to go check that out — and it’s sort of about these sort of more public spaces, you know, so many of us, the lucky ones among us, one might say, have been spending more time at home this year, but that hasn’t been true for frontline workers, for folks who are living in hospitals or in prisons or in nursing homes, and you talked in your TED Talk, again, back in 2018, about why it’s vital to not just apply the aesthetics of joy in our homes, in our own spaces, but to think about them in also these places that house our most vulnerable citizens.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

This comes back to the idea that we see joy often as something that you earn or deserve or that is superfluous or extra. When we see joy in that way, then it makes sense that when we build a housing project, we would just make it the bare minimum, right, we would just put in the bare minimum because that is the lens through which we view joy, and so, therefore, people who haven’t supposedly earned it, right, then we, in some sense, see them as not deserving it, and I think, again, this does a real disservice to society as a whole, to those people, of course, but to society as a whole. When we view joy that way, when we view people in poverty that way, we lose an opportunity to actually use the environment to help give people a sense of dignity, to give people a sense that life is worth living, right, to remind them that they’re not just there to survive but that they’re to thrive, as well. I think that is . . . it’s one of the great shames of the way that we have constructed our public spaces in the west, and I think the same is true in nursing homes, right, we see them as sort of clinical environments, joy is a superfluous extra, and so what happens is people, at the end of their lives, are basically living in hospitals, they’re living in medical environments, they’re not living in homes, so they leave their home, which had everything that brought them joy and they move into what is essentially a residential hospital that is optimized for medical care not for comfort and joy, and making someone’s last years on this planet really worth living, and so I think that reframing our approach to public space and actually starting to think about public spaces through the lens of how do we create spaces that bring out the best in people, how do we create spaces that make people feel good.

I saw a nursing home when I was in Japan designed by the architect Emmanuel Marrow, and there’s a room where the residents visit with their families, and it’s got all these colorful balls hanging from the ceiling, and the chairs are bright springy green, and the walls are bright and white, and it’s such an inviting space, and what they said is that since they redesigned that space, the families of the residents linger longer when they come to visit, so it’s not just about putting up a mural and making it bright and cheery, it’s really about the fact that when we infuse joy into these overlooked spaces, it changes the way people engage with them, and it changes the way we engage with each other.

Kaelyn Riley

Yeah, so they become more sort of useful or more sort of conducive to allowing moments of connection, right?

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Totally. I mean, there’s another study done in Vancouver, they studied rainbow crosswalks, and one of the things that they found is that when people are standing next to a rainbow crosswalk versus when they’re standing next to just a plain old crosswalk, people are more likely to believe that if they drop their wallet in that location it would be returned to them, so that’s a fascinating thing, the city of Vancouver, a pretty gentle place, I think, but people standing next to a rainbow crosswalk have a different perception of the people around them. They think that the people around them are more trustworthy when they’re standing in a rainbow crosswalk than when they’re standing in a black and white one, so something about the way that the environment feels can actually shift the way that we look at others, and if it changes the way we look at other people, then it changes the way that we’re going to interact with them and that they’re going to interact back with us.

Kaelyn Riley

I love that. That’s excellent. Well, just super quickly before we wrap up, maybe you could tell folks where they can find you on social.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

I’m @aestheticsofjoy on Instagram, and my website is aestheticsofjoy.com, so it’s easy to find.

Kaelyn Riley

Excellent. Ingrid, thank you, again, so much for joining me, this has been just a real pleasure.

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Oh, thank you, thank you, it’s been a joy.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today, and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram, @lifetime.life, @jamiemartinel, or @freezy30, and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at el.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman

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Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks. Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It’s produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank-you to the team who pulls together each episode, and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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