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The Art of Joyspotting

I have only read a few books that have impacted the way I think (or at least the way I want to think) in every day life. Maybe I’ll tell you about some of the others another time, but today I want to share one that’s been on my mind SO much lately. In fact, it recently turned my afternoon walk in Asheville from an ordinary, mindless activity into an opportunity to invite more joy into life! Not because of anything I did – simply because of the way I chose to see. More about that in a minute.

I heard about this book in 2019 from a friend who’d just started reading it:

I ordered it from Amazon and, like I do with all my hardcover books, immediately took the jacket off because they’re just kind of annoying (IMO). The difference THIS time was that I couldn’t help but smile at what was underneath. I’m not going to spoil the surprise for anyone who wants to order it, but let’s just say I knew right away that this book would live up to its name!

This not a full book review by any means, but you do need to know the basic idea in order to really understand my afternoon walk example, so here are the highlights:

First of all, it is NOT an inspirational, self-help book on joy. I promise. The author doesn’t tell you how to be joyful or argue why you should be more joyful. She does, however, share her observations about specific things in our visible, tangible world that naturally incite feelings of joy within us. She boils down into 10 categories what she calls the aesthetics of joy – the 10 ‘buckets’ she believes all of the joy-bringing goodness in our physical world falls into. The names she gives them are:

  • Energy – bright color and light
  • Abundance – quantity and variety, repeating patterns and layering textures
  • Freedom – open space and unobstructed movement
  • Harmony – symmetry and balance
  • Play – rounded shapes, circles, spheres
  • Surprise – something that breaks up what’s normal
  • Transcendence – lightness and elevation along a vertical spectrum
  • Magic – iridescence, reflective materials, and optical illusions
  • Celebration – bursting shapes, scattered light, and strong rhythms
  • Renewal – blossoming shapes, spirals, and S-curves

Even reading those names makes me feel happy! The author uses science, psychology, and sometimes history to explain why these things make us feel joy, while giving plenty of examples along the way. She also does a marvelous job of giving the reader ideas on how to incorporate more of each aesthetic into the home and workplace. By the end of the book, I found myself constantly looking around trying to identify what category things fell into, AND I was inspired to make a few decorative changes in our house (before we sold it of course).

So, fast-forward to September 2020. We sold the house and some of the furniture, put the rest of our stuff in storage, and we’re now living and working in environments at our digital nomad destinations that we don’t have much control over (the reality of living in one short-term rental after another). We basically chose to put ourselves into a situation where very little in our physical space is constant. Being able to find and name what IS constant has been pretty important in this whole journey in order to avoid emotional meltdown. In fact, I’d venture to say that ability is helpful in any season, whether it applies to living as a nomad, or just coping with all the changes that life throws at us.

One thing this book reinforced in a very practical way is that joy is always available if we’re looking for it. The author of the book calls this #Joyspotting. And even if we can’t seem to find it, we can help create it.

One day while in Asheville, I found myself needing a little mood pick-me-up. Juneau, our husky, also needed some physical activity so I thought I’d two-birds-it and take a walk in a nearby neighborhood. I had my camera handy and my eyes turned to #joyspotting mode. Now, I had previously walked or run on this same road multiple times before, but I couldn’t believe how different it was this time.

I saw energy in the bright colors of flowers and leaves, abundance and play in the faces of the blossoms and the softly curved edges of the stones, and celebration in the petals that seemed to explode out from their center.

I was delighted when I saw energy and surprise in the form of brightly colored front doors. Honestly, it made me want to know whoever owned the house! (At first I felt a little weird about taking a picture of the front of someone’s home, but then immediately felt assured that if anyone did ask what I was doing, they’d be happy to know it was because I found their front door so joyful and refreshing.) I also saw harmony in the symmetry of many of the entrances with balanced windows and landscaping that seemed to welcome you in.

I saw surprise in a random patch of blue spray paint among abundant ivy, a single blossoming magnolia (also renewal), and a lone dandelion amid a holly bush (also abundance and play in the berries!).

I saw transcendence and freedom in the height and movement of the trees, a staircase that climbed a steep ascent to someone’s home, ivy that kept reaching up and out, an open field with clouds painted overhead, and tiny mushrooms that seemed to float effortlessly (a little magic too perhaps?).

I saw renewal in the S-curves of old trees and the fanning growth of greenery. (Full disclosure: these last two pics are from a hike a couple of days later, but it shows renewal so well that I wanted to include it!)

By the end of the walk, I felt so full of wonder and joy – like I never wanted to take a ‘normal’ walk again because look at all I would have missed! Juneau was less than thrilled about all the stopping I did to take pictures, but I reminded her how often I’ve stopped to let her sniff and she seemed willing call it even.

The whole #joyspotting movement fits so well with the idea of Trailing Beauty – it’s all about perspective and paying attention. Joy is certainly beautiful, but it’s not the only thing that’s beautiful. I’d also say it’s an art – rather than a science – because there’s not a right or wrong way to do it. It’s a bit subjective and open to interpretation, but the practice is so good for the soul.

So should you read the book? YES!

I can’t even imagine how joyful the world would be if more people were aware of and intentional about noticing it and taking steps to add it where they can. I bet it would feel like a much less divided, fear-driven place to be if we were all walking around trying to make each other smile, all the while smiling ourselves.

*Additional Note*

It occurred to me after publishing that I need to clarify 2 things:

1 – The author of Joyful isn’t saying that these are only things in life that bring feelings of joy (and neither am I!). Obviously there are endless examples of experiences, moments, and realizations that bring us joy – and they’re not caused by things strictly in our visible, physical world. But it seems to me these aesthetics of joy are the ones we tend to miss the most because we normalize them.

2 – People may define joy differently than the author, and that’s ok. Whether you want to name it happiness, delight, wonder, etc., the underlying point is that our visible world can have a great effect in creating positive emotions, and there are opportunities all around us to notice it and harness it.

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