Stress less, be happier and more mindful, live a better life. It's the time for new year's resolutions, but often we focus inwardly and forget that the objects we fill our homes with have the ability to lift our moods, bring us joy and improve our well-being.
Ingrid Fetell Lee knows joy. Apart from her role as a design director at international design firm IDEO, she is the creator of Aesthetics of Joy, a website committed to revealing the secrets of happiness via aesthetics. Her book on the subject comes out in spring next year through Little, Brown and Co.
"We have been trained to view that emotional well-being comes from looking within ourselves, and that the stuff around us shouldn't matter very much," Fetell Lee says. "The work that I've been doing for the last seven years is to synthesize the research that is emerging about the way our environment affects our emotions, and it's pretty profound."
One of Fetell Lee's projects at IDEO, in partnership with the New York-based public-radio program Studio 360, was to unlock hidden moments of joy on Mondays. The project, dubbed "Monyay!," created conceptual pieces that draw attention to otherwise overlooked opportunities for joy. One of the products created is Notifly, a sphere that sits on your desk and alerts you to appointments by replacing an alarm with a bubble that pops out of the top. Fetell Lee explains, "The idea of having something as incongruous as a bubble going up to let you know when you have to move to your next meeting feels like such a delightful thing that it would break the frame of the space, a drudgerous Monday mindset, and give you little sparks of delight." (She adds that there are no plans to market the product.)
Halfway through the interview with Fetell Lee, I asked her, "Do the products have any other benefits, other then just bringing joy?" We live in a world so focused on productivity and quantitative results that just joy seems to be lacklustre. Fetell Lee answered: "The way I look at joy is: It's an unlocking, it unlocks other things. It has a huge bearing on the way you interact with the people around you: When we're in a positive mindset, we tend to open our field of view and can take in more of what's in our peripheral vision, we're more exploratory."
Products that bring users joy vary, but more often than not, they're inspired by nature. The movement of incorporating natural elements in design is referred to as biophilic design.
Biophilic design features everything from natural light, plants and greenery to patterns that replicate nature. The positive results seen from using biophilic design stems from the innate connection humans have with nature; the same connection that attracts us to the sound of waves crashing or the feeling of comfort that comes from sitting by a fireplace.
As reported in a paper by the U.S. sustainability consulting firm Terrapin Bright Green, weaving aspects from nature into design has been shown to improve cognitive functions and creativity, at the same time as it reduces stress.
Design objects can promote a more active pursuit of wellness. Ariel Lynne's Gingko chair, for instance, encourages users to sink into a posture that is advantageous to meditating, as well as providing a designated area to practise meditation. Mindfulness and meditation are proven to be chock full of benefits: A study published this month in the Journal of Health Psychology found that 35 minutes of guided relaxation was shown to have immediate positive benefits and, over time, decreased feelings of anger, anxiety, depression and guilt.
"We are lost in thought 47 per cent of the time and that has quite often proven to lead to unhappiness. And that makes me think, well, what if our objects could better things like creativity, reduce stress and ultimately make us lead happier, healthier lives?" Lynne says. "My passion lies in designing objects that enhance our experiences and add goodness to our lives, no matter how big or small."
Whether the design actively encourages you to take a seat and meditate for a few moments, or brightens your day by simply being there, curating your surroundings with objects that will bring you joy, such as the ones below, might just make your resolution to live happier a little easier.
Inspired by the imprint of designer Ariel Lynne's body sitting in sand, the Gingko chair encourages the user to sit in a relaxed cross-legged pose. Lynne explains, "The curved back isn't just there to serve as a handle, but also as a way to encourage good posture. When you lean back into it, it is comfortable at first, but after leaning for a prolonged period you will feel yourself wanting to return to a position of good posture since it is not a wide back." Price upon request; ariel-lynne.com.
The Balance light, designed by Spanish designer Victor Castanera, is making its debut at the end of January at Maison & Objet in Paris. The light, which never stays still, mimics the constant movement of life. "What makes Balance special is that it gets the attention of those who are around but also generates calm and serenity in the spaces where it is placed," Castanera explains. From $1,650; available April, 2017, through oblure.com.
The Immersion Wall coats a room consistently in a soft and colourful light, providing an immersive environment perfect for practising yoga or relaxing. Each colour correlates to a different benefit; for example, orange energizes the room, while lilac connotes calm (it works best with white walls). From $120 monthly, through mycoocoon.com.
Designed by Studio Tilt in collaboration with Whittington Hospital in London, the pentagonal chair mimics the shape of a cocoon and provides the user a personal space to feel safe and comfortable. From $2,800; e-mail email@example.com.
Made for the traveller, this Nomadic Life kit contains objects that promote a sense of place and home. Designer Gerardo Osio was inspired by Japanese culture to create Nomadic Life, as well as by the religious philosophies of Buddhism and Shinto. Each kit contains a mat; a Hako wooden carrier influenced by the Hakozen box carried by monks; a set of copper tableware; a Zafu (a cushion similar to those used in Zen Buddhism); and a Kami candle/incense holder and vase, to provide warmth and add nature to your space. For more information see gerardoosio.com.
Making Weather is the newest product from Richard Clarkson Studio in partnership with Crealev. A cloud-shaped speaker, which is still in the prototype stage, levitates through the use of magnets and brings the outdoors in by mirroring an impending storm. The cloud emits rain sounds and changes colour. Coming soon; contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Garden Wallpaper
No matter what the view is out your window, The Garden wallpaper by Lorenzo De Grandis brings nature directly to you. The repetitious, bright flowers on a dark background ensure that the space has a contemporary feel, while providing the benefits of being in the presence of nature. Available through RADform, 317 Adelaide St. East, Suite 102, Toronto (radform.com).