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6 Ways to Create a More Joyful Environment

Joy is something we have the ability to choose, regardless of our situation. We rarely have control of our circumstances, but we always have the ability to choose our responses.

That being said, I also believe (and there is a growing body of research to prove) there are external triggers we can introduce into our lives to help us find joy.  Ingrid Fetell Lee researched the objects and places that people associated with joy for her book, Joyful. She writes:

“Too often, we move through the physical world as if it were a stage set, a mute backdrop for our daily activities. Yet in reality it is alive with opportunities for inspiration, wonder and joy.”

Even in moments of intense sadness, we still find joy in things outside of us: like rainbows and beautiful flowers.  We can still be uplifted by a moving piece of music. Most people would agree that there is always a sense of joy to be found somewhere in nature, whether it is in the mountains or at the ocean.

So there appears to be some joy that exists ‘out there’, as well as the joy that we choose internally.

If it is possible to increase the joy in our lives by tweaking our environment, why wouldn’t we embrace that as quickly as possible?! Here are a few suggestions to increase the level of joy in your surroundings.

1. Introduce color.

It isn’t new science that color influences our mood. While cultural and personal influences do impact how we view colors individually, it is fairly universally accepted that white evokes a sense of cleanliness, red a sense of power or danger, blue a sense of serenity, yellow a sense of cheer.

We may tend to gravitate towards a certain color palette because it is the current trend or what we consider a more ‘adult’ aesthetic, but that may not be what brings us joy. Look at some images and explore the colors that give you a sense of emotional lift or make you smile. You don’t have to paint your entire house a hot pink; a set of pillows or a pink front door might be just the pop of color you need to genuinely increase the level of joy you find in your home.

2. Add negative space.

We can also be sabotaging our joy with too much clutter. As your eyes travel around a room, they need a little breathing space to regain balance.

The amount of busyness you can comfortably tolerate in a space is very personal. Some people enjoy a number of patterns, colors and textures in a room. Others can tolerate very few and a primarily neutral space is preferred. Again, looking at images of rooms and seeing what you are most drawn to can be a useful way of determining your own personal tolerance.

All that may be required is a general decluttering of your home or one particular area. We can experience a huge emotional lift when we let go of unused or unneeded possessions and can open a closet or drawer to see a space that is organized and not overflowing. Or perhaps simply clearing off a table or countertop could provide just the right amount of negative space to trigger more balance in your environment.

3. Bring in nature.

Scientific research confirms that time in nature is good for us. The cognitive benefits include increased attention span, improved working ability and stress reduction, according to the American Psychological Association.

Nature can also be beneficial when brought indoors.  Plants brought into your home can aid in concentration and increase your productivity.

Exposure to natural light may decrease your blood pressure, improve your sleep, and boost your immune system. Both are proven to increase your overall sense of well-being.

You can add a bit of green to your environment by starting an indoor herb garden, adding some houseplants or even decorating with nature scenes. You can maximize your exposure to natural light by using lighter colors on walls & windowsills, avoiding heavy drapes and strategically placing mirrors.

“Joy isn’t just something we find. It’s also something we can make, for ourselves and for those around us.” 

-Ingrid Fetell Lee

4. Adjust your soundscape.

A soundscape is the sound that identifies a place. The grocery store has sounds of register beeps and grocery carts swooshing across hard floors. The forest has sounds of birds, dripping water and the wind whistling through trees.

The sounds we hear day in and day out in our environment at home also have an impact on our well-being. Anthropogenic noise (man-made noise) and aural architecture (the way noise moves in a structure, like our home) continuously surround and affect us in our daily existence. These ‘noise annoyances’ and ‘noise pollutants’ can lead to depression, anxiety, increased blood pressure and decreased productivity, often without us even realizing why.

You can improve the soundscape of your home in several ways. You can minimize outside noise with proper weatherstripping, placing bookshelves or fabric wall-hangings on shared walls and using plush rugs on the floors. Minimize indoor noise with energy-efficient appliances and powering down devices (like computers and gaming systems) that aren’t being used. You can also swap out hollow-core doors with solid wooden doors, which block noise better.

Try bringing in the sounds of nature, particularly water sounds and birdsong. Both are calming sounds that reduce stress and trigger relaxation.

Creating your own playlists for the mood you want to foster in your space is a personal way to affect your soundscape. Or you can use an app like spotify or pandora to curate a mood for you. Simply listening to a musical playlist that makes you feel good may improve your pain tolerance, ability to heal and enhance your memory.

 5. Surround yourself with your favorite things.

Do you have a special gift from a loved one that evokes happy memories? Do you have a piece of artwork that speaks to you deeply?

Often, we keep special things packed ‘safely’ away or save them only for special occasions, while the things we use and look at on a daily basis are ones we care little about. But the best way to honor our favorite things is to use them or place them where we can enjoy them. They are not serving us hidden at the back of the closet.

Marie Kondo’s question, Does this spark joy? is not irrelevant. While I may not be 100% on board with immediately tossing everything that doesn’t spark joy (I would be lacking a sofa, for example) I do think evaluating your possessions and letting go of the things we all hang on to out of habit can create room for items that DO spark joy to come forward and shine. And as you replace things (like a sofa), try to bring in only the things that you truly love. Eventually you will be surrounded by only your favorite things. And doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Material things may not bring about joy per se, but often the memories and feelings they evoke DO increase our overall sense of joy. Identify your favorite things and give them room to spark joy.

6. Include whimsey.

Our quest to appear sophisticated and ‘adult’ can get in the way of embracing joy to the fullest. Just like color palettes, the decor we choose in our living spaces often reflects what we think is appropriate or trendy for our age group or demographic, not what makes our heart smile.

Whimsey is something unexpected, something playful. A large art print of your cute dog or a child’s drawing hung over a bed. A kitchen towel or a pillow with a sassy quote. Or a brightly painted chandelier hung over the tub.

Whimsey is where your personality can shine in your home, and it is all those fun little touches that will make your visitors grin.

Don’t be afraid to add elements of the playful and bright around your home if they make you smile. These are the touches that make your space YOURS and will surely increase the joy that surrounds you.

When we consider how often we are emotionally affected in life: by a painting, the vastness of the ocean, a child’s gift, it really should come as no surprise that we  have the power to affect our levels of joy by making small changes within our environments. Try one (or all) of the above suggestions and let me know how it improves your level of joy!

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