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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness
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Publisher: Little Brown Spark
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You are probably wrapping your head around the so-called “ordinary things” that influence our lives. Moreover, many factors contribute to crime, poverty, and depression - something well documented. Those factors often are things that we so casually regard as irrelevant. In “Joyful,” you’ll see how we can tackle these issues and understand who is adding fuel to the fire, most of the time out of negligence.
It’s not easy to single out the main culprit for these social issues since it is evident that it is a complex problem caused by a variety of things such as ineffective policies, or simply lack of cultural understanding. Meaning that a simple solution is not possible as you must consider all elements.
Zooming in on the tones, hues, shapes, shades, colors, patterns, and tendencies that are conducive to finally understanding what is advancing misery and what is stimulating growth. Lee also shares her concerns and attempts to raise awareness about violent crimes whose perpetrators are mostly young men, and understand what is driving their actions.
From the moment Lee decided to delve into the mystery of joy, she realized that it’s going to be a long and exhausting process. As she would later come to realize, reinvigorating the dark elements of certain communities is by no means straightforward. Nonetheless, paintings and colors can influence how a group of people behave and that is why they deserve our attention.
The truth is that every living thing is hardwired to look for ways to absorb new energy through food, safety, warding off potential threats, reproduction, etc. So, what does that have anything to do with the colorful revolution? Lee sets two examples that showcase and explain why color has such a tremendous effect on people’s behavior.
The first one tells the story of Edi Rama, the mayor who rejuvenated the city of Tirana in the aftermath of the dark communist rule. The gray buildings stood as a testament to that past in which civil liberties were curtailed, and people feared retaliation if they voiced a need for change. Rama stepped up and spearheaded the transformation of the city of Tirana, which left many bewildered and some of them even laughing. In 2004, as a result of his continuous effort to enliven the city, he was even awarded the Mayor of the Year.
The next one covers the vision of Ruth Lande Shuman – a courageous lady who managed to breath new life into East Harlem. Namely, by brightening up the place herself, she managed to revamp the prison-like schools and give them a positive vibe. The concrete facade, the windowless classrooms and linoleum floors were a potent contributor to the hostility that engulfed the public schools in New York City.
“No wonder kids are dropping out like flies,” Shuman added. She decided to launch “Publicolor” a non-profit organization tasked to apply vivid colors to schools in the Big Apple. At first, she faced resistance mostly by school administrators who were opposed to the idea of painting such bright colors, as they believed it would not have the effect Publicolor was hoping for. To their surprise, the painting of more than 400 public schools and community centers, led to more students attending classes, less graffiti, and improvements in test scores.
It is clear that bright colors stimulate the brain and make everyone feel better and safer. While chatting with different people and critically observing their comfort zone, Lee felt like the cultural bias was embedded deep within society, making us reluctant to change things, as if people were not comfortable to make things a bit more colorful and endorse a simple transition that could lift the spirits of individuals and communities. You should know that adding color tones, which depict purity and vivacity, is even more important than the proper usage lumens and hues. Likewise, people prefer lighting over any kind of uniform display of colors.
While researching the topic, Lee was confronted by people who would express their desire to try different colors but were often held back by a mindset of their own. What is so hard about enjoying unique colors, you might ask? Not all, but most people are depriving themselves of the joy to decorate their homes and surroundings the way they like it. If you talk to them, you’ll certainly find some strange need to, for instance, embellish the child’s room, but rarely catch sight of the same enthusiasm in other situations. Some perceive this as a social burden, imposed by abstract forces that no one can really assign any real measurements to.
Lee recounts the story that prompted her to be more attentive and open to the world. Inspired by Sam Gribley’s endeavors in “My Side of the Mountain,” she decided to embark on a journey that would give her a little test of reality. Unlike Sam, who set up traps, ground acorns, and befriended a falcon, Lee set out on an adventure but to be back by nightfall. She discovered that it’s not easy to live off the land, especially if you are attached to the comfort of modern-day life.
It’s a strange thing, this love for freedom. Even toddlers battle for their freedom, especially visible when they throw temper tantrums against trivial things, such as being forced to sit in the car seat. If you are eager to understand the pattern to this, let’s take a brief look into history.
For our ancestors, roaming around was the only way they could find potential mates and better habitats. And that pretty much explains why having the freedom of movement is part and parcel of the survival process. By the same token, people invented incarceration, and to this day is deemed as justifiable punishment for being a menace to the community that they are a part of.
The real question is – how do you know that you are free? Or let’s try another one – why is the playground freer than the classroom? In the classroom, you feel like you’re been instructed how to conduct yourself, while on the playground, you have a feeling of being absolutely unconstrained and liberated because there is no one orchestrating your movement.
If asked to choose what shape could be best described as joyful, what would your answer be? A large percentage of the people, Lee talked to, replied - circle. Long perceived as a symbol of oneness and harmony, it comes as no surprise that circles are the principal way in which most businesses dispose of the attendees to meetings so that no one feels more powerful than the other. Apart from being joyful, circles are also symmetrical, and “humans have an intrinsic love for symmetry,” wrote Charles Darwin in 1871.
Lee also notes that our minds are set up to easily detect asymmetrical forms, which induce a feeling of disarray. The science of symmetry versus asymmetry, is further boosted by the notion that people who have symmetrical features are found to be healthier and more attractive. If you believe that logic doesn’t back this claim, you are wrong. Facial symmetry is linked to gene diversity, which improves the immune system and leads to greater resistance to diseases.
So profound is our passion to locate patterns and shapes, that, most of the time, we see them even when they are not there. A patternicity is a phenomenon that explains our desire to look into the night sky to spot patterns or marvel at a street melody that later plays out in our head. The battle between chaotic and orderly can also be seen in nature.
In the 1970s, a mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot explained that patterns could also be observed across the forest, but not in a linear way as you would expect. He challenged the chaotic features ascribed to nature, and even coined a term for these natural motifs “fractals.” They describe patterns found in coastlines, landscapes, snowflakes, blood vessels, and even our heartbeat.
Archaeologists have found toys dating from ancient times, which show us that, even back then, playing was a big part of children’s upbringing. The interesting thing is that children, both now and then, enjoy playing with different objects, not necessarily designed as toys, and that backs up the assertion that play is likely older than what any archaeological record suggests. This pattern is also observable in animals, in particular chimpanzees and bonobos that are considered to be one of the most playful species in the entire kingdom.
Given these points, it’s evident why Lee believes that playfulness is an integral element of joy. Once we abandon this childlike nature and settle down, we are in trouble. To get more detailed information about playfulness, Lee met Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play.
Years ago, he had been tasked to investigate and find a pattern that explains violent behaviors among convicts in Texas prisons. After conducting a series of interviews with the prisoners and their families, and later comparing the results to those of law-abiding citizens, he and his team noticed something. Apparently, all of the prisoners shared one common thread - deviant play histories. Of course, you cannot single out playfulness as being the only factor, but it sure is one big piece of the pie. Now, let’s jump into celebrations.
If you look at it historically and cross-culturally, celebrations are nothing more than squandering precious resources that could have otherwise been harnessed more wisely. And yet, people love to celebrate marriages, victories, memories, harvests, endeavors, gatherings and wallow themselves in collective joy. If that’s the case, then there must be something more profound about ceremonies than momentary indulgence.
If you ever had this eagerness to crack a bottle open to celebrate something and wondered why - then, it’s best to understand the social form of joy. Even though some people celebrate alone, more often celebrations are done with other people. As research goes to show us, people who don’t keep the good news to themselves are much happier than those that do.
All of us dream of a sustainable kind of happiness and joy, something that doesn’t go away like the morning breeze. Nonetheless, there will always be a handful of things in your life that are completely out of your control, and as challenges keep knocking on your door, your job is to preserve your serenity. As it is with most things, that is easier said than done.
Hopefully, we as a society can finally come together in this battle and transform the world into a better place for all of us, by making it more colorful. Even the least productive members of society can become energetic and creative if you provide them with the right tools. More important than the right tools is the right atmosphere, something that we rarely devote time and effort to.
Nobody likes to be borderline poor or to spend the rest of their life in prison. People end up in bad circumstances because more than one factor played a role in their social and personal development. If we understand what is causing the problem, we might as well invent the cure.
Every journey starts with the first step, so before you set out to change your community, the next best thing you can do is often something simple like adorning the walls of your room.
Ingrid Fetell Lee holds a master’s in industrial design from Pratt Institute and a bachelor’s in English and creative writing from Princeton University. She is conside... (Read more)
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