Ingrid Fetell Lee Transcript

Joy and happiness are two very important aspects of life, and they are just what we need now as we face difficult times around the world. What is happiness and joy to you? We all have times that we struggle to find one or both. In her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness (which was a Next Big Idea Club selection — chosen by Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Dan Pink, and Adam Grant as one of the “two most groundbreaking new nonfiction reads of the season!) “Ingrid shares a moment of awareness that changed her life. She shares, “Joy isn’t hard to find. In fact, it’s all around us.” Before we are able to create more joy and happiness at work and at home, we first need to define them separately, because a lot of times they get grouped together.

You can watch a video of our full conversation below or just listen to the audio version as a podcast.

The important distinction between joy and happiness

In our quest to live fulfilled lives, it is important to understand the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a long-term, ongoing evaluation of how we feel about our relationships, health, work, purpose, etc…Usually we evaluate this based on a certain period of days, weeks or months.

Joy, on the other hand, is an intense momentary experience. Things that make you laugh, smile, make you feel alive. It may be spending time with family, enjoying time working on a hobby you’re passionate about, a celebration, great conversation with friends, etc… In other words, joy is the little moments that build up to happiness.

As Ingrid shares, we may not notice it but we tend to put off joy in our pursuit of happiness. She says, “When we focus on ‘Am I happy?’ Oftentimes what we concentrate on are the big things. So we say, ‘I gotta get that promotion, I gotta buy that house, I gotta find my partner.’ And a lot of those things are not in our control fully, and a lot of these that require us to put off joy. We say, ‘Okay, I gotta get that promotion, so I’m not gonna go see my parents this weekend. I’m not gonna go hang out with friends. I’m not gonna do that hobby that I’ve been dying to take up. I’m gonna put that off until after I get the promotion.’ And then what happens, we get the promotion, and then we need more. We settle in and we’re looking toward the next milestone, and so joy falls by the wayside.”

Why you should stop thinking about happiness entirely

A lot of our struggle with “finding” happiness and knowing if we are living a happy life is the vagueness of the word. We tend to treat happiness as a future state, something to achieve, a destination. Once we get to our destination of happiness, everything will be great. The problem is, we never truly arrive at an end.

We think we will be happy once we get that promotion, or the new house, or have our first child, or have enough money to go on that trip. But once that milestone is over, we don’t stop and say “that’s it, I’ve achieved life”, we go on to the next milestone. It is never ending, so having that mindset will only lead to disappointment.

So what should we do? Ingrid says we should stop thinking about happiness altogether. Instead we need to focus on adding moments of joy into our lives. She says, “If you know that adding little moments of joy to your day adds up to not just to happiness overall but that it reduces stress, that it increases our resilience by lowering those physiological responses to stress and also facilitating more adaptive coping mechanisms. We’re more likely to grow from a crisis, for example, or from a difficult time at work if we invite little moments of joy into our struggle. So, it impacts our health. It impacts our connections. We have greater trust and intimacy when we have little moments of joy that we share with our partner. It impacts productivity and cognition. So if we know that these little moments of joy are helping us in all these different ways than focus on that. Ask, “how can I create a few more moments of joy today, this week, in my marriage, in my work? How do I create those things? How do I share them with others?” And the happiness takes care of itself.”

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The 10 aesthetics of joy

In her book Ingrid shares 10 aesthetics of joy, which are ways in which we can create these little moments of joy in our lives. They are energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration, and renewal. She shared a few of them with me in depth during our discussion.

Play is one of our most direct roots to joy. Play is how we find new ideas, adapt to change, explore the world, break out of our comfort zones. Ingrid says “It’s one of the most mysterious but most essential tools for survival.” One example of how to bring play to a work context is keeping a game on your desk as a reminder of the need for play at work.

In order to feel a sense of joy, we have to feel physically free. But Ingrid’s research also found that while we like to be free, we also don’t like to be fully exposed. We need prospect–we need a view of our surroundings and an idea of what’s happening around us. And we need refuge–a protected space to hide out. In an office setting this translates into having a workspace with both open space and closed off areas for employees to use. This gives employees a feeling of freedom. I’ve long said that it’s not about open or closed spaces, it’s about giving employees multiple workspace options.

Celebration is what happens in a moment of intense joy – when our joy feels so contagious that it draws other people in. Celebration can be spontaneous or planned. It can be shown through singing, dancing, food, etc.. In the workplace this is one thing we can definitely improve upon. We tend to celebrate birthdays in a plain, boring break room with a cake, and maybe a banner. It’s not very joyful. Ingrid suggests that instead of celebrating birthdays, organizations should celebrate more work-relevant events. Join dates, promotions, successes, and even failures.

Bringing joy to work

Even if you don’t love your job, you can find moments of joy anywhere you work. Some things that you can start doing today to create more joy at work include being more curious, thinking back to what you liked to do as a child, make space and time for joy, keep items that spark joy on your desk, and give yourself permission to find joy. Plan time on your calendar to focus on joy if you need to. For leaders, lead by example and show your employees how to bring joy to the office.

To leaders, Ingrid says, “Joy starts at the top. If you don’t model the behavior of demonstrating that joy is important within your organization, it won’t carry any weight because people are so used to the mentality that joy is extraneous, it’s not important, I’m not supposed to bring that to work, that it needs to be modeled at the top. And I’ve seen this in working at IDEO, you see it very, very clearly that leaders at IDEO are joyful. David Kelley, founder of IDEO, is a joyful guy, and he brings that to his work. And he’s playful and he tells his funny stories, and sometimes they’re stories of failure which is vulnerable thing. It takes vulnerability on your part to feel safe to express joy and exhibit joy in that way.”

You can watch a video of our full conversation below or just listen to the audio version as a podcast.

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