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!


  1. Yarnbombing has become a thing here in Canberra and ever year they "warm the trees" with beautifully coloured coats (much like the one you have pictured), especially in our arboretum.