Friday, September 25, 2020

Joy Project: Surprise

Hello! Thanks for checking in on the latest joy project installment! Chapter 6 of Joyful was a fun one, because I love to be (pleasantly) surprised. To me, that means nothing overdone, awkward, potentially embarrassing, or scary. It's as simple as catching a glimpse of the unexpected (like these painted stair risers), finding a laugh in something dull, or the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time. Keep the lavish parties; I'm happy with a coupon for a free appetizer.
I was surprised (hah!) to learn that psychologist Paul Ekman identifies surprise as one of the six primary emotions. Its purpose, writes Ingrid, is "to quickly redirect our attention." From an evolutionary perspective, that is an advantage because a surprise could signify an oncoming threat or opportunity. Joyful surprises, which hopefully those early humans also experienced, "promote upward spirals of positive emotion." I love that image, because we so often think of spirals as a descent.

Even in infancy, humans are pretty adept at recognizing things that look or sound different. To our benefit, artists of all kinds understand the value of sensory surprises. Perhaps you've heard of yarnbombing, also known as knitted graffiti, which livens up an environment with fun color and texture. Painted rocks with inspirational messages and designs have popped up all over my neighborhood during the pandemic. And I love hearing little snippets of music wafting through the air, even if it is just a kid practicing trombone. 

Yarnbombed light post

The trick is working surprise into our lives without becoming predictable. This is where the "hide-and-reveal" comes in handy. More on that next time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Shape of Play Update

In my last post, I mentioned the idea that the most playful shapes for humans-and some other animals, too--are circles and spheres. I haven't done much in the way of decorating tweaks since then, though I really meant to get some round throw pillows. But here are the small, plant-based ways I've added spheres and circles to my life:

Marimo moss balls:

Goldfish plant in a bowl:

Air plant habitat:

String-of-pearls succulent:

And this moss terrarium:

My history of plant care is a little spotty, so it's a good thing these are all fairly low-maintenance. Because the least joyful shape for a plant is, well, dead.

I hope you're having a good week, and I'll see you soon!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Joy Project: Play

Hello! Before I jump into the next chapter of Joyful, I'll update you on my quest for harmony in the cleaning out of my mother's house. I could not be happier to report that I've crossed the finish line. Thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people--and a very cooperative local real estate market--the sale of the house closed on Monday.

The last week was a little strange, full of competing moments of nostalgia and frustration. But as I swept out the garage last Saturday, I finally got the sense that the harmony of the home had been restored, and it was ready to receive its new occupant. It was a feeling of satisfaction more than sadness, and I was delighted when a large dragonfly flew into the garage and buzzed around for a bit. If you believe in such things, dragonflies symbolize adaptability, transformation, and new beginnings. They also remind us when we need to bring a little light and joy into our lives.  
Now I just need to restore harmony in my own home, which has been kind of neglected the past few months.

And, boy, was I ready to read a chapter about play!

Many animals engage in play. It's one way they learn appropriate social behaviors. If a pup plays too rough, its litter mates will let it know. Although human play is often much more complicated, it can also be quite simple. I hadn't really thought about it this way, but the book suggests that play is the only activity that humans do solely for fun. There's generally no monetary gain or survival of the species on the line.

I imagine we all have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a playful activity. But what makes for a more playful environment? What is "the shape of play?" Sorry, triangle, it's not you. Nor you, rhombus. Research supports the idea that the most joyful shape for humans is a circle. Sharp angles subconsciously evoke danger--teeth, thorns, and various potential injuries that clumsy people like me know all too well. A curved surface feels safer and more accessible, which in turn reduces stress and promotes creativity.

Unless you have an extensive collection of decorative plates, Hula Hoops, and dartboards festooning your walls, your environment is probably more angular than not. I know mine is. So now I'm going to consider the ways in which I can add more curves, circles, and spheres in places in my home that feel particularly stuffy. And I honestly don't think I could go wrong with a bubble machine.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! See you next time!

bubbles tilt-shift photography, soap bubbles, green, farbenspiel, tree,  colorful, shimmer, float, CC0, public domain, royalty free | Piqsels

Friday, July 31, 2020

Joy Project: Harmony

Happy Friday, and happy last day of July! It's been more than two months since my last post, and honestly it feels as if it could have been two weeks or two years. These are such strange times, and it's easy to lose track. But the real reason I've been absent is that I've been helping my mother downsize from a four-bedroom house to a tiny apartment.

Downsizing does not come naturally to my mother. She's a keeper, a collector, a saver. She's not the only one; women of her generation learned to "waste not, want not" and were expected to be the caretakers of a family's history through its artifacts--the dishes and quilts and photographs and mementos, sometimes going back generations.

I knew the house was full--that was more than apparent to the eye--but once my sister and I started digging in, the density surprised me. Every closet, every shelf, every drawer, every cupboard. I couldn't help but think of a black hole drawing in matter and compressing it until not an inch of space remained. I won't go into all the details at this point, but suffice it to say that the clean-out is requiring a significant amount of physical and emotional energy. And time.

So this is the context in which I read the next chapter of Ingrid's book, Joyful. The chapter entitled--wait for it--"Harmony".  (For anyone who does not believe the Universe has a sense of humor, I submit this bit of synchronicity as Exhibit A.) 

A significant component of harmonious surroundings is order. Though humans love things wild and messy sometimes, we are also drawn to order. Order implies safety and predictability, which were vital to early humans. "The greater the complexity in an environment," Ingrid writes, "the greater the need for an underlying harmony to bring a sense of order and ease to a space." Order is a manifestation of harmony, and "harmony offers visible evidence that someone cares enough about a place to invest energy in it."

I'll add to that a lesson I learned from my mother's house: if you do not invest energy in maintaining order, the resulting disorder will take that energy from you, and then some. 

For ideas on how to promote harmony within a space, many people turn to the Chinese art of feng shui. And although it is prone to mystical overtones, it really is just about the smooth flow of energy. For me, a big part of that is simply paying attention. We get so good at overlooking things that we hardly notice the stack of mail on the table or the chair that everyone bumps into. Ingrid describes this as "finding friction at a moment when you really want momentum."

So far, 2020 has been full of friction of all kinds, and it doesn't appear that it is going to get much smoother in the near future. But as I move forward with the idea of harmony fully planted in my brain, I'm going to concentrate on reducing the friction within my control. 

Wishing you a harmonious start to the month of August!


Friday, May 22, 2020

Joy Project: Freedom

Photo credit: Nathan Sundstedt
Whew, April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge set me a little behind schedule, but I don't want to let this month go by without posting about the third chapter in the book Joyful. This chapter's aesthetic is Freedom, which is a complex ideal right now as many of us are feeling physically, socially, and psychologically confined by the coronavirus pandemic. But in some cases, those restrictions are actually opening up our lives in unanticipated ways.

Ingrid writes that "Joy thrives on the alleviation of constraints," which seems completely at odds with the increase in constraints we are all experiencing. I'm finding personally, however, that some of those constraints are balancing out. Yes, I have to work from home, but I can do it without business casual. No, my husband and I can't take the beach vacation we planned, but we can use that time and money to make long-needed improvements to our landscaping. And if no one has been to the supermarket in a while and we don't have much to cook for a meal, we all just fend for ourselves.

Much of the Freedom aesthetic doesn't have to do with coming and going. It's really about the feeling of freedom that comes from removing or mitigating obstacles that block us. That could be as simple as rehoming a piece of furniture that doesn't quite work or stepping away from your technology for a while.

But the best freedom is found by going outside in nature, or bringing nature in. Research shows that people living with more access to green spaces have less stress and more contentment. Workers who sit near windows report better health and job satisfaction. Even the humble houseplant can make us feel happier. Walking about in the forest, aka forest bathing, improves immune function and has been a public-health initiative in Japan since 1992.

We humans are deeply connected to nature down to the molecular level. So I encourage you during this unsettled time to experience and appreciate nature as often as you can--at a safe social distance, of course, and taking all appropriate precautions. Get a houseplant and give it a name. Plant some seeds and flowers. Victory gardens are a thing again--although in all honesty, mine will likely be more of an uneasy truce.

Be well, everyone! Find some joy today!

Meet Jeffrey

Friday, May 8, 2020

A to Z Joy: Reflections 2020

First of all, congratulations to anyone who jumped into the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year. 2020 is challenging us in so many ways even without a solid month of posting in the middle of a pandemic. So if you even gave it a try, pat yourself on the back.

I was happy with my theme, as thinking about the little things that bring me joy helped get my mind off of the news, which, as we know, is more bad than good this spring. I did a fair job of staying ahead of the alphabet and tried to keep my posts short enough for a quick read.

What I did not do well was visit an abundance of other blogs. I found some fun ones I visited regularly, and I found many whose posts were so lengthy, I just didn't have the patience. That makes me feel bad, because I know the work that goes into it. Mea culpa, I'm chalking it up to my general short attention span this year. Also, if your comment form is hard to find or in any way difficult, I probably skipped it. I did make sure I reciprocated every comment left on my posts, but unfortunately not every blogger did the same.

All in all, things seemed a little tired in the A to Z world compared to years past. Again, a sign of the times. The good news is that even though April is in the books, we're still out there blogging! And I plan to use the master list to continue to look for new blogs I enjoy.

Thank you to everyone who visited! Stay safe and well, and I hope you'll stop by again soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

A to Z Joy: Zephyr

zephyrus wind engraving | Ken Mayer | Flickr
Not sure what's going on with those legs...
We get a lot of wind in Colorado, which I don't love, but a zephyr is different. A gentle breeze from the west, it gets its name from Zephyros, the Greek god of the west wind. He ushered in springtime by melting snow and bringing warm rains for the trees and flowers.

A zephyr takes the bite out of the winter air and promises blooming crocus and forsythia. It comes as the days are slowly getting longer and any continuing snowfall disappears much more quickly than in the frigid months of January and February. It is the perfect middle between the cold gales and hot gusts that we are so accustomed to.

Zephyranthes - Wikipedia
Zephyranthes flower
(Back in the day before the Colorado Rockies were born, Denver had a minor league baseball team called the Zephyrs. Baseball...remember that? *sigh*)

Anyway, my wish is that this year's spring zephyrs act as positive winds of change, bringing us a kinder, gentler period after the tough few months we've had so far in 2020.

Thanks to all of you who visited during A to Z. I hope my posts brought a bit of joy to your day, and I look forward to seeing you around the internet!

Oh, and here's a taste of what winds can be like in Northern Colorado: