Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The objects you decide to keep, the ones that gave you the spark of joy? Treasure them from now on. When you put things away, you can actually audibly say, ‘Hey, thank you for the good work today…’ By doing so, it becomes easier for you to put the objects away and treasure them, which prolongs the spark of joy environment – Marie Kondo

Many people are discussing Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo urges readers to get rid of anything they own that does not “spark joy.” In contrast, anything that does spark joy, she recommends cherishing and holding onto dearly. But, what is joy? And why should we care about it?

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In her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee writes that we are often taught to seek happiness instead of joy. While happiness is long lasting, joy is momentary. However, research has begun to show that moments of joy are essential as well. Lee explains:

“A body of research is emerging that demonstrates a clear link between our surroundings and our mental health. For example, studies show that people with sunny workplaces sleep better and laugh more than their peers in dimly lit offices, and that flowers improve not only people’s moods but their memory as well. As I delved deeper into these findings, joy started to become less amorphous and abstract to me and more tangible and real. It no longer seemed difficult to attain, the result of years of introspection or disciplined practice. Instead, I began to see the world as a reservoir of positivity that I could turn to at any time. I found that certain places have a kind of buoyancy – a bright corner café, a local yarn shop, a block of brownstones whose window boxes overflow with blooms – and I started changing my routines to visit them more often. On bad days, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I discovered small things that could reliably lift my spirits. I started incorporating what I learned into my home and began to feel a sense of excitement as I put my key into the lock each evening. Over time, it became clear to me that the conventional wisdom about joy was wrong.

Joy isn’t hard to find at all. In fact, it’s all around us.

The liberating awareness of this simple truth changed my life. As I started to share it with others, I found that many people felt the impulse to seek joy in their surroundings but had been made to feel as if their efforts were misguided… I realized that we all have an inclination to seek joy in our surroundings, yet we have been taught to ignore it. What might happen if we were to reawaken this instinct for finding joy?”

Lee approached joy through her background as a designer. She looked at things that generally spark joy: rainbows, bubbles, ice cream cones with sprinkles, fireworks, and confetti. She looked for patterns and realized that joy begins with the senses – bright colors, round things, abundance, multicolor, or lush. Our brains crave safety and life, and ultimately these things provide our brains with security, thus resulting in a moment of relief and joy.

Lee shares the story of Tirana, a town in Albania, in the 1990s that was riddled with crime and poverty. One day, the newly elected mayor began to paint old, gray buildings. He had the first building painted bright orange. People stopped to stare. Some complained, some remarked, and some even laughed. The mayor continued to paint different decrepit gray buildings bright vibrant colors. And people stopped littering, started paying their taxes, and reported feeling safer on the streets.

A similar thing happened in a nursing home in Japan when an architect hung large colorful balls from the ceiling of the visiting room. Family members who visited stayed longer. And, when a public school in Harlem painted its classrooms in bright colors, attendance rose, graffiti stopped and children reported feeling safer in the building.

Is it possible that our emotions can be so heavily influenced by color and abundance? Lee argues that the answer is absolutely yes! In an interview she explained, “Each moment of joy is small. But over time, they add up to more than the sum of their parts. And so maybe, instead of chasing after happiness, what we should be doing is embracing joy and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often. Deep within us, we all have this impulse to seek out joy in our surroundings, and we have it for a reason. Joy isn’t some superfluous extra. It’s directly connected to our fundamental instinct for survival. On the most basic level, the drive toward joy is the drive toward life.”

So, if you’re feeling a bit blue, search your surroundings for ways to spark some joy. Who knows! Maybe you’ll be able to awaken your senses and find inspiration and ultimately happiness.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.