The Scoop: Being single can be tough, especially in the midst of a pandemic. But a relationship status doesn’t have to define your quality of life. We spoke with Ingrid Fetell Lee, author and creator of The Aesthetics of Joy, about how singles can reclaim joy despite the obstacles and setbacks in their love lives. She shared insightful tips and wisdom for singles to feel more empowered in love, home, and life.
Ingrid Fetell Lee has spent much of her career studying joy, but that wasn’t always her intention. While she was working on her Master’s Degree in Industrial Design, a professor commented that much of her work sparked a feeling of joy in him.
“I asked what he meant by that, and he couldn’t say,” she told us. “That got me thinking about how the physical world around us can spark that feeling of joy. I discovered our surroundings can be a powerful tool for cultivating joy and well-being, and from there, my study of joy found relevant applications.”
After many productive years working as a design director, speaker, and author, Ingrid created the website The Aesthetics of Joy to help people cultivate joy in their spaces and their lives. Her work examines how our environment can influence our well-being and how we can use our environment to better our lives.
Many people assume joy is something that happens to them. Happiness is the result of having a good life, personal success, and minimal hardships. In this line of thinking, individuals have little agency over their happiness, and they must wait for their lives to become perfect before they can experience joy. But Ingrid’s research has disproved that idea.
“Studying joy from the perspective of a designer is interesting because the way joy had been framed is that you just hope you can find it, but it’s out of your control,” Ingrid said. “What we learn from research is that we very much can create joy.”
Factors beyond your control certainly influence your well-being, but they don’t need to define it.
Single people are often hit with the message that they have to find a relationship before they can be happy. Ingrid experienced this in her own life. Before she got married at 35, she went through a period where many of her friends were getting married, and she was still single. She didn’t want to wait for a partner before she had permission to do the things she wanted to do. So she bought a ticket to Iceland. She had asked multiple previous boyfriends to go with her on this trip, but it never happened. She went abroad alone and had a wonderful time.
“I learned to start asking myself how I would want to have used my time looking back at my life,” she said. “That got me moving and got me out of that state of just waiting for joy to happen. I had to embrace present joy over waiting.”
Pay Attention to Little Moments in Your Daily Life
When you choose to actively cultivate and celebrate the joy in your life, you don’t need to wait for a relationship to be fulfilled and content. You can find joy in small moments in your day-to-day life and work.
“A lot of us have been taught to dismiss these little moments of joy in our daily lives as trivial or unimportant and focus on the big milestones in life,” Ingrid said. “If we know these little moments of joy have big effects on our lives, it can shift our focus. One of the practices I call joy spotting is as you walk around, on your commute or while walking the dog, notice what makes you smile or laugh or want to tell someone about it.”
Joy spotting can help a single person shift their mind to focus on the positive things in life. And that can make a meaningful difference in their lives.
Once you begin to notice the little things that make you happy, you can start working to incorporate them into your life more deliberately. If you feel your best when you spend time outside, try to start walking more instead of driving or taking the bus. If exercise boosts your mood, carve out time to focus on your fitness.
“This isn’t toxic positivity; this is about having the tools to be able to buoy yourself up when you need it and not feeling like you’re so vulnerable to the ups and downs of life,” Ingrid told us. “You’re not just riding the roller coaster of life. You actually have tools to create joy for yourself.”
Singles can become more dynamic and attractive in the dating scene simply by embracing their passion. Ingrid told us the research has shown that emotions are contagious, and people naturally feel more drawn to positive emotions and affirming words. That’s why she came up with joyful conversation starters to help break the ice by talking about fun and lighthearted topics.
Creating Joy in Your Space
One of the best ways to take agency in your joy is to change your environment. That could be as dramatic as moving to a place you love – or as simple as buying a new rug for your living room, or perhaps hanging up some photos of your loved ones. Your physical surroundings have a major impact on your well-being and changing those surroundings to spark more joy is within your control.
Ingrid’s book, “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness,” is a testament to how much power your space has over how you feel. “The book is about how our physical surroundings can help us find joy,” she said. “Embracing color and incorporating bright color into our lives because bright color has been shown the world over to be associated with joy. It’s really about helping you create your own in your space, your home, your work, in any setting.”
As a single person, you may feel hesitant to put effort into your home decor. Many people make the mistake of viewing their homes prior to marriage as temporary and thus unworthy of time, investment, or attention. They may want to wait until marrying and buying a house before they allow themselves to feel settled.
But when you wait to put effort into your space, you prevent yourself from enjoying your surroundings in the moment. You put off your comfort and quality of life for some future version of yourself. No matter where you are in life, you already deserve joy.
“A lot of people write to me and say they just realized they’re allowed to find joy for themselves and finally feel liberated,” Ingrid said. “They didn’t feel entitled before. It’s about feeling like we are entitled and deserve joy.”
Find Passion & Excitement in the Here and Now
When you hit a difficult period in life, finding happiness can feel almost impossible. You may feel that you have nothing to look forward to or nothing to enjoy. But that isn’t true. You can find small things to make you happy, no matter the circumstances. And if you’re unhappy with the way your life is trending, you can make deliberate changes to improve your life on your own terms.
“One thing I wish people understood better is that you can find joy even when times are hard,” Ingrid said. “You might not be happy because something hard is happening in your life, but you can still find small moments of joy. Be aware that joy is possible.”
Ingrid is an advocate for joy, but she doesn’t endorse the idea that people should be happy all the time. That sort of positivity is unattainable and usually inauthentic. Instead, Ingrid encourages people to focus on finding joy where possible and letting themselves off the hook for perfect long-term happiness.
“Happiness is a broad evaluation of how we feel over time overall, how we feel about our work and our relationships,” Ingrid told us. “Speaking as someone who was single for a long time — I got married at 35 — waiting for milestones and watching everyone else have milestones can give you a sense that you’re behind in life. But the reality is that often what makes the biggest difference to our day-to-day well-being is joy – small momentary bursts of positive emotion.”
It’s unrealistic to be completely happy when you aren’t where you want to be in life. If you want more than anything to get married and you can’t find the right person, you may feel unhappy with where you’re at. But if you focus on cultivating the little moments of joy in your life, you can still make the most of your time and enjoy the moment.
“Joy is a magnetic emotion,” Ingrid explained. “Ultimately joy is valuable in its own right, just feeling that joy is part of what makes life meaningful.”