Hi, I’m excited to be here today with Ingrid Fetell Lee, who is a joy expert. She started as a designer director at IDEO, a global innovation firm, and was a founding faculty member at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She’s been featured in The New York Times, Wired, and Fast Company, among others. Apparently, last year’s TED talk got her a standing ovation. The mini-version of the TED talk, which everybody listening should go to YouTube and watch, has twelve million views online. It will brighten up your day. With a Master’s in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute and a Bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University, Ingrid has established herself as a leader in the design field. Her popular blog, The Aesthetics of Joy, showcases her work and ideas. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

Welcome, Ingrid.

Ingrid Fetell Lee: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I have to say I had a case on IDEO at my business school. I thought it was the coolest company ever.

Ingrid: It is. It’s an amazing place.

Ingrid Fetell Lee: JOYFUL

Zibby: You come up with innovative ideas? What does it do?

Ingrid: IDEO is a design and innovation company, and works across disciplines, so everything from designing medical devices to redesigning the way that an entire education system works, applying the ideas of design and the methods of design to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Zibby: Awesome. Can you tell listeners how you stumbled upon this life-changing idea which is the premise for your book, that joy — I should’ve said the book is called Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. How did you come across this idea that joy is not a fleeting feeling but really it can be…? Take over.

Ingrid: I wasn’t looking for this. This is something that happened to me almost by accident. I was in design review. I was in my first year of design school. I had just finished that first year. At the end of the first year they do this review where they make you take everything that you made over the course of the year and set it out so the professors can give you feedback on it. It is this grueling — you prepare and you prepare and you lay everything out. You’re so nervous. The bar for a good one of those reviews is if you don’t leave in tears. It’s like, “What’s a good one?” I was standing there, of course really nervous and terrified, and then one of the professors says, “Your work gives me a feeling of joy.”

Zibby: Phew!

Ingrid: Phew, but also, that’s weird. There were a lot of feelings all at once. The first one was, “Joy? Isn’t that light and fluffy?” I left a pretty serious career in branding years out of school to come back and do a degree in design. You’re telling me that I made joy. I felt like it was a little not serious. What I wanted to be doing was really solving serious problems. I was a little thrown. I was also curious. We think about joy as this intangible ephemeral feeling. It’s this thing that we are almost passive to. It drifts by us. We can catch it as it floats past. That’s really our main relationship to it. When this professor said that there were these tangible things — it was a cup and a lamp and a stool — how did those things create a feeling of this lofty and ephemeral joy? I asked them. They couldn’t answer the question. This sent me off on this journey.

Ingrid Fetell Lee: JOYFUL

Zibby: Looking at the things, if I were standing there looking at it, would I be able to see what they were talking about, or you were completely blindsided by this comment?

Ingrid: I was pretty blindsided by the comment because I had not tried to create joy. I was trying to make serious things. For example, the stool was designed to help people with balance issues. It had foam and layers of foam. It moved. The other thing is, you have to remember first year of design school, nothing looked very good. I don’t even have good pictures of them, which is funny because you’re so embarrassed at the first things you make in school that you don’t even save the photos. You’re like, “That’s terrible.” It was designed to help people with balance issues improve their core strength. It had all these layers of colored foam that I guess is what gave it the feeling of looking joyful. It was really a byproduct of the utilitarian goal that I had. It wasn’t on purpose.

Zibby: Then you went out and decided to try to find all these experts? What came next?

Ingrid: What came next was obviously I went to the library. I was supposed to be on summer vacation.

Zibby: I would not say that was obvious. I was not expecting that to come next.

Ingrid: The first thing I did is I went to the library. I thought, “Let me go to the design section and see if there’s anything about how to create happiness and how to create joy.” How do those things connect? Of course there’s a lot of people’s opinions. There’s nothing grounded in science. Then I go to the happiness section. Let’s look in psychology. Let’s see what is there that might have to do with the physical world. There’s nothing there. Psychology is this very inward-looking discipline. It’s all about what’s going on inside of us, our minds, our behaviors, our attitudes, all of those things, and now obviously our neurochemistry and all of that, but nothing about the physical world. It’s almost like that is completely incidental to the field of psychology. It became this effort of trying to piece together all of the research out there. That was the first thing. I recognized there was a gap. I started just by talking to people. I went out and I stood out in the middle of Rockefeller center. I just started asking people, tourists, people on their lunch breaks, “What brings you joy?”

Zibby: Did you have a little table on the street?

Ingrid: No. It was just me and a clipboard, trying to look official.

Zibby: You and a clipboard. People stopped? Wow. I’m impressed. That’s a bold move in New York City.

Ingrid: When you’re talking to people about joy, it’s a lot easier because most people are happy to talk about joy. They’re a little reserved at first. Then when you’re like, “I just want to talk to you about joy,” it’s actually a lot easier. I started making lists of the things that people would say. Some of the things were personal. We all have these individual things that are quirky. It’s like the T-shirt from the Phish show from ten years ago that you have great memories of it and no one else would understand why that . Then there are cultural things, things like foods and sports teams, that had to do with where we grew up. They’re very specific. They’re grounded in place or in a group of people.

Then there was this other set of things that was not explained by either of those factors. They were things like balloons and bubbles and cherry blossoms and treehouses. Those things were not limited to one group of people. They cut across lines of age and gender and ethnicity. It began to seem like they were universally joyful. I would start to look at other cultures and see, for example, kites. Kites are everywhere. People on every continent fly kites. What is it about these certain pleasures that are so universal? I started putting pictures of them up on my wall to try to see if I could understand.

Zibby: An actual, physical wall, not like the Pinterest?

Ingrid: No. It was before Pinterest. It was in the days of Flickr and Google Images. That was how you found images back then. I had a physical wall in my studio. It was a linen-covered inspiration board. I used thumbtacks. I would put these images up and then move them around and move them around and try to see if I could spot something, some common thread. As a designer, you want to understand not just that these things exist, but how to actually make more of this. Designers always want to put more of something into the world if it’s good. I wanted to understand what that essence was.

What I noticed was that there were these physical patterns, bright color, round things, a sense of lightness or elevation. As I looked at these patterns, they emerged from the wall. I realized that joy is intangible and ephemeral, but there are physical triggers that elicit that joy within us. That is a bridge between the physical world around us and the emotional world within us. I started calling these things aesthetics of joy because all of them were aesthetic elements. I found ten of them. There are ten of these patterns. That’s what the book is based on, is these ten patterns.

Zibby: When you first started researching this and you’re there with your linen board and everything, was it just to be a better designer? Were you trying to make it into some sort of project for your design school? Were you like, “I’m working on a dissertation?”

Ingrid: It became my master’s thesis. At first, it became this area of curiosity for me where I was like, “I’m going to see if I can decode this.” It wouldn’t leave me alone. It was one of those questions that wouldn’t leave me alone. I was fortunate that I had to do a thesis. It was a perfect occasion to spend a year dedicated to researching this topic.

Zibby: I was just imagining this pursuit of information with no deadline, I feel like that can be harder.

Ingrid: The deadline was very helpful.

Zibby: So there was some structure to it from the beginning?

Ingrid: Definitely. Of course, I started working at IDEO right after this. I worked on it on the side, this project.

Zibby: Give me the ten-second bio here. You went to college? Then you worked in branding?

Ingrid: I went to college. I worked in market research and branding. I lived in Sydney for two years. I came back from Sydney. I knew at that point that I wanted to be a designer. I didn’t know exactly how I would get there because I had no design experience. I started applying to design schools and started making things myself, taking drawing classes and things like that to improve my tangible skills. I ended up getting into Pratt. I went there. I left Pratt. The day that I presented this work as my thesis, I got the offer to join IDEO. I spent six years at IDEO. All along the time that I was at IDEO, I was working on this, morning and weekends.

Zibby: Wow. Were you trying to bring these concepts into your work at IDEO?

Ingrid: To some extent, yes. There are always intersections and places that you can infuse that. I was still trying to develop the principles. At times, there would be opportunities to test that. The biggest thing that helped me during that period was I spent a lot of time in people’s homes and in their workplaces and in call centers. I was doing a lot of ethnographic research, so I was seeing how people lived. I talk a little bit about the lack of joy in some of the places that we spend a lot of our time. These aesthetics of joy are very present in certain places but really absent in others. The workplace is one of the places that it’s really absent. Spending a lot of time with people in their cubicles and in their conference rooms and at call centers and out in the field with people who have more out-in-the-world kinds of jobs, you see that joy is missing. It raised the importance of this for me.

Zibby: In the TED talk, you showed all these slides of all these happy things like balloons and confetti and bubbles and happiness and color. Then your next slide is of these drab hallways and office conference rooms. You’re like, “Why do we live like this?”

Ingrid: Exactly. Why do we live like this? There are reasons.

Zibby: What are the reasons?

Ingrid: The reasons have to do with the fact that as a culture we suppress joy. We hold ourselves back from joy. The reason is that we sort of feel like joy is something we’re supposed to grow out of as we get older. Children are given free reign to be playful and joyful. Then as we get older, we feel like we have to grow up and set that aside. To exhibit joy in our culture as adults, to wear a lot of bright color and to be playful and silly, is often judged as childish or superficial or self-indulgent. I know a lot of women who don’t want to buy themselves flowers because they feel like it’s self-indulgent.

Zibby: By the way, after I read that chapter, I was walking home from dropping off my daughter at school and passed Lenox Hill Florist. I was like, “I’m just going to do it. I’m going to go in and buy flowers for no reason.” I bought them. They have been the highlight of my week. Every time I walk by, I’m like, “Those are the flowers I bought for no reason. Look how beautiful.” I smile and I keep going, so I’ve been thinking of you a lot. I’ll show them to you on your way out.

Ingrid: That’s wonderful. I’d love to see them. That is a much deeper equation. That runs deep in our culture. If you look at Goethe and his theory of colors, he says savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a predilection for bright colors. People of refinement try to avoid bright colors as much as possible. This equation between the visual signs of joy and to be ignorant, to be immature, to be primitive and savage, it has colonialist-era overtones. That is a baggage that has followed us into the present day.

When you look at the world that we have built, we’ve built a world that separates joy out from the rest of life. There are circumscribed spaces for joy. We have joy in parks. We have joy in playgrounds. We have joy in amusement parks and hotels and resorts. Pretty much everywhere else is designed for function only. That means it’s grey. It’s beige. It doesn’t have any embellishment or ornamentation. Maybe houses of worship are the only other place that is designed for joy and a kind of transcendence. Generally speaking, most of the places we spend most of our time, the joy has been stripped out of them.

Zibby: Sad.

Ingrid: It is. In fact, when I was doing this, I almost choked up at that point. It is really sobering to see it. It’s especially sobering to see it when you look at — it’s the worst in the places where people have no choice but to be, nursing homes and hospitals and housing projects and homeless shelters, those kinds of places where people have limited mobility or they’re down on their luck and they don’t have a lot of options. We feel like we have to deserve joy or we have to earn joy. We don’t put it into those places because those places are designed purely for function. Now that I understand the research, now that I understand the connection between our environment and our emotional wellbeing, you can see that it’s a self-perpetuating thing. By stripping that out of the environment, we’re also stripping a lot of the things that suggest life, that suggest vibrancy, and that make people excited to get up in the morning and live.

Zibby: I want to go into the ten different components of joy, but have you found that people are receptive? Your book was so inspiring to me. I shouldn’t say this; I think I’m going to talk to the headmaster at the kids’ school. We just did this huge renovation. It’s now completely colorless. If you come in and present, are people open to this idea if you give them factual evidence? Are they still like, “Meh?”

Ingrid: There are some people who are open. Seeing stories like the story of Publicolor and what they’ve done in New York City schools — they go into these neglected school districts and they transform these schools with vibrant color. They find that graffiti disappears. Attendance improves. Kids and teachers both say they feel safer in these buildings. When you start to see results like that — color is probably one of the trickiest ones. It’s a difficult one to measure. There’s much better studies on things like light and the quality of light in schools that is actually directly connected to educational performance.

Zibby: You said, also, in the 1980s, a group of patients with gallbladder surgery, the patients who were facing trees recovered faster and needed less pain medication than the people who were facing a brick wall. That’s amazing.

Ingrid: It is amazing. The fact that it’s amazing to us shows —

Zibby: — maybe that’s stupid. Maybe it’s like, “Duh, of course.”

Ingrid: No, it isn’t. The fact that it’s amazing to us, to me, shows just how much we have absorbed the idea that are surroundings are irrelevant. We have been trained to believe that all joy and happiness comes from within and that it doesn’t have any relationship to our surroundings. There’s so much on nature. There’s a really interesting study done in housing developments in Chicago. They looked at aggression and violent crime. They took a project that had identical buildings that had all been planted with the same amount of nature initially, the same amount of trees. Some of the developments, over time, had been poorly maintained so the trees had died. They had been turned into concrete lots. You could compare these different buildings. They were basically identical circumstances. Some had more nature than others. They found that violent crime was lower. Aggressive impulses were lower, even intra-family aggression, and irritability. We really behave differently depending on the quality of our surroundings. Maybe we used to know it better than we do now.

Zibby: When we first moved into this apartment, my husband was like, “We need to get a ton of plants.” I have never had a plant in my adult life. He’s like, “It’s so important. You got to get plants everywhere.” We showed up and our whole hallway was like, “Where are we going to put all these plants?” It was like a forest or something, a jungle. Now, you watch them and then they grow. It sounds nuts, but there’s something really exciting. The kids planted their own ones and watched them grow. They’re like, “That’s the one I planted from that little thing?”

Ingrid: It’s profound. Plants are one of the simplest things that you can do to bring more joy to your living space. It is the thing that we underestimate. No one’s done this study on houseplants, but there is research that shows that we underestimate the benefits of a walk in nature. They’ve done studies where they had people walk through a park or walk through an urban area. They found that people consistently underestimated how much of a mood boost they would get from that very brief nature walk. The same thing is true with house plants. We don’t think that it’s going to have as much of an effect as it does. For me, especially in the in the winter, to be able to look over and see this greenery in my space when the world outside is brown is really helpful.

Zibby: Do you think photography can help? Here we are in the middle of New York City. My second cousin lives in Crested Butte, Colorado, and just posted on Instagram, “I can’t believe this is the view from my morning walk.” I’m like, “Are you kidding? That is amazing.” It was the most gorgeous thing. Being on my morning walk past Duane Reade and pushing through people getting off the subway so I can get back to my — obviously you can’t recreate that here without all moving, which we’re not going to do. One thing I’ve tried to do is buy photographs that represents aspiration, where I’d want to be or views more like that. Do you think the shortcuts work, or you actually have to be in nature? What do you think?

Ingrid: I think it’s pretty good. For example, in this one study researchers had prisoners, inmates in a prison, look at nature videos. Just exposure to nature videos reduced violent incidents by twenty-six percent. Plants do something special because they have other sensory modalities than just the visual. They change the humidity. They move. There’s something dynamic, especially some plants that open and close during day and night. I have this purple oxalis that I love. Its leaves open in the morning and then close at night. Of course they grow, so they have a dynamic aspect to them, which is beneficial. Even just having the textures or the visual elements of nature do help.

Zibby: Let’s talk about the ten components of joy that you list in the book. Thank you for all the worksheets in the back, by the way. That’s also amazing. If you’re buying the book, don’t forget in the back that there’s a list in case you forget or you need examples. The components of joy are energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration, and renewal.

Can you give me a quick example or explanation of energy?

Ingrid: Energy is the aesthetic of color and light. It’s obviously the first thing that we see. People immediately go to bright color. Celebrations around the world always have. It almost seems like the brighter the colors, the more intense the joy. It doesn’t have to be any particular color. Brightness as a dimension is usually understood to be joyful across cultures.

Zibby: Abundance.

Ingrid: Abundance is the aesthetic of multiplicity and variety. It’s like confetti. When you have one confetto, which is the singular of the confetti, one confetto isn’t very joyful. When you multiply it, suddenly it becomes joyful. Polka dots are another example of this phenomenon. It’s just one circle, but when you multiply it, it’s suddenly joyful.

Zibby: Freedom.

Ingrid: Freedom is what we were just talking about with all the plants and the nature. It’s the aesthetics of nature and open space and wildness, and why we’re particularly attracted to those things.

Zibby: Harmony. It’s a quiz.

Ingrid: I know. It’s fun. It’s speed round. If you’ve ever found joy in a perfectly organized closet, that is harmony aesthetic. Harmony is all about symmetry and balance and repeating patterns. One of the reasons we find joy in that is that it creates a sense of order that allows us to spot opportunities and threats. If you think about our ancestors and they’re out in the world, the more chaotic a visual environment, the more work that the brain has to do on a regular basis to scan, to try to understand what might be coming out at us, or what we might be able to find in terms of food or shelter or other opportunities. When we reduce the visual noise by adding order, symmetry, balance, and pattern, that gives our brain a chance to rest. That allows other things to come to the fore.

Zibby: My babysitter reorganized our art closet for the kids. It’s not even a closet — cabinet — and labelled it, got bright blue containers to our things. Every time I look at it now I’m like, “This is so amazing.” It’s just one little cabinet. The fact that it’s organized is amazing.


Ingrid: I mentioned that round shapes were one of the things that I first noticed. Then as I started to look at it, I realized that many of these round shapes occur in childhood. Almost all of the objects of childhood, hula hoops and balls and balloons and merry-go-rounds and carrousels, the list goes on and on of things that are round. Even children are round. They’re rounder versions of adults with big round eyes and round faces. That’s by design, have more body fat so they are naturally rounder. Being round makes them cute. That’s another thing that I talk about in this chapter.

Zibby: Not as cute on me.

Ingrid: There’s an innate connection between round shapes and playfulness. Those things bring out playful behavior in us.

Zibby: Surprise.

Ingrid: This is the aesthetic of contrast and the unexpected. One of the simplest mechanisms of surprise is hide and reveal. When we wrap a present for someone, that is using the surprise aesthetic. You’re concealing something so that it can then be revealed. You can do this in your home in lots of different ways. In our house, we have, inside the closet, cabana stripes painted on the back of the closet. When you open the closet, it’s there. It’s the kind of thing, because you’re not seeing it all the time, you tune it out. Then you open it and you get the reminder. You can do that with drawer liners. You can do that in clothes with wonderfully colored linings in clothes. There are lots of ways to do that one.

Zibby: Transcendence.

Ingrid: Transcendence is all about the fact that our emotions seem to lie on this vertical spectrum. We talk about, when we’re feeling sad, we’re down or we’re heavy-hearted. When we are joyful, we are light-hearted or we are on cloud nine or walking on air. All of those metaphors attract the fact that we are all subject to one very pervasive force, which is gravity. Gravity defines the arch of our lives. Anything that escapes gravity, hot air balloons and treehouses because they’re elevated, the ceilings in many cathedrals, all of that gives us this feeling of lightness, which correlates to joy.

Zibby: Magic.

Ingrid: Magic is the aesthetic of things that we can’t quite put our finger on. It is the aesthetic of things like fireflies and when light is shattered by a prism, the light of rainbows that you can’t quite touch. We always think that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but you can never find it because you don’t know where it ends. That’s a classic example of magic. We can’t pin it down. Magic aesthetics often have the effect of creating a feeling called wonder, which is between joy and awe and surprise. That wonder is one of the things that fires up our curiosity. Magic is often connected to scientific discovery.

Zibby: Celebration.

Ingrid: Celebration is the aesthetic of what happens when people come together in joy. Joy is a highly contagious emotion. When we celebrate, we are transmitting joy to each other and among each other. That aesthetic, one of the main things is bursting shapes. Our bodies burst open. If you ever see fans at a sports game, when their team scores, their arms go up and their bodies open up. We often find other things that pop or burst in celebratory context like champagne and fireworks and sparklers all have these radiating or popping shapes.

Zibby: Last one, renewal.

Ingrid: Renewal is the aesthetic of blossoming and growth and expansion. It has to do with creating a feeling of movement and potential in our lives. It has to do with the fact that we often pursue this idea of happiness that is fixed and constant. That’s not actually how our emotions work. Our emotions are more like a wave. Joy is a like a wave. We catch a wave. It rises. Then it sets us back down. In those space between, what can we do to actually feel like joy is coming back? It has a lot to do with tapping into seasonal joys and cycles. You talked about your kid’s joy when they see the plants growing. Things that move and change and grow are signals of renewal.

Zibby: Congratulations. You’ve passed the test of your own book. I’m glad you’re officially an expert in the theory of joy. I’ll get the medal ready for later. I’ll make sure it’s round and sparkly, wrapped in a pretty, bright color.

One of the things that I love about all your ideas is that it seems so easy all of a sudden to incorporate little things, big things, into the day, into the house, into the desk, that can literally change our moods. It’s something you can easily control whereas I feel like achieving happiness is so elusive and dependent on so many things. For a control freak like me, this is perfect. I can make a list.

What are some of the things to put on the list, easy, for people listening and me? What are some things to do to make your environment at home, or any place, more joyful?

Ingrid: It’s a good point. I do feel like right now, maybe it’s the past ten years, what we’ve been taught about happiness has made it feel really hard. It’s made it feel like it has to be a discipline and a practice as opposed to actually letting ourselves feel something and creating the conditions to make it easy to feel something. There’s so many things. One, obviously, color. I know for me with my wardrobe I went through a phase where I wore only black and grey because it was easy and it all matched. It was simple. Bringing color back into my wardrobe, bringing a little bit of it into home — painting your front door is a really good one. Anything in your entryway has extra impact because it’s the last thing you see before you go out into the world and it’s the first thing you see when you come home. That has knock-on effects for how you face the world and then how you face your family at night when you come home. I can’t paint my front door in my apartment building, but I have a light fixture that is bubbles of different colors of glass. It casts reflections onto the walls around. I love walking in the door and turning that on. That’s a simple thing.

Zibby: I’m just noticing your nail polish, that you have a different color on every nail in a rainbow. That’s awesome. I think I’m going to have to do this. My daughter would love this.

Ingrid: Very simple. That’s another very simple thing you can do — and on the toes too. That’s a simple thing I started doing because you’re sitting at your computer. You’re looking at this thing all day. You look down at the keys and it’s nice to see this little — it’s like confetti. It’s a little piece of abundance. We talked about plants. That’s obviously one of the most important things you can do. The harmony aesthetic is actually one that’s really easy to achieve. There are lots of ways you can do it. One of the things that I like to do is look for objects of different colors that might be around my home and gather them together. If you have three blue books — I remember there was a period of time I had two blue matchbooks from a restaurant. I had a candle. I brought them together. All of a sudden it was this cohesive thing. When they were all separated, they looked like junk. When you bring things together that have some common element, they look joyful. Similarly, you can do that with things that you collect or things that you find by arranging them in a grid, even if it’s out on a tabletop somewhere. If you find pinecones or fall leaves or whatever it is and actually just lay them out with an attention to their commonalities and using rules of symmetry, arranging them in symmetrical arrangements brings a lot of joy.

Zibby: How would you do a car makeover? I spend a lot of time in the car. The interior’s black, especially the front seat. How could you do that?

Ingrid: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about the car in a while. There are a couple things. One is there are certain spaces that are really ripe for surprise. The glove compartment is a space that could be turned into a space of surprise, the center console.

Zibby: I just found that. I have so many car seats in the car. I moved stuff around. I was literally driving home the other day. I pulled this thing down and the kids are like, “What is that? There’s some cup holders.” It’s so silly.

Ingrid: One of the things that I love to do is actually hide little souvenirs. I hide them in my coat pockets. If I’m taking a walk on the beach and I have a vest on, I’ll put a shell in there. Then the next time I put it on, I find that shell. You can do the same thing in the car, hide little things so that you see them and they bring you joy. That’s one thing. Certainly bringing color in some capacity, whether that’s pom poms from the rearview mirror or something, as long as it’s not distracting. It’s hard to bring nature in obviously, into the car. Looking for ways to bring color and surprise, that’s what I would be looking for.

Zibby: I’ll work on that.

Ingrid: The car’s a tricky one. The good news is you’re moving.

Zibby: So many people spend so much time in the car.

Ingrid: I should do a full car makeover.

Zibby: Do a full car makeover. That’d be fun. You could take my car.

Ingrid: Oh, good. Deal.

Zibby: Really. The kids would love it. I’d be so fun. Well, let me check with my husband. That’s another area. Car manufacturers don’t —

Ingrid: — They don’t think about it at all.

Zibby: When you do see one of those, even on the outside, a car that’s painted in such a unique color…

Ingrid: It’s wonderful.

Zibby: Let’s go to back to the book, if you don’t mind. I’m really curious how this happened. You had the blog. Did someone just say, “Amazing ideas. Will you write a book?” Did you decide to write a book? What happened?

Ingrid: I know that a lot of people, that happens. That was not how this happened. I knew that I wanted to write a book. I was blogging about this. I was writing about it on a regular basis. When you have an overarching framework and you have a lot of research, it’s hard to communicate the overall idea. You’re just communicating on little pieces. It’s hard for anyone to understand the full breadth of it. I knew that I wanted to write a book. I really felt like what I had uncovered helped me see the world in a different way. I wanted other people to have that. What I started doing was I started just gathering research. I would read books. I would see things. I had another inspiration board where I had these little files for my index cards. I would take notes on index cards and gather them for each aesthetic as I was seeing it. I did that for eight years. For a really long time, that process went on.

Eventually, one thing led to another. I found a really great agent who understood the book. I’m really grateful that I waited. Had I pushed to write this sooner, I don’t think it would’ve been as rich. So much of a book like this, because it’s a different lens on something that everyone — it’s about the world around us. It’s about happiness and joy. First of all, we all have our own experience of the world. That’s natural to us. We’ve all read a ton about happiness whether we want to or not. It’s in the newspaper. It’s everywhere we look. To have a book like this that connects the two, it takes a while to find the story. It takes a while to find, for example, that Florence Nightingale believed in this. I didn’t know that. I didn’t find that ‘til year nine that I was working on this. It was really a process of gathering. Eventually, I found the right agent. I found the right publisher. At that point, it felt right to bring it into the world and divert my focus to it full time.

Zibby: Is that what you’re doing now?

Ingrid: Yes. I’m focused on really thinking about how to scale and connect. There are a lot of people out there doing things in schools, in hospitals, who are starting to see the need for this but who maybe don’t have access to this research because the research has been in many, many different labs, so trying to bring that together, looking at how to bring this deeper into the field of design. It may be through courses. I’m not sure yet. I think there’s going to be an educational component. I think there’s going to be a product component. For me, I’m excited to get back to my design roots and actually start putting some of what’s in here into practice.

Zibby: That would be great. I feel like this is going to be a revolutionary thing. I hope that everybody, I’m sure they will, but I really want people to read this book and get on board with this. It’s going to make all of us smile. What’s better than that? I’m rooting for it.

Ingrid: Thank you so much.

Zibby: I’m going to do my little proselytizing. Thank you for coming. I know we’ve talked for a while. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Ingrid: Thank you for having me. This was a joy.

Zibby: Buy Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Thanks, bye.

Ingrid Fetell Lee: JOYFUL