What does joy mean to you? It's hard to define. Joy does not equal happiness though, it's simpler than that. It is a physical sensation that is triggered by small moments, and it has great power. When I think of joy puppies, snuggling, warm blankets, babies, bubbles, bright colors, and tie dye come to mind – but everyone's definition is different.
I recently had the chance to see Ingrid Fettell Lee at a dental conference. Lee is a graphic designer by trade, and she primarily explores the use of color and shape to inspire joy from our surroundings. Why the heck was she at a dental conference? Because the way our office, our reception areas, our buildings, even our parking lots look can impact a patient's sense of joy. The ways that we design our personal and professional spaces can impact the joy we feel in our lives. It was intriguing to me.
As a preface to her talk, the organizers of the event had us all plan to wear bright colors to Lee's talk. Our team chose to wear bright orange, and, boy, did we go over the top! It was great to hear the boisterous laughter as we all saw the bright orange blazers that the guys were going to wear, the orange scarves for the ladies, and (the icing on the cake) the light up neon orange sunglasses! It was hard not to feel some joy, or at least some nervousness in hoping that we weren't the only "ridiculous" people in the audience.
Back to the presentation by Lee... she spoke about how joy works positively in our lives. It magnetically attracts people, sharpens our minds, and helps us make better decisions when we perceive that we are not in a threatening environment. It opens us up to new ideas and inspires us to play, grow, and be creative. Joy also leads to decreased inflammation – who knew?
She challenged us to see our environments through a patient's eyes and key into what looked drab and boring and how we could elevate the experience. She showed pictures of office buildings that were brown and beige, then showed how putting just a few pops of color, new carpet, painting the walls a different color, and bringing in plants and living things to the space improves morale, productivity and office harmony. Just take a look at the difference it can make to a hospital room:
Then she cited a study in which an inner city school was constantly being covered in graffiti. That school decided instead of simply continuing to cover over the incessant markings, that they were going to beautify the grounds. They painted a variety of colorful murals with inspiring thoughts and quotes, and the violence within the school radically decreased, and the graffiti did not reappear. These small changes in the environment create massive changes in our psyche.
"When we focus on joy, happiness finds us." – Ingrid Fettell Lee
Joy begins with the senses; it does not need to be purely visual to get results. There are sorts of joyful things, the constants are how they make you instantly feel lifted and excited. We feel it in our bodies, warm and light, and we can see it in the bodies and on the faces of others. Darwin documented people and animals in states of joy, and found it easy to identify people experiencing joy by their bright eyes, smiles, and laughter, as well as their upright and open posture. Joy has a universal language, but we can’t fake it. And in fact research shows that we can all discern a fake smile, because the muscles that contract around our eyes in a real smile are not under our conscious control. Joy is visceral and automatic. We’re hardwired to feel it — it is a primal sense that tells us in a moment that life is good.
Through research Lee has identified a series of joyful things… things that bring joy universally… like cherry blossoms, confetti, fireworks and bubbles. Over time, she recognized patterns in what exactly constitutes joyful items. Lee reveals that the joyful patterns include “round things, pops of bright color, symmetrical shapes, repeating patterns, plants and living things, sense of abundance or multiplicity, iridescence, glitter, movement, youth, and a feeling of lightness or elevation.” She makes a strong case for purposely incorporating these elements into our surroundings. Lee also cited that elements of surprise throughout a normal day, play, celebration, dance or movement, and nature or open space also cause joy to happen.
If you are anything like me, I find that sometimes I spend so much time pursuing happiness, that I get busy and forget what joy even feels like. By purposely looking for joy – #joyspotting – we can bring this back into our worlds, making dentistry, and life in general more fun.
How We Find Joy at New Horizons Dental Care
In my own office, the things that we do to find more joy, or #joyspotting (which is coincidentally a visual/photo movement on Instagram – check it out) is:
• Laughter (which elevates production by 10% according to studies cited by Lee) – We look for the "Best Thing that Happened Yesterday" and share in our morning meetings. They are generally funny and a great start to the day.
• Small surprises – recognizing team members that go above and beyond. We have a weekly award for the person that does something little or big that made another's day. We call them out in front of the whole group to praise.
• Celebrate with patients – when they end orthodontic treatment, or a big case, we give them a fun gift basket or a bottle of champagne (bubbles = joy fo sho).
• Fresh flowers – for birthdays and first days for new hires. Who doesn't love the color and fragrance of fresh flowers?
• Tell jokes and play with our patients – studies say that jokers are seen as more competent
• Brightly colored walls – we repainted the office walls a deep, rich blue a few years ago, and it has upped the energy level in our office, simple yet true.
Have you done things to your physical space (whether at home or at work) that have led to creating joy in your life? Share with me what changes you’ve made and how they have brought joy to your life.