A Pattern Language for Joy

I remember reading that people who came through the Great Depression had a common habit of practicing gratitude. Whether they were grateful for seeing the roses in a public park or the blue of the sky, what they were grateful for was often simple and readily available. Practicing gratitude doesn’t seem to get old, despite the apps and journals that remind us to do so on a regular basis.

Gratitude is a gateway for me to consider what I find joyful in life. There are so very many things which I appreciate. Plants, insects, birds, animals, and relationships frequently show up as joyful encounters for me. Again, most of these are things which are “free” to anyone willing to become aware of them.

Cultivating a garden is a great source of joy, as is caring for my family and our home. Sure, I get exasperated with dirty socks tossed in the living room, or dishes left around. But our home is our sanctuary, and we’ve worked really hard over the past 25 years to nurture a family life which is bountiful in its hope for the future, love, and joy.

As a designer, I want my clients to be joyful in their homes, too. I want them to thrive amidst a home system full of life and beauty. I have also often struggled finding the balance between wild, diverse systems packed with vegetation and the more manicured aesthetics some clients prefer.

On the Scale of Permanence developed by P.A. Yeoman’s and adapted by Dave Jacke, large landforms, climate norms, and water availability are at the top of the list. These elements are often something we adapt to in the region we live–rather than designing them. Aesthetics, on the other hand, is at the bottom of the list: it’s as simple to change as your clothing or a table cloth. It doesn’t seem that important in relation to function in many of the permaculture literature I’ve reviewed over the past 15 years. At the very least, it is a debatable topic of discussion.

But it’s also often a make or break conversation with potential clients. The success of our designs and their implementation and maintenance by clients is largely, I believe, determined by our ability to incorporate the right look of things into the functions. As a practicing designer, I’ve begun to learn how to distinguish the kind of aesthetic which will meet the client and still accomplish the function I know is possible.

Cover of Joyful

So, I was fascinated when I came across the book Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Trained in industrial design, Lee brings forward a pattern language for bringing joy into our lives through eight specific “aesthetics.” Combining these in two or three groupings help us to develop aesthetic touches in our designs for our clients in a way that will bring them joy.

Whether you are designing for yourself or for a client, we all need to be able to access joy. Incorporating enlivening color, inviting magic, developing harmony, transcending the mundane…these vital elements can nourish us in troubling times and bring our best selves forward. How can you find joy?