BITS ‘N’ PIECES
In Japan, it’s been said, they’ve created a competitive spirit without competition. We are mostly taught that the point of a game was to win. But in Japan, really, the point of a game is to make as many people as possible around you feel that they are winners.
And, at first, this seemed to take all the fun out of the sport. On the other hand, one never feels disconsolate.
It’s like being a part of choirs than being a soloist. In a choir, your only job is to play your small part perfectly, to hit your notes with feeling, and by so doing, to help to create a beautiful harmony that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, every choir does need a conductor, but a choir releases you from a child’s simple sense of either-ors. You come to see that the opposite of winning isn’t losing — it’s failing to see the larger picture. Not getting ahead isn’t the same thing as falling behind any more than not being lively is the same thing as being dead.
Scientists sometimes use the words “joy” and “happiness” and “positivity” more or less interchangeably. But broadly speaking, when psychologists use the word joy, what they mean is an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion – one that makes us smile and laugh and feel like we want to jump up and down. It’s different than happiness, which measures how good we feel over time.
So what brings us joy? Things like cherry blossoms, bubbles, swimming pools, tree houses, hot air balloons, googly eyes, and ice cream cones (especially the ones with the sprinkles) seem to cut across lines of age and gender and ethnicity. I mean, if you think about it, we all stop and turn our heads to the sky when the multicolored arc of a rainbow streaks across it. And fireworks – we don’t even need to know what they’re for, and we feel like we’re celebrating, too. These things aren’t joyful for just a few people; they’re universally joyful. And though we’re often told that these are just passing pleasures, in fact, they’re really important, because they remind us of the shared humanity we find in our common experience of the physical world.
Though the feeling of joy is mysterious and elusive, we can access it through tangible, physical attributes, or what designers call aesthetics, a word that comes from the same root as the Greek word “aísthomai,” which means, “I feel,” “I sense,” “I perceive.” Patterns – round things, pops of bright colour, symmetrical shapes – all create sensations of joy.
We all start out joyful, but as we get older, being colorful or exuberant opens us up to judgment. Adults who exhibit genuine joy are often dismissed as childish or too feminine or unserious or self-indulgent, and so we hold ourselves back from joy.
But if the aesthetics of joy can be used to help us find more joy in the world around us, then couldn’t they also be used to create more joy? For example, a hospital designed by the Danish artist Poul Gernes. Or schools transformed by the non-profit Publicolor. What’s interesting is that Publicolor has heard from school administrators who say that attendance improves, graffiti disappears and kids actually say they feel safer in these painted schools. And this aligns with research conducted in four countries, which shows that people working in more colorful offices are actually more alert, more confident and friendlier than those working in drab spaces.
Each moment of joy is small, but over time, they add up to more than the sum of their parts. And so maybe instead of chasing after happiness, what we should be doing is embracing joy and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.
Compiled by SZ