How to use the aesthetics of joy in your creative work

April 18, 2022

I’m Michelle.
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Have you been feeling uninspired? Here’s how to use the ten aesthetics of joy to unleash creativity in your work and life.

How to use the aesthetics of joy in your creative work - from Michelle Hickey Design

Even the happiest, most positive people feel the heaviness of our world. And lately, things have been extra challenging. Whether you’ve been consumed by negativity in the news or struggling with a personal situation, you may have noticed its impact on your creative work. I’ve certainly recognized a shift in mine.

Sharing and sparking joy

Perhaps it’s what led me to pick up Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. I had read it once before, but when it came time to select a title for my book club, it felt like the perfect time to revisit and share it with friends.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in my creative slump. Everyone in our book club had experienced recent bouts of discouragement, sadness, or aimlessness. But Joyful soon redirected our energy. Not only was our chat uplifting, but it reminded us that we are never alone in our struggles.

What are the ten aesthetics of joy?

The cornerstones of Joyful are what author Ingrid Fetell Lee refers to as the aesthetics of joy. What makes them unique is that they are natural resources and are accessible to everyone.

As you read through this list, think about which of the aesthetics of joy most closely aligns with your brand. Are there favorite projects that come to mind that embody one of the themes?

Think about a time when you spotted a person wearing a bright color or walked into a room painted in a rich hue. Did you feel something shift? That’s the power of the energy aesthetic.

Put it to use whenever you’re feeling a sense of dullness. How can you revitalize a space or your mood by infusing a zap of visual energy?

In Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee likens abundance to the feeling of being a kid in a candy store. When was the last time you saw that kind of unabashed possibility?

As you think about living in abundance, push beyond the accumulation of more stuff. Instead, challenge yourself to be open and receptive to more of what’s most important to you.

This aesthetic seems to be top of mind lately. Everyone wants it, and we value it more than ever. How often do you experience freedom in a visceral way?

To live in freedom, seek wide open spaces, nature, greenery, and organic elements. Breathe them in, taste them, extend your arms and embrace them. Spin in circles, do cartwheels, or simply step away from your phone.

Have you ever thought about how patterns, balance, and rhythm can make you feel at ease? As humans, we crave familiarity, and any time we can create stability, we are filled with a sense of joyful harmony.

Designers like to take credit for creating perfect patterns, but we forget that they also exist in nature. Look to examples like seashells, the symmetry of your body, tide patterns, leaves, or the shape of an egg to remind yourself that the world is trying its best to be orderly.

It’s no secret that children experience higher levels of joy than adults. Could that be because as we grow older, we try to suppress our instinctive desire to jump, dance, and imagine without abandon?

If you’re feeling exhausted as you read this, know that the aesthetic of play goes beyond physical movement. In Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee shares the phenomenon that curved shapes stimulate a positive shift in our brains. To embody a playful spirit, seek out the circular visuals associated with childhood: lollipops, hula hoops, Ferris wheels, and beach balls.

It’s hard to beat the feeling of an unexpected moment of joy. Whether visual, like a new mural on the side of your coffee shop, or experiential, like a last-minute invitation to an event, surprises have the power to shift our spirit.

Lately, I’ve been so overexposed to content and unoriginal ideas that I’ve become numb to surprise. Is this not an indication that I’m spending too much time in the online world and neglecting to see the wonders blossoming around me? If you can relate, tuck your phone in your pocket and open yourself to the delightfully unexpected.

Another hazard of spending too much time behind a screen is that we’re constantly looking down. Think about all that we are missing. If you want to feel uplifted, start by directing your attention upward.

A simple change in perspective can shift your inner world. Consider rearranging the furniture in your workspace, gazing up at the stars, or following a butterfly’s path as it meanders from plant to plant.

Like play, we tend to lose our ability to recognize magic as we grow into adulthood and joy with it. But even the most practical of us can’t ignore some of nature’s magic: fireflies, sunrises and sunsets, magnetism, and Aurora Borealis.

In Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee shares this quote from Eden Philpotts: “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” Perhaps it is not our job to seek magic, but to allow it to enter our consciousness.

Have you ever noticed that when you share a joyful piece of news with a friend, your exuberance is amplified? Communal joy is infectious, and celebrations can begin simply through smiles, laughter, hugs, and dancing.

How can you harness these feelings of joy and amplify them to the fullest? Ingrid Fetell Lee points out natural expressions of joy like bursting shapes, glitter, sparkling lights, and strong rhythms. I challenge you to think beyond the fireworks and confetti and cultivate the unique kind of celebration that speaks to you.

Temporary things remind us that life is not static. How beautiful is that? Though we may be saddened when a season comes to an end, or the flowers wilt, or the fruit ceases to grow, there is always more goodness around the corner.

If I learned anything from this aesthetic of joy, it’s that we should never fear permanence. All around us, things are shifting, flowing, and giving us new opportunities to grow and shine.

There’s so much more to learn from Joyful and the resources that Ingrid shares on her site. I encourage you to explore more of her resources as you seek ways to bring joy to your work and life.

Infusing joy in your creative work

I’d like to end with a creative exercise I shared during our book club. If you are up for participating, please let me know by leaving a comment below, sending an email, or a DM on Instagram. Here’s your challenge:

Do you ever feel like you suppress your joyful inclinations out of fear of judgment? What is one joyful act you would do more often if you could let go of that fear?

Choose one of the ten aesthetics of joy to make your own in the coming week. See where you spot it. Be open to opportunities to infuse the aesthetic into your work.

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