Creating Space for a Happier Life
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“If you do not take control over your time
and your life, other people will gobble it up.
If you do not prioritize yourself
you start falling lower and lower on your list.”
- Michelle Obama
Is happiness growing abundantly in the garden of your life? What weeds encroached on the projects, plans, and goals you planted as seeds last year? Are you harvesting contentment and abundance this November?
Did some of the seeds you sprouted in 2023 bear more fruit than you anticipated? Which of your ideas and plans failed to thrive? Which habits, routines, and practices worked well for you this year? Which realities and obstacles got in your way?
As this year winds to a close this is a great time to weed out what isn’t working and create space for joy and fulfillment to flourish in 2024.
At this time last year, I envisioned myself having fun teaching and traveling... feeling ease and flow... having enough time to explore and experiment with new ideas. I saw myself enjoying my tribe and painting regularly. I imagined myself earning enough money to cover all my expenses. I anticipated reaching 400 people with this newsletter and I am pleased that my subscriber list increased to well over 300. The seeds that failed to thrive were my plans to teach workshops in Portugal and around the state and I spent more time volunteering for organizations I love than was good for me.
To create space for everything we’re inviting in 2024 let’s begin by pruning back the activities, relationships, habits, beliefs, and routines that no longer serve us. As creative people, we need to monitor and manage our energy. We have to deliberately create space for focus, reflection, rumination, and routine. We need silence to hear the inner voice.
Please join me in a "Marie Kondo" style evaluation of every aspect of our lives to decide what we want to flourish and what will be designated a weed. After all, weeds are not bad things, they're just plants growing where you don't want them to be. In 2024 let's give ourselves the gift of enough space for a happier life to grow abundantly.
For 2024 I am calling in more fun, more joy, more artistic freedom, more travel, and deeper connections. I am creating a special garden for serendipity and laughter. I am weeding out thoughts, habits, and beliefs that keep me playing small. Shoulds, coulds, and time sinks need to move into the compost pile. I am going to build stronger fences around my painting practice, my yoga practice, and getting enough rest.
I believe it is possible to craft the life of our dreams if we envision it, pursue it, and believe in it. As creatives, we are better prepared than most to imagine different realities than whatever we currently experience. We don’t need a cookbook or blueprints, or to be involved in film-making, publishing, or any industry to engage in designing a better future for ourselves and others. Creating peace and harmony in our own small life victory garden will encourage others to do the same.
Most of us are missing out on things we want to do because we’ve been too busy saying yes to people and things that do not enhance our lives. Saying yes when we should say no leaves us stuck in frustrating patterns. Saying yes when you want to say no is essentially fooling and manipulating the people you are trying so hard not to disappoint.
I often feel obligated to go along with requests to feel socially included and accepted. But, being nice, being overly accommodating isn’t good for me, or you, and I am not blameless. When I do things from a place of guilt or obligation, it is guaranteed to lead to resentment, frustration, and overwhelm.
Asking yourself “What do I want” “What do I prefer”, and “What don’t I want?” will help you to become more aware and more connected with your inner guidance.
Make note of which things you do already align with your values and make you feel good and examine closely those things you do that create resentment, disconnection, or anxiety.
We are social creatures, with more synapses in our brain devoted to connection than almost anything else. We want to be part of the herd, we want to preserve our relationships, to be liked and admired and so we often take on too much responsibility, too much work, and too much stress.
Most of us recognize when we are in a state of overwhelm, frustration, and anxiety but we are not sure how to get out of it. Burnout is a badge of honor in our society. We are so ingrained in the busy hustle of our culture that we think we are not doing enough even when we are damaging our mental health and diminishing our inner light.
We need our creative power to broadcast our inner light. Our well-being is even more important and contagious than the hate and fear coming over the airwaves.
Consider how you might use your brilliance to create more beauty, more communication, more peace, more collaboration, and more love in 2024. Start to notice where you can begin to step away from what you have been given as cultural norms in movies, video games, books, and religion in favor of your inner truth.
Start by being intentional with your yes. Notice the kinds of requests that align with your values and make you feel good. Could you say yes only to activities that give you a “full body yes”? Is your art practice a "full-body- yes" you want to grow? How can you create more space for your art to flourish in 2024?
If your blood pressure spikes whenever you’re asked to participate in an activity you don’t have time for, pay attention to that. It becomes easier to say no when you know what you want more of and what you are crowding out.
As you inventory your beliefs, relationships, habits, art projects, health, time, and self-care make a list of what you will add, what you will nourish, and what you will move to the compost pile. Go through each area just as Marie Kondo would an overfilled closet. Make room for what you want to flow effortlessly in.
Over the past few years, I released many relationships that left me feeling drained and depleted. Others I have transformed by being more forthright about my needs and expectations from the relationship. It was a huge revelation for me this year that adults can handle being disappointed when I choose my needs over theirs and some even patted me on the back to thank me for modeling self-care for them! Instead of losing friends, I deepened the circle of respect.
Next year, I want to expand in this area and be even more clear about the way I would like to feel seen, heard, and appreciated in my close relationships.
Are there people in your life who sap your energy? Is there room for you to extricate yourself from difficult relationships or transform them into something more comfortable?
Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about the way habits interfere with our art. It made me laugh… What tends to happen is that when you reach adolescence, you discover all of the other really faster, hotwired ways to feel good, which usually involves sex or substance or spending money. A friend of mine who’s in recovery says, “If it’s not a martini, it’s a man. If it’s not a man, it’s a MasterCard, if it’s not a MasterCard, it’s a muffin.” …So, a lot of people put down the creativity when they find the man, the MasterCard, the martini, and the muffin. The math — whatever it is, the workaholism. Whatever it is that you’re using to numb yourself so that you don’t have to feel. The creativity is a slower, gentler way to do that. So when you find the shortcut, you take it. And a lot of people can point to the place in their life where they stopped creating because it’s when they found all that other stuff. But I never put [writing] down.
So, for some reason, I was lucky enough to have the good sense in a life that has been filled with a lot of bad sense, and a lot of nonsense. I had the good sense to hold onto [my art], and to notice, and realize that it’s something that made me happy in a way that didn’t come with a great price tag that comes with those cheap, hotwired ways to make yourself happy. There’s always a hangover and a consequence from those ways, but with writing there isn’t. It really was my place of stillness. And I think in a weird way it was the beginning of my spiritual practice. I just didn’t know that it was, I didn’t have that language for it. I just knew that it felt good.
There are habits about my health, time, and self-care that I intend to transform this year. Let’s see if I can find the strength to give up my muffins… In 2023 some of the habits I added were more time in the sun and more rest to my self-care routine. I bought a red light the size of my body and used it daily to improve my skin, strength, and vitality.
In 2024 I would like to make kindness to myself and lightheartedness a habit. I will create rituals that guard my need for rest and reflection more carefully and add a new daily exercise to my routine.
How can you care for your body more kindly? Are there small changes you can make in your daily life that might have an outsized payoff in well-being for you?
A belief I released this year was “not enough”. It has taken me years to dig that one out of the soil of my family history. When I believe I am not enough or don’t have enough to handle the barrage of events life throws at me I am unable to act powerfully, I become anxious and want to hide out. When I believe I always have everything I need, people step up to help me, and guidance drops from above. I am then much more effective, creative, and patient with my obstacles and challenges.
My fear and anxiety about the state of the world is another belief I manage by dramatically reducing the inputs I allow into my personal space. I surround myself with voices who amplify my trust that we have the light, the creativity, and the power to transform chaos and darkness into a better world for our children and grandchildren.
Are there beliefs that diminish your light and your capacity to handle life from a position of power? Are there beliefs that you could internalize that would give you more confidence and trust in yourself?
This year I committed to changing my watercolor art style to one that is loose and free. I haven’t lived into my word of daily practice the way I intended so for 2024 I want to continue to reinforce that intention - maybe by doing several 30-day commitments. My goal is to make painting a daily action and for my art to be a source of joy and light that I look forward to with anticipation. Is there something you can add, take away, or transform in your creative practice that will bring you more joy and pleasure?
When you know where your focus is, it is easier to say no. When you create your goals and priorities from choice, it is much easier to build strong boundaries around them to protect your happiness as it grows.
Boundaries are limits you identify for yourself and apply through action and communication. Since the only one you have power over is yourself boundaries are the fences you build around your future happiness. Assess every potential project, opportunity, relationship, habit, or activity for alignment with your core values, beliefs, and current goals.
Setting boundaries and checking fences as a daily practice keeps your priorities front and center and empowers you to create the life you desire.
“No” is a word with just two letters, and yet saying no can feel complicated or wrong. Saying no can be particularly difficult if, like me, you tend to be a people-pleaser and regularly put others ahead of your own needs. The roles we engaged in as children may have gained us attention and affection as children but as adults, they interfere with us becoming our true selves.
Many people hesitate to say no, even when they are overstressed, overbooked, and just too busy to take on anything else. If you struggle with this, then you are not alone. It's important to learn how to say no to people and their requests.
This year I said yes, to something I knew I shouldn’t have. I said yes to being treasurer of the Florida Watercolor Society. They needed my skill and enthusiasm and I wanted to expand my circle of artist friends even wider around the state. However, as I got more involved in learning my new role I began to feel how big a job I had taken on. It felt like work. The weight of the time commitment and the constraints of my responsibilities to FWS began to give me sleepless nights, anxiety, and distress.
In the past, I would have overridden my body’s response so I could live up to my word. I would have kept doing something that didn’t bring me joy to avoid disappointing the board. I would have ended up disappointing them anyway because I am not passionate about being treasurer and we would have all suffered for a year or two. Instead, I broke with my old patterns and voiced my concerns and feelings. A great thing happened! The president, the board and I all agreed that I should not take on the treasurer job and that there would be no hard feelings. This was huge for me. I was able to say no and there was no drama! The job will be reconfigured to be less burdensome on the next treasurer and I can go back to creating more joy for myself in another form. If this is something that might interest you, please reach out to Jackii or Nina.
Before you say no, figure out what it is you truly want. Is it a “full body no”, a “not now”, or a “maybe later”? Take all the time you need to think about it.
Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Culture and civilization have overwritten the software system of the body so much and told you not to trust what you know, instead, what you trust are the rules and the mores of the fear-based, scarcity-based grasping… this is how you have to act, this who you have to be to be safe”.
Your body is very wise. It is tempting to overrule your innate wisdom with a litany of shoulds and expectations. As creative people, we need silence to hear our inner voice. We have to create space for focus, reflection, rumination, and routine. Quiet allows us to monitor and manage our energy and to get clear on what it is that is trying to come through us into the world.
When I first started listening to my inner voice I found it helpful to practice asking my body for insight. I get a somatic vibration in my lower belly that gives me a clear response to almost any situation. You might feel it somewhere else. I get a clear “eew”, “aaah”, “run-away” or “more of this”. My body instinctively knows what is and is not right for me. Your own body will share with you where to set your boundaries around everything that matters to you. Start by finding how and where the “full body yes” and the “full body no” manifest for you
As each request for your time and attention arises take the time to ask yourself if saying yes will make you even more tired, anxious, or burnt out, or if it will bring you joy and expansion. Does saying yes support your goals and values? Will saying yes prevent you from doing something else that is more important to you?
Saying no will never be easy. Saying no is not simple and the closer you are to the people you are saying no to the harder it will be. The paradox is that the people you love the most are the ones you should be able to be most honest with but in fact, those are the people you want to hurt the least. I had to practice several times before finally telling my family I wanted to spend Christmas away from home this year.
When it comes time to say "no" be firm - not defensive or overly apologetic - and polite. Always begin by expressing your gratitude and honor.
“Thank you” (no but) “and no”.
“Thank you for thinking of me and no I’m not available”.
“I greatly appreciate you asking me and no I can’t do it”.
This signals that you are sympathetic but will not easily change your mind if pressured. Be clear. If you lead people to believe you’ll say yes later, they’ll be more disappointed with a later no. Skip excuses. If asked for an explanation remember you don’t owe anyone one. If the other person is a manipulator they will manipulate anything you offer. You don’t have to do the dance.
If you have the time, desire, and connections, offer an alternative person or resource for them to investigate.
Saying no can be empowering and liberating. It may take practice. Remember your needs are important and your decisions and choices are how you build the future you desire. Being transparent about your feelings, needs, and limits leads to healthier, more authentic relationships. It models for others how they can protect their priorities, too. Saying no can help you feel better about yourself, and your overall experience of the world.
In this crazy world around us, we are going to need to harness every bit of our creative resources to become the visionaries, creative thinkers, artists, and builders our planet needs. We will need our collaborative strength to embrace the idea that life on this planet isn’t about to end any second now. We can plant an audacious garden of hope, apply our creativity to address our problems, and get busy growing a new future that is healthier for the whole globe. It is possible to envision a better reality that we can call into existence: one where there is abundance, fairness, freedom, health, peace, equity, safety, and joy for all! Please join me in that new possibility for ourselves and the world in 2024.
I hope I have given you some food for thought and a new way to create a garden of space for a happier you in 2024. I would like to offer my mentorship, guidance, and advice in creating new possibilities for your art in 2024. I am happy to share my insights and my knowledge with you.
I welcome the opportunity for conversation, cooperation, collaboration, and commissions.
With Light and Delight
Honoring the Rhythms of Growth and Transformation
If you'd like to read this blog in its original format with all the illustrations please follow this link: https://conta.cc/45U2lCw
“But when does something's destiny finally come to fruition? Is the plant complete when it flowers? When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout? When everything turns into compost?”
― Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese design principle rooted in Zen Buddhism and tea ceremony that perfectly reflects the aesthetic of autumn. In wabi-sabi, everything evolves from or devolves into a state of nothingness. The passage of time, birth, growth, decay, and death are key parts of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi asks us to contemplate our mortality, to mingle nostalgia and comfort knowing all existence shares the same fate. It invites us to be fully present where we are with only what we need.
Wabi-sabi represents the physical forces and deep structures that underlie the everyday world. How clay cracks as it dries, the color and textural metamorphosis of metal as it tarnishes and rusts. The nicks, chips, bruises, scars, and other forms of wear and tear are honored as indelible testaments to histories of use and misuse.
Wabi-sabi reveres the beauty of things that are imperfect, impermanent, well-used, and incomplete. It elevates all things modest and humble. It recognizes the beauty of the unconventional, inconspicuous, and overlooked. It honors the evanescence of life - when the luxuriant tree of summer is now bare branches under a cloudy sky that is wabi-sabi. When all that remains of a splendid mansion is a crumbled foundation overgrown with weeds and moss that is also wabi-sabi.
The wabi-sabi approach to beauty means accepting the natural aging process - wrinkles will come, and spots and stains will appear. What matters is being able to recognize, remember, and find happiness in the moments that have passed. The fulgent blossoms of summer give way to seed, dry leaves, and decay and another cycle begins.
The closest definition we have in English is “rustic”: simple, artless, unsophisticated with surfaces that are rough and irregular (Webster)
A wabi-sabi home is a lived-in space, not a showroom. It contains the stories woven into the fabric of your life and physically manifested in your home. Wabi-sabi is about the threadbare couch, not the plush leather sofa. It’s about the history, contentment, and appreciation for the lives lived inside the home. The small beloved objects and careworn surfaces. All things wabi-sabi feel intimate and are designed for human interaction and comfort.
Wabi-sabi things often appear odd, misshapen, awkward, or ugly. They are made from materials not far removed from their original condition and are rich in raw texture and tactile sensation. They beckon you to get close, touch, and relate. They inspire a reduction of the psychic distance between people and things. Their craftsmanship may be impossible to discern.
Things wabi-sabi are made from materials like raw wood, natural fibers, bamboo and iron that are visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. They record the movements of the sun, wind, rain, heat, and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling, and cracking. They may be on the verge of dematerialization but they still express an undiminished poise and strength of character.
Wabi-sabi things are unstudied and inevitable looking. They do not blare out “I am important” or demand to be the center of attention. They are understated and unassuming, and they easily coexist with the rest of their environment. They do not need documentation or provenance. It is best if their creator appears to be anonymous.
These things are earthy, simple, primitive, unpretentious, and fashioned out of natural materials which are never representative or symbolic. They eschew surface decoration, pattern, geometry, smoothness, and perfection; instead, it's about releasing excess and honoring the essence of what you have.
For the Japanese wabi-sabi is also a worldview, a metaphysical mindset. Simplicity is at its core. Truth arises from the observation of nature. Greatness exists in inconspicuous or overlooked details. Beauty can be coaxed from ugliness. All things are imperfect. All things are incomplete and unfinished.
The word “wabi” means a way of life, a spiritual path, the inward, the subjective, a philosophical construct.
The original meaning of “wabi” referred to the feeling of isolation and loneliness felt by religious hermits living in nature and the paradoxical beauty of imperfection. It suggests a discouraged dispirited, cheerless emotional state. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the life of the hermit/ascetic in its more modern form shifted to become the kind of life where appreciation of quotidian minor details became the path to spiritual richness.
“Sabi” refers to material objects, art, and literature, the outward or objective, an aesthetic ideal, and temporal events. Depending on the context, sabi can mean withered, lean, or chilled but more often it refers to the beauty of aging - like the changing hue of wood, the comeliness of rust, the delicate droop and dying of roses in the sun.
All around, no flowers bloom
Nor maple leaves glare,
A solitary fisherman’s hut alone
On the twilight shore
Of this Autumn eve
- Fujiwara no Teika
Wabi-sabi is not about having the latest thing or following trends. It asks you to exercise the restraint of simplicity without crossing over into ostentatious austerity or minimalism. How do you attain simplicity without inviting boredom? How can you keep things clean and unencumbered yet emotionally warm? Wabi-sabi is never cold or impersonal.
Wabi-sabi is the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from the freedom from things. It's about knowing what to let go of and when to let things be. It invites us to appreciate the cosmic order, slow down, be patient, and look closely. It asks us to pare down to only the necessary without losing the poetic. To be unencumbered and to tread lightly on the planet.
It is often easier to speak of wabi-sabi in contrast to what it is not.
Asymmetry, not conformity or evenness
Humble and modest, not arrogant, conceited or proud
Earthy, imperfect, and variegated, not seamless, polished, and smooth.
Growth, not stagnation
Natural decay, not synthetic or preserved
Slow, not fast
Abstemtious, not gluttonous
Unhampered by materials, not materialistic
Dignified, not indecorous
Minimal, not ostentatious
Withered, not fresh
Fluid, not rigid
Unfinished, not complete
Small moments, not grand events
Appreciation of wabi-sabi is best attained in small doses. In a poverty of distractions, the spiritual richness of the unappreciated is more profound. When you get rid of all that is unnecessary the effect of each carefully loved object becomes more potent. The closer things get to nonexistence the more exquisite and evocative they become.
Beauty in wabi-sabi is a dynamic event that occurs between you and the observed. Beauty is an altered state of consciousness and a moment of poetry and grace that spontaneously occurs given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. An object obtains the state of Wabi-sabi only for the moment it is appreciated as such.
Wabi-sabi is often practiced in the worlds of architecture, interior design, and tea ceremony.
Is there a way to incorporate the aesthetics of wabi-sabi into painting? What elements might we use? What questions should we ask?
Most things wabi-sabi have a vague, blurry, or attenuated quality. Once substantial materiality becomes spongelike. Once bright saturated colors fade into muddy earth tones or the smoky hues of dawn or dusk. There is an almost infinite spectrum of grays to dabble in. Wabi-sabi is muted, understated, sophisticated yet modest. It hints at a deeper complexity within. It relates to natural processes and the journey you are on. Wabi-sabi lends itself to abstraction with just a suggestion of realism below a textural, layered surface.
Some of the words you might consider as jump-off points for your painting could be:
Simple, minimalistic, natural, textured, abstract, representational, identifiable surface characteristics, natural processes, irregular shapes, intimate setting, unpretentious, earthy, murky, unfinished, incomplete, variegated, fluid, faded, emergent, ephemeral
The most frequent metaphor for wabi-sabi is the cherry blossom. Every spring cherry trees bloom for about a week at most. A sudden rain or wind can cause the delicate pale pink flowers to fall away at any moment. During this brief window of opportunity, large and small groups of people spread blankets and mats under cherry trees throughout Japan. Instantaneously a place and an event are created where the poignant ephemerality of the blossoms are honored with melancholy and joy.
Andrew Wyeth and his son, Jamie are masters at evoking the melancholy of wabi-sabi. Notice the textural quality of their work and how they use bare trees and withered branches to convey the bittersweet passage of time. These paintings retain the characteristics of paint while inviting studied contemplation of the deeper meaning of the complex marks and subject matter.
Autumn is a perfect time for you and me to contemplate the cycles of nature and its relationship to our own mortality. Where do we fit in the cycles of the year and our lives? How can we embrace the mindset of wabi-sabi in a way that enriches the quality of our happiness and our understanding of the world around us? What can we simplify and release? What poetry should we hold onto? How can we honor the marks we have made on our homes, our bodies, and our art? Can we use the aesthetics of wabi-sabi to bring in more contentment, mindfulness, and gratitude?
I hope I have given you some food for thought and a new appreciation of an ancient artistic concept. If you are interested in embracing the beauty of change, and acceptance of transience and imperfection, I would like to offer my mentorship, guidance, and advice. I am happy to share my insights and my knowledge with you.
I welcome the opportunity for conversation, cooperation, collaboration, and commissions.
With Light and Delight
My resources for this month's newsletter were:
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren Stone Bridge Press
A Little Book of Japanese Contentments by Erin Niimi Longhurst
Updated: Oct 27
“There is no joy in the rectangle, the triangle, the square, I try to create with shapes that are friendly. I try with my work to give a positive feeling, something opposite to the news” - Gaetano Pesce
If you'd like to read this August 2022 article in its original format along with all the illustrations please follow this link: https://conta.cc/3TEDe0I
What a wild, strange and weird reality we are living in right now!
My conversations this month have circled around fear - of climate change, of civil war, the end of times, world war, inflation, depression, homelessness, doom scrolling, drought and disconnection from nature.
For many of us disorder appears to reign.
Large and small offenses without consequences have created the impression that rule breaking is the norm rather than the exception and a sense that lawlessness will only increase.
It depresses me to know that more than half the world’s population now lives without access to nature in rigid boxes that are more canvases for the display of status, ideology or brand identity, than spaces for the cultivation of joy. Work has become about endless productivity gains, rather than the joy of craft or creation. School has become a push for achievement rather than an exploration or an adventure.
Bland good taste is associated with safety, with righteousness, with a disciplined form of goodness that suppresses our childish love of color and play in favor of a monotony of sharp corners, harsh lighting, lifeless gray beige and institutional drab dullness.
It’s no wonder you and I feel pushed down. When we’re stressed or anxious we are less tolerant of ambiguity and risk, which in turn makes us more likely to reject ideas that are strange, offbeat or new and hold onto old rigid ways of being.
It feels to me like the joy is being squeezed out of daily life and that our culture has declared joy to be superfluous - the icing on the cake rather than an integral part of the cake itself.
What would it be like for us to face our fears, and feel them all the way down to the abyss of powerlessness?
What if we surrender to our grief and let it
spread all the way to our toes and wiggle it out?
Could you sing into your pain? Could you create the silliest song you ever sang?
What if you paint your rage bright red and splash it with glitter?
What would it be like to dance with the great bear of your fear?
Could humor, curiosity, creativity and contradiction interrupt the rigid framework of what Margaret Thatcher called TINA (There Is No Alternative) thinking?
Joy is a high energy form of happiness characterized by the intense momentary experience of positive emotion, one that can be recognized by certain telltale signs; smiling, laughing, and a feeling of wanting to jump up and down.
Joy evolved for the express purpose of steering us toward conditions that encourage us to flourish. We feel joy most strongly in the presence of nature, rich colors, abundance, in community, in celebration and surprise.
Think of the last time you were suffused with joy.
Where were you?
Who was there with you?
What was happening?
Chances are you were feeling healthy, abundant, connected and enlivened.
The drive toward joy is synonymous with the drive toward life.
Joy has the power to free us from the rigid f
ramework of our physical and mental environments.
My inspiration this month came from the book “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” by Ingrid Fetell Lee.
If you have the opportunity I highly recomm
end that you spend some time with all of the research and insights in this book. I couldn't put it down.
Ingrid identifies nine aspects to the power of joy; energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration and renewal. Each of these categories has its own aesthetics, vibration and opportunities to add more joy to our surroundings.
One or more of these aspects will resonate with you and may provide you with some inspiration for ways you can bring more joy into your life, your surroundings and your art.
It can remind us that nothing is irredeemable in this world, nothing so ruined it is ever beyond hope. The things that bring us joy open our hearts, our minds and bring us back back to life. Even the smallest efforts to share our joy have an infectious quality that can begin an upward spiral that elevates us, our homes, our neighborhoods and our communities.
The energy of joy is vibrant, colorful, invigorating, exuberant, enlivening and dynamic. Joy is twirling, skipping, giggling, and dancing. Bright vivid colors animate music festivals, fairs, parks, parties and playgrounds.
Color pulls joy to the surface. Consider how we associate color and feeling in our language; we are caught in a black cloud, feeling blue, our life is golden, we are green with envy, in the pink, lighthearted…
Color and light have an alchemical relationship. Light energy is color's power supply. Our eyes cannot perceive color without the vibration of light. Each color has its own frequency and our eyes can only see a limited range of the color spectrum even in the best light. At night they say, all cats are gray. Their true color never changes but we cannot perceive color in darkness.
Over millions of generations of evolution, bright saturated color so reliably predicted nourishment that it became intertwined with joy. Color gives a vibrancy that lets us know our surroundings are alive and can help us to thrive.
Johannes Itten, the German colorist said this “Color is life; for a world without color appears to us as dead.”
Light and color also have a profound effect on behavior. In a study of nearly a thousand people in Sweden, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and the UK people working in bright, colorful offices reported being more alert than those working in duller spaces. They felt more joyful, interested and confident than those working in drab buildings and offices who reported feeling restless and unable to concentrate.
Teachers and students say they feel safer and attend with more regularity in brightly colored schools. In a study of elementary schools, students in classrooms with more light learned faster in reading and math.
The flourescent blue light of most office buildings resembles a cold and cloudy day and interferes with our perception of warm colors. Notice how these solid, unchanging indoor environments drain your energy.
Last month when I visited my ob-gyn I noticed how the whole office was designed to be cold and sterile rather than welcoming. The lights are cold, flat & blue, the wall colors and the cushions are dark green and black. Everything is rectangular. All the paintings were old and faded and sunlight entered only in the lobby. The staff were nice enough but hardly warm and welcoming. I imagine that it feels depressing to work there and the turnover must be high. It made me want to redesign the whole space for them and add some joy.
Hospital patients assigned to sunny rooms
are discharged sooner and require less pain medication than those in rooms with less light. Variable sunlight is best, but broad spectrum artificial light has been shown to alleviate seasonal depression and can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Bright light can even reduce both depression and decline in Alzheimers patients.
For brighter more energized space, or painting, consider reducing dark, light-absorbing colors and infusing bright warm colors like yell
ow and orange in shadowy corners or adding small pops of vivid or fluorescent color for more warmth and life. The shape of joy is curved and flowing, soft, organic and enveloping.
Abundance is overjoyed, brimming with happiness, lushness, sensory overload. Abundance awakens all of our senses. It is small things repeated many times, like confetti, sprinkles, glitter, pattern, rainbows, fields of flowers, buffets, jelly beans, candy stores, farmers markets, shopping malls, sparkling lights, polka dots and stars.
Abundance is the opposite of impoverishment and it tells the story that we have more than enough energy and vitality to share. Adding layers of patterns, dots, stripes, bouquets, etc. enhances the fun for both artists and viewers
Freedom is unconstrained. It is open spaces like fields, lakes, parks, gardens and beaches, wide blue skies, forests and connection with nature.
Contact with and views of the green natural world relieve stress and have a restorative effect on our minds. Access to nature improves sleep
quality, decreases blood pressure and lowers depression and anxiety.
Did you know that more Americans visit zoos than attend professional sporting events?
Artistic motifs for freedom include landscapes with wide open vistas, sunrises, sunsets, sailboats, soaring birds, verdant greenery an
d loose curvilinear mark making.
Consider where you feel most unrestricted; is it sleeping under the stars, riding in a convertible, skinny dipping, out in a boat, at sunrise yoga?
Harmony and order suggest the presence of an animate force and the smooth flow of energy that order creates. Our brains release the pleasure hormone dopamine in environments with enough complexity for us to identify patterns, connections and correlations.
Disorder gives us a feeling of powerlessness and anxiety while order is the tangible manifestation of unseen harmony working to sustain us.
Harmonious environments are stable, complete and inclusive. They are characterized by symmetry, rhythm, and balance. There is har
mony in a circle, no hierarchy in a round table. You might employ circles, complex geometric forms, grids, bilateral or fractal symmetry to invoke the energy of harmony.
Play is our greatest means of accessing delight.
Play allows us to practice giving and taking, empathy, fairness, flexible thinking, problem solving, resilience, imagination and frolic. Think back on your favorite childhood games and toys. Did you save some of them? Do you have a special collection of “Joy Toys” that make you smile just to look at them?
Some examples of joyous play might include hula hoops, kiddy pools, bubbles, balloons, balls, googly eyes, squiggles, splotches, splats, gooey, giddy, giggly, stretchy, bombous, bulging and other organic forms.
Our mind associates curved forms and oversized eyes with safety and positivity, they send the message that we are operating in the world of imagination where spontaneity, whimsy and silliness prevail.
Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play says “The opposite of play is not work, its depression”.
Play is something we do solely because it produces joy, it can be the ideal reset button when we are feeling blocked or blue.
When you wish to reverse the constant feedback loop of anxiety, failure and fear nothing beats the power of surprise.
The expression of surprise is closely related to the expression of fear; wide eyes, dilated pupils and an open mouth prepare the body to react to a sudden threat.
Surprise redirects our attention, alerting us to an unpredictable gap between what’s happening in front of us versus what we had anticipated. Surprise engages us in the contradictions between the strange and the familiar.
The unforeseen pleasure of surprise incites curiosity, invites exploration and increases the chances that we’ll interact with others in ways that keep the positive vibe flowing.
Surprise welcomes the weird and the whimsical, it is the antithesis of restrained good taste, plastic flamingos, giant balloon animals, pinatas, mystery vacations, colored linings inside drab coats, Easter eggs, yarn bombing, pothole gardens, tiny fairy villages, tree faces, Jack in the boxes, towering sculptures of ordinary
objects and pop-up cards all encourage us to approach and engage with the unexpected.
Surprise has the power to puncture our worldview and force us to reconcile new information with previously held beliefs.
In this state of joy we are more likely to accommodate a fluid and accepting mindset.
Like surprise, the joy of transcendence is a wondrous shift in perspective from the mundane to the elevated.
Transcendence lifts us up from the pull of gravity to the feelings of walking on air, on cloud nine, swept off our feet, in high spirits, elevated to a place where we see the light. Elation can be magical in its ability to clear our mind
s and open up the space for joy.
We find transcendence in mountain tops, canyons, tree houses, towers, cathedrals, skyscrapers, domes, Ferris Wheels, zip-lines, rockets, gliders, kites, balloons, and everything that floats or flies.
Transcendence is closely associated with the feeling of awe - a connection with divine presence where the sense of peace and purpose is so vast it is outside our usual frame of reference and overwhelms the senses. In transcendence our small self experiences a sense of oneness and euphoria that dissolves the boundaries of nationality and culture and is vital for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
As artists we can invoke transcendent joy using upward sloping lines, curvilinear movement, light, sky-like colors that shift in upward gradients, tall trees, a bug's-eye view and subjects that appear to soar and float.
Arthur C. Clarke, the great science fiction writer said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” We live in a moment where technology is redefining our world at a dazzling rate, making what was once impossible possible every day.
Have you experimented with the visual AI Dalle-E who produces images to match the phrases you submit? It looks like magic to me!
The joy we find in magic stems from a deep impulse towards expansion of the mind and the human condition. The realm of magic is the world of story where big dreams are within reach, enchanted creatures roam the earth, caterpillars transform into butterflies and where coincidences, luck, spells, and superheroes break the fundamental laws of physics every day.
When we find ourselves in situations rich in amb
iguity we call on magical thinking, superstition and even wonder. Wonder overlaps with awe when it ignites our curiosity about the boundaries of the world we live in.
In our love of rainbows, comets, fairy tales, unicorns, mermaids and elves is a belief that the world is bigger and more mysterious than we ever dreamed it could be.
Extraordinary magic surrounds us everywhere we look and as artists we can call on optical illusions, mirrors, mysterious lights, invented creatures, invented worlds, mirages, extreme magnification, iridescence, angels and other spirits to invoke the joyful possibilities of magic and make the world richer than we have
dreamed it to be.
The essence of celebration is that it is a participatory form of joy. Joy’s highest highs bring us into a collective experience of belonging and attunement.
Celebrations mark the pinnacles of joy in our lives; marriage, birth, harvest, growth, victories, new beginnings with ritual feasts, toasts, dances, costumes, bonfires, singing, kissing, embracing and the relaxation of societal hierarchy.
Sharing a group affiliation makes us more comfortable with less personal space and we exhibit greater trust in ourselves and in others. We are more likely to sacrifice for the benefit of others when our focus moves from our own needs to the needs of the group. Heart rates and movement synchronize in coordinated
song, dance, chant, and movement with the group.
The physical movement of celebration expands our bodies as joy courses from the center of our hearts to the ends of our extremities. Celebration is about the bigness of our feelings. Big objects signal the bigness of the emotions - giant cakes, parades, fireworks, tents indicate something different and important is happening in the life of a community. The joy of celebration magnetically draws others into our circle to join in our delight.
Celebration can also facilitate an ecstatic release of energy allowing latent emotions normally kept under wraps to emerge in communal catharsis and healing.
How might you expand your own circle of delight and celebration?
How can we use celebration to become more inclusive, unified and interdependent? Pay attention to the aesthetic cues at your next celebratory event - look for: garlands, glitter, disco balls, sparklers, tinsel, rhinestones, ribbon, ruffles, fans, pompoms, lanterns, feathers, inflatables, banners and streamers…
Out of destruction, renewal creates beginnings. The energy of renewal reminds us that every joyful beginning is also the end of something else.
We may be at the end of an era, the end of a way of life that is familiar and comfortable, but it is also likely that we are at the beginning of something new that just might be joyous.
The relentless drive of nature to endure and propagate reclaims every space where humans have lost interest. The great city of Troy
was only recently rediscovered, a magnificent tomb just uncovered in Egypt, The wreckage of Chernobyl now hosts the return of endangered wolves and lynx.
Environmental renewal is at the center of our attention every day. As we debate how to repair the damage we have done to our fragile ecosystems with our sprawling development and ravenous appetite for natural resources we need to also consider what else we humans need to thrive and flourish on this planet.
Without joy we may be surviving, but no matter how comfortable and well fed we might be, we are not thriving.
Can we follow the guidance of joy to things that animate, stimulate and sustain us?
The lesson of renewal is that from small seeds, big things grow. Even our smallest efforts, a single flower, a painting, a party, a mural might be the beginning of an upward spiral that changes a community, a neighborhood, a life.
In my search for ways to use my creative gifts to make the world a kinder, more hopeful place Ingrid Fetell Lee gave me many suggestions for creating a bright life raft of joy in the sea of negative thinking that often overwhelms me.
I love the idea that I can use humor, curiosity, creativity and contradiction to interrupt the pervasive gloom in the media and conversation and send up a signal flag of hope.
I think the most radical resistance we can offer to the anger, fear and anxiety spread by both the red and blue teams is living lives filled with as much joy as we can handle.
Would you like to join in becoming a Joy Ambassador - spreading a pandemic of color, fun and surprise? Let’s scatter seeds of radical joy and bring rainbows that swell into the empty spaces in our lives - blighted downtowns, oppressed communities, or hearts ravaged by loss.
Together we can manage joy in the opposite way that we manage money. Let’s spend it every chance we get!
Do you hear laughter? Do you have paint, glitter, music, and balloons? Let’s broadcast joy far and wide so others can join in. Because the more generous we are with our joy, the more we will have for ourselves.
We are here to see rainbows and to paint them, to be tickled and enthralled, to eat a second gelato with a sprinkly cupcake if we choose.
Let’s create art that lights us up inside. If you are already spreading radical joy please share your experiences with me. If you'd like to work with me to make your own life more joyous please reach out. I welcome the conversation.
With Light and Delight,