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10 mins

Ingrid Fetell Lee: Make Your Own Joy — Transcript

In this episode, Caitlin speaks with author Ingrid Fetell Lee about the various steps we can take to create a greater feeling of joy in our lives.
by Ines Bläsius | Oct 10 2019

Ben: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Benjamin Stoler.

Caitlin: and I’m Caitlin Schiller. Ben, have you felt any joy yet, this morning?

Ben: Well just the way you said, I’m Caitlin Schiller, made me know there was gonna be a difficult question.

Caitlin: This is the kind of day we’re both having.

Ben: Yeah. Have I felt any joy yet, today?

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: I had a really good crispy but flaky and soft on the inside and still warm croissant.

Caitlin: That sounds amazing

Ben: Pronunciation, excuse me. What about you good?

Caitlin: Um, yeah, actually I did feel a little bit of joy this morning when I put on this necklace I’m wearing. It’s made out of wood and I enjoy it.

Ben: It’s a good necklace, it kind of looks like a piece of a, like a piece of a table.

Caitlin: Exactly. I actually always refer to this as my cutting board for gerbils. It looks like a small ergonomically correct rodent cutting board, but I really love it and I’ve had it for years and it gave me joy to put it on. So that’s my bit of joy for today. And I also felt joy because I knew that I was going to get to talk with you about this interview with Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Ben: Yeah, so tell us about her.

Caitlin: Yeah, so she’s a former IDEO designer and she wrote this really great book called, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness and it sounds like a really big promise but the thing is, all of the ten aesthetics of joy that she identifies throughout this book really make sense and really pay off.

Ben: Whoa. So you’re, I feel like you’re skipping forward a little bit because principles of joy are, we’re going to talk about that today, right?

Caitlin: Right. We are going to talk about that today. Actually, I think I should just tell you what the 10 aesthetics of joy actually are.

Ben: Okay. Yeah.

Caitlin: Yeah. All right. So, ready for me?

Ben: Yeah.

Caitlin: All right. It’s a list, get ready. They are energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration and renewal.

Ben: That’s a lot of abstract nouns.

Caitlin: It is a lot of abstract nouns.

Ben: I hope that we get into something more concrete.

Caitlin: We will, don’t worry. Actually, there’s, this is a pretty vigorously researched book.

Ben: Yeah.

Caitlin: And Ingrid will talk about some of the things that she learned when she was researching it, over a number of years actually. You’re going to learn all kinds of cool stuff. Like, what you can do for a friend in a hospital to make them feel more joy, and really really simple things that you can do at work to make your workspace more joyful.

Ben: I actually listened to the tape of your interview here, and it was my sister’s birthday, and it was really easy for me to write a really nice email to her, because of a of the concept of these little small moments in which you can get joy. So, I also was surprised by the actionability, let’s say, of this episode today.

Caitlin: Yeah, me too.

Ben: So, should we just run the tape?

Caitlin: Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s get into it.

Ben: Okay, and then stick around for The Bookend, don’t forget, and we’ll make a reading list inspired by joy and everything we learned.

Caitlin: Cool. See you then.

Caitlin interviews Ingrid Fetell Lee

Caitlin: Hi Ingrid. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Ingrid: Thanks so much for having me.

Caitlin: So, um, would you mind before we get started to just introduce yourself the way that you like to be introduced?

Ingrid: Sure, so I am Ingrid Fetell Lee and I am a designer and an author of a book called, Joyful.

Caitlin: Excellent. So in Joyful, you identify that there is a link between our surroundings and our mental health, and not just that, but that we can access joy through physical tangible elements, which you call the ‘Aesthetics of Joy’.

So, I thought that a way into talking about the physical aspects of joy, might be if you could tell the story of Tirana, Albania a little bit and how it became a site of joy. Do you think that that might be a good place to start?

Ingrid: Sure. I love that story.

Caitlin: Me too.

Ingrid: The story begins in the year 2000, in the city of Tirana, Albania, which is a city in Eastern Europe.

It is the capital city of Albania and Tirana had recently elected a new mayor. The city had been in decline for about 10 years since the fall of Communism. Albania was the poorest country in Europe, and the city of Tirana had been so devastated in this ten year period that just garbage piled up uncollected in the streets, no one paid their taxes, so there was no money, and so, you know, the mayor, new mayor, Edi Rama, is elected and he doesn’t really have much to work with because the treasury is so bankrupt, but he sees these, the small amount of funding that had been appropriated by the European Union for historic preservation.

And so he takes that funding and he starts painting these giant murals on the sides of all the downtown buildings. I mean murals is maybe even an overstatement. He just started painting colors on all of the buildings in the, in the downtown, you know in the center of the city and he starts, you know with one building and then it just expands. The first building is orange and tangerine and all these different shades of orange and then it just expands out from there. And, in the weeks after that painting began, he started to notice that people stopped littering in the streets, in the, in the downtown Center.

And then, even more surprising people started to say that the streets felt safer to them, and so the shopkeepers started to remove the metal grates that they had over their windows. So normally, they would have you know metal grates that they would pull down at night, and to sort of keep people out, and they started changing them out and replacing them with glass. And then people actually started paying their Municipal Taxes, which is something that, in 10 years, nothing had been able to get people to do, but now people were starting to see changes in the city. And over time this translated into you know, much bigger changes. So, the number of businesses that opened in Tirana, in a five-year period after this painting began, tripled, and now the tax revenues increased by a factor of six. And so this was really surprising to me because, you know, it’s just color, and yet, it seemed to catalyze something much bigger in that city.

Caitlin: Is color one of the Aesthetics of Joy? I think there are 10, right?

Ingrid: Yes. There are 10, and color is part of one of them. So one of them is energy and it’s all about, you know, the fact that we find joy a very energizing emotion. It’s not like contentment, it’s not sort of curled up on the sofa and relaxed. It’s a, it’s a sort of bouncier, more exuberant emotion, and color and light are sort of the physical manifestations of energy in our world. And it has to do with the fact that you know, when you see something that is alive and you go to a place that is alive, usually, it has vibrant color because there is light, there are things growing, it feels alive and it, and it’s vibrant. Whereas the places that often lack color are usually places that are not as vibrant or not as alive.

Caitlin: Mmm. That makes so much sense to me, that that color and light would energize and make people feel joy. You know, I, in all of these I think the one that surprised me the most was was celebration. And I thought about how infrequently in adult life, we celebrate.

And that led me to inspect my own sort of reaction to, to the word joyful. Bear with me here for a second. I have to say that when I get a book for review that has a title like ‘Joyful’ or ‘Happy for Good’ or something like that, I think, oh great, another book on how to be happier. But, that’s not what your book is about and I understand that, but it made me think about the role of joy in every day adult life and it seems like it’s kind of taboo. Do you have anything to say about about joy in just the everyday adult world?

Ingrid: Totally. I mean, I think I totally understand your reaction to that because there is something a little bit like, you know, Chicken Soup-y, you know, Chicken Soup for the Soul-y about the word joy, right? The word joy, I think, for those of us who tend to be, I’m a little bit Type A, you know, I feel like it seems a little soft, maybe, and I think that’s why we often overlook it, because it’s also, you know, what I’ve learned in my research on joy is that joy is really small. Joy is about these little moments, and I think it can easily become kind of maudlin to focus on, you know, to talk about this.

But the reality is, I think, you know, from all of the research that I’ve studied, I mean hundreds of studies on this topic, that little moments of joy are much more powerful than we give them credit for. And so stopping to play for 30 seconds, or stopping by the dog park on your way to work and just watching the, you know, the dogs play, or, you know, doing a happy dance, I mean, you talked about celebration and I think that is a thing that really gets overlooked in adult life. You know, research shows that those things can actually unlock something much deeper.

And, you know, one of the things that positive psychologists talk about is upward spirals, and the idea that, you know, one little moment of joy sort of changes your orientation to the world, such that, then you notice more of it and that actually starts to build on itself. And that can lead to things like, you know, greater emotional resilience over time.

And so it seems like it’s just these sort of little moments, it’s sort of a little bit Hallmark card or something like that. But actually, those little moments have a lot of power. And, I think the other piece of it is that we really don’t allow ourselves permission to feel that or experience it that often.

I think because we judge joy as maybe a little superficial, a little silly, a little frivolous, a little childish, all of those things, we sort of push it to the margins of our world and I think actually that’s why, for a lot of people, having a child or a grandchild, is such an incredibly personally joyful experience, because they are, like, it gives you permission to access those things again. You’re allowed to sort of rediscover play and you’re, which is often, you know, the first thing that gets shoved aside. There are celebrations that are, you know, regular because every day feels so much longer in the life of a child. And so, I think it becomes a prompt for recapturing joy. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us shouldn’t be able to access that all the time.

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that it’s really important and what I love about your book and I think is so powerful is that the quest for happiness is just so big, and so vague, and so, and it feels so heavy, and there’s plenty of behavioral psychology research to show us that the harder we look for happiness, the unhappier we’ll become. But joy is, especially because you’ve broken it down into these ten components that are so tangible, it’s something that you can actually harness everyday. You can adjust your office to make you feel more joyful. You can, you can, celebrate with a friend just because. Why do you think it is that we, at least in the West, we denigrate joy? Why has that happened? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past couple of days.

Ingrid: Yeah, there are a lot of reasons, I think. I mean, I think what I noticed when I was really getting into this research, was that we’re all working so hard, like all the time. We’re working so hard at everything. And, so, happiness has become work. Like, we have to work at it and we have to, you know, take up all these practices and we have to, you know, delay and defer gratification. And that is the model, I think, that comes, I think that’s a that’s a historical conditioning that relates to our, sort of, protestant roots, right? And in this country, especially, because the work ethic and the idea that you know, anything that is good comes through hard work, and, we should delay gratification and we’ll find that later in, you know, in heaven. I think that’s sort of a, that protestant ethos is baked into our culture. And it’s, you know, it’s not all bad obviously, work ethic is really important, and it gains us a lot of things, but I think that’s one reason why joy is seen as something that’s childish and something that we put off. And then there are other things that are aesthetic, right? So in the book, I quote Goethe who says, you know, ‘Savage nations, uneducated people, and children typically prefer bright colors, whereas people of refinement avoid vivid colors and try to banish them entirely from their presence’. You know, we carry this this equation between our aesthetic lives and our, and our sort of moral lives.

And so, I think, you know, these things are the idea there is that, well you if you want to be seen as sophisticated and mature and not as primitive or ignorant or juvenile, then you will dress in a certain way. You’ll repress the outward signs of your emotions. And I think that that also has, you know, colonialist roots, right, where you know, Western cultures were trying to distance themselves from the, the indigenous populations that they were trying to quote ‘civilize’, right? So, I think there are a lot of different historical undercurrents that come together into this sort of repression of daily joy.

Caitlin: Wow. Yeah. I’m glad that you mentioned the colonialism bit because I was just thinking, man, it’s such an imperial attitude to, to be like mmm savages wear colors and dance. Thanks, Goethe. He wasn’t such a sunny fellow himself.

Ingrid: No, and it’s hard to know whether that was, you know, when I look back at that, it’s hard to know whether that was a prescription or an observation. But you know the modernists who came shortly after, you know, in the, at the turn of the 20th century, really sort of hammered that home as a prescription. So, I think when you look around at modern architecture and it’s gray and concrete surfaces and everything sort of stripped back. That encoded, a lot of that, into the physical form of our world.

Caitlin: Yeah, and I think that in some ways those structures bespeak power to us. There’s a point in your book where you mentioned that no bond villain ever lived in a beautiful, ornamental, joyful home. It’s usually like glass and angles and smoothness and, and, we equate those, those angles and, and the, the austerity of it with power, I think. I wanted to go back to, you talked about work and, you said we all work so hard and there’s this expectation of, I don’t know how to frame this exactly, when I was thinking about the lack of joy in adult worlds, I was thinking about how we do all work so hard and in the U.S., I haven’t lived there for a very long time, but, when I go back I’m struck by this every time, the first question I’m asked is always what do you do? What’s your job, essentially, and there’s this conflation of profession with identity, in this really really strong way and if in the professional realm is where we are supposed to be a little bit more subdued and restrained and repressed, if if the main pillar of our identity is our professional identity, where we are supposed to be these ways, then of course joy is being factored out.

Ingrid: A hundred percent. And I think that the separation between work and play, and the separation between work and joy, I think, is one of the most damaging things for us, because if we spend, I mean, even just looking at it from time perspective, if we spend, conservatively, eight hours a day, but usually more than that at work, then that is a huge chunk of our lives that we are sort of pushing joy away.

And, you know, you talked before about the fact that the pursuit of happiness makes us less happy. I think work is one of the places we see that where we say, oh, I should get ahead. If I get this promotion, I’ll be happy. And so then we delay the celebration with our friends and we miss out on a lot of the, the little joys day-to-day. We rush off to work and we don’t spend time with our, you know, with our family in the mornings and then we get that promotion and we’re not any happier and we’ve let all these little moments that we could have had along the way go. And so, I think in the space of work, I mean there are a couple things.

One, bringing back a sense of joyfulness to the work environment itself, I mean, most of the work environments that we spend our time in are, they’re designed for efficiency, and they’re really not designed for, you know, a sense of vibrancy. They’re mostly gray and beige. They often don’t have much natural light. They have little in the way of nature, and of course, the research now shows that having elements of nature, either plants even just natural imagery, in a work environment can reduce stress, increase concentration and even make us more generous toward each other. So I think bringing some of these things physically back into the work environment can become almost cues to sort of release some of the pressure to restrain our joy in a work environment.


Caitlin: You know what would bring me joy? If I could have a little information Sommelier whisper in my ear answers to all the things that I wonder about, on a daily basis. Oh, wait, I can! And you can too, because of Blinkist. So Blinkist is an App that gives you a sneak peek into a whole world of great non-fiction books and pretty much every subject.

So, you can learn whatever you are curious about. At Blinkist a bunch of real readers like me and Ben, distill the key ideas from today’s best non-fiction books into audio that takes just 15 minutes to whiz through. There’s also text if you’d rather read than listen. So, basically, you’ll get the most important insights in, I don’t know, about one sixteenth of the time it would take you to read a whole book, which leaves you plenty of time to do more things that bring you joy.

Like, play with the dog or paint a wall orange. As with most things, I think it’s better if you just try it out for yourself. Go to tap on Try Blinkist and you can try it for free for 14 days by using the voucher code, ‘joyful‘. That’s joyful, J-O-Y-F-U-L. Okay, give it a whirl. Let me know what you thought and I hope you love it. Now, back to my talk with Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Interview Cont’d.

Caitlin: What would you absolutely want to have in a workspace? Because you know that it will help you feel joy at work.

Ingrid: I would say the number one thing is natural light, and it’s no surprise that this is one of the things that employees when surveyed, also most want. And the research on this is really clear, that when we have a good exposure to natural light or even broad-spectrum artificial light, especially in the mornings, we are more alert during the work day and we also sleep better at night because our circadian rhythms are better balanced. And so, you know, one of the things that happens is we spend, in the US, we spent eighty seven percent of our time indoors and we spend another six percent in cars. And so, that’s 93% of our time indoors and the amount of light that we get indoors is a fraction even, if we have natural light, is a fraction of what we get outside.

And so, our circadian rhythms are often out of balance, as a result of that. And so, natural light, I think, is the number one thing. And then plants and, and some some other elements of nature. I think those are, those are other things that can really make a big difference especially because most work environments feel so artificial.

Caitlin: Yeah, natural light is huge, I definitely feel it living here in Berlin. I mean it gets dark in November at about 3:45 in the afternoon, and, it’s like we’re living under a dome of clouds for the next six months. And when the light starts to come back, which it’s doing really early, early this year, everything is changing. It’s remarkable. The city is a completely different place when we have more natural light.

Ingrid: Yes, you can see it. You can see it in the behavior of people around you, and you just feel it. You’re excited to get out of bed in the morning as opposed to thinking I’ll just roll over it and wait till the sun is up.

Caitlin: Yeah, exactly. I think that I would like to just talk about really, nitty-gritty stuff. So when we get off the phone, when our conversation is over, what, what’s the easiest thing that I can do to increase a sense of joy in my environment? I’m sitting in a studio right now, but I’ll go up to my desk in a minute, which is pretty standard issue, it’s next to a window, which is great and there are plants around, but, what would you tell the average office worker they could do to their workspace to make it a little bit more joyful?

Ingrid: I would get something colorful in there. So, the research shows that people working in more colorful office environments are more alert, confident and friendly than those working in drab spaces.

So, I would pick out something like a colorful mug for your coffee. Or, if you don’t have a lot of light, get a little desk lamp that is in a bright color. That is a two-for-one gives you light and color, so, but something that brings a little bit of energy into the space. So that’s number one. And then, even the smallest plant, even a fake plant if you have very low light, can be really powerful in transforming a space. So those are two very, very simple things. There are also things that you can do that are maybe a little bit more, a little bit more magical, so, you know one thing that I love to do is hang a prism from a just a string or a piece of fishing line, in a, in a window that gets some sun and then when the sun passes through, at a certain time of day, you’ll get rainbows around your room. And, I think that’s just, it’s this very simple thing, prisms, you know, you can get them usually for a couple dollars.

You can often find old chandelier crystals that will do the same thing at an antique shop. So that’s a quick thing you can do. If you’re in an office, I think having something to play with on your desk is another thing you can do. So, I, we actually have this on our coffee table. We have a Jenga set, that we just leave on our coffee table. And it’s really fun, because people come to visit and just immediately start moving a piece to the top and I think that would be a really fun thing to have on a desk because as people stop by, you know that it’s like a game that just goes on, and it and it becomes a reminder of play and also an invitation to play.

Caitlin: That makes a lot of sense. What could I do to bring more joy to a meeting?

Ingrid: Ooh. Good question. Okay. One thing I would say, it depends on how much control you have over the space. But my first thing that I would say, is to get a round table, if you can, because I think changing the, of course circles, you know, I talk a lot about their connection to play, but also, having a round table changes the dynamic.

In a space, it, obviously, it also it brings a more egalitarian feeling to a meeting and everyone has equal ability to see everyone else’s faces. So it, I don’t know, it creates more opportunities for positive social contagion in a space. So that’s one thing I would say. I think bringing some form of play, and it could be just a fun Icebreaker to start the meeting, but setting the tone in a playful way can be a really powerful way to change the tone of the meeting that follows.

Caitlin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, that sounds doable. I guess if you do, as you said, have control over your environment. What about for someone who’s very sick? If I were to go visit someone at the hospital. Is this actually, is this why we bring flowers to people at the hospital because flowers are such a sense of natural, radiant joy?

Ingrid: It is, I think, I mean, you know, I don’t know how the practice of bringing flowers originated, but I think it is actually one of the best things you can do, bringing flowers and plants to someone in a hospital environment. I mean, one of the things that I noticed when I was doing this research, is that often the places where people are most vulnerable and the places where people really don’t have a choice about where they get to be, those are the places that are most aesthetically lacking. So, nursing homes and hospitals are two of those places that are often just absolutely deprived from any sense of color, vibrancy, nature- any of these aesthetics of joy. And so anything that you can do to bring a little bit of that in, I mean, I think trying to you know, open the shades and make sure that natural light is coming into the space.

I think bringing something living, bringing flowers for sure or plants. Maybe bringing something colorful, a colorful blanket, you know. One of the researchers I talked to is a woman named Hillary Dalke and she works with the British National Health Service. And one of the things that she did in a project with them was to change out just the colors of the blankets in the rooms because they couldn’t do a big renovation, but just putting a bright warm color on the blankets actually changes the way that the light is reflected in the room and it makes a whole room feel much brighter. So bringing something like that could be a really powerful way to brighten up a space for someone who is sick.

Caitlin: Those are good tips. Thank you. You know, we’ve got, we’ve got a little bit of time left but not too much and there are two things I definitely want to cover before I let you go. But I, I wondered if there’s one thing that you’d like to leave listeners with today, one new way to look at joy or thing to think about. If there’s just one main takeaway that you would like them to have, what would that be?

Ingrid: I would say that the thing that has been most powerful for me is separating happiness and joy. And recognizing that happiness is big and vague and something that is, you know, we’re naturally always gonna feel like, you know, we’re really happy with one area of our lives and maybe not with another area of our lives and that’s, it’s never going to be except for maybe, you know, one or two moments in your life, it’s never all going to be working at the, at the same time, but joy is something that we can always access at any time. Even if it’s just for a moment. And so, for me, there’s a real freedom in knowing that. That not everything in my life has to be perfect, but I can always do one thing. I can call a friend. I can watch a funny movie. I can go outside and see the sunset. There’s always something I can do that can bring me a little bit of joy and that is usually the beginning of much more.

Caitlin: That’s great. I love that. That feels very doable. So I always like to ask my guests. What have you been reading lately, that you’ve really liked? It can be in your field. It can be out of your field. But any recommendations?

Ingrid: Yeah, a book by a former IDEO colleague of mine and a colleague of hers. It’s called No Hard Feelings and it just came out.

It’s Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy. It’s all about emotions in the workplace. And it’s beautifully Illustrated. It’s very funny. And it’s, it’s all about I think you know, we talked a little bit about joy at work and this is about you know, the full range of emotions and why you should bring your full emotional self to your work, and how to have a healthier emotional relationship with your work, with your co-workers, with your boss, and with your with your career as a whole.

Caitlin: Hmm. That sounds wonderful. I just put that on my to-read list, actually. Thank You. Ingrid, thank you so much for joining me today, it’s been such a pleasure to talk with you.

Ingrid: Likewise. Thank you so much for having me.

The Bookend

Ben: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end with books!

Caitlin: Hooray! I think I always say hooray after that, but that just goes to show you how much I love books.

Ben: It’s hard to respond to my, to that.

Caitlin: It is, except with enthusiasm because we have some really good books today to recommend. But before that, what’d you think?

Ben: I really liked it! I have to say, I was not expecting, you warned me that it’s better than I would have expected.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: Not because of her, or the concept in general, but just this idea of joy and design, I didn’t really understand what it was going to be about. I mentioned at the top of this episode about this moment of joy. I think she calls it upwards spirals.

Caitlin: Yeah, exactly.

Ben: I really like that concept. Upward spirals, that you can, if you can get that one moment of joy, change your orientation to the world, I think that’s how she says it, and then it builds on itself and it can actually lead to emotional resilience. I think she says it’s connected to the positive psychology movement.

Caitlin: Exactly.

Ben: Like you said, she did a lot of research and that’s just to me, you know, I really take away that joy is something you can always get.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: Even just for a moment. And I really, really appreciated that, so you win again. Shocking.

Caitlin: Hooray!

Ben: What about you?

Caitlin: I mean that was pretty much what I took away from the interview too, that Joy is super manageable. Unlike something as big and amorphous and leggy and diaphanous as happiness. When we, when people say they pursue happiness or they want to be happier, it feels like such a tall order, but joy, because it is more of a fleeting, small quick thing, and that doesn’t mean that its diminutive in its impact, it can it can lead to this joy snowball. You start rolling it downhill and all of a sudden you’re feeling better, right?

Ben: You either roll a snowball downhill or you spiral upwards. We’re mixing metaphors here.

Caitlin: I mean why not both? It’s cool.

Ben: Alright, that’s fine.

Caitlin: You can pick the snowball up at the end and throw it through the air, and that’s pretty joyful.

Ben: Right and then you can swing for the fences, or sorry, I’m trying to think of other metaphors I can mix up. Roll the fences downhill.

Caitlin: I think there’s a nun joke in there somewhere, but we don’t have to get to that. I also was really really interested in, the part of the conversation that turned to protestantism, and the ways in which we’re obliged to act if we want to be “respectable”. How serious people, you know, wear dark colors and they don’t dance etc. etc. I thought that was really interesting too.

Ben: Yeah. Should we get to the books?

Caitlin: I think we should.

Ben: Okay.

Caitlin: Now that we know that joy is harnessable we can just go ahead and recommend some joyful books.

Ben: Okay, we have three books?

Caitlin: We do have three books.

Ben: You have two and I have one. I mean, I have two and you have one.

Caitlin: You have two and I have one, for a change.

Ben: I definitely have two.

Caitlin: Which is cool. So should we do a recommendation sandwich, or should I just go first?

Ben: You go, sure, sandwich.

Caitlin: All right, so you start.

Ben: Alright. I’m the top cookie.

Caitlin: You are, you’re the, you’re the piece of bread on top.

Ben: There’s a book called Wonderland by Steven Johnson. It argues, see if you can connect, see if you can make this connection.

Caitlin: Okay, I’m concentrating.

Ben: It’s very easy. It argues that the role of play and fun in human history is undervalued.

Caitlin: Very cool.

Ben: Really fun. So we, you know, we think that wars and revolutions and kings and queens and pestilence and luck, are the drivers of History.

Caitlin: Uh-huh.

Ben: And we look, maybe overlook, the pleasure we derive from things like music or games or the color purple.

Caitlin: Mmm.

Ben: Check out the book for the anecdote on color purple.

Caitlin: Uh-huh.

Ben: And these things also have contributed to basically, to humanity as we know it. And the connection, of course, to the interview is that play is one of the aesthetics of joy.

Caitlin: Yes.

Ben: So, that really stuck out to me and I quite liked this book. There’s a really good Book in Blinks about this, actually.

Caitlin: Amazing. I will check it out. I haven’t read it yet. I think I actually own a copy of it that I have not yet read. You just reminded me of it.

Ben: Nice.

Caitlin: I ordered it when it came out. All right. So then my recommendation is The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton.

Ben: You love this guy.

Caitlin: I do, I do love this guy. This is, this is a book about how our environments, specifically, our office buildings, houses, wigwams, bomb shelters, whatever, impact us through their design. There’s all kinds of great stuff in here about how, for example, different people prefer specific building types, how design speaks to us, and how we can use architecture to bring out the best in us, as humans. Read it. You’ll finally get the answer to questions like how whitewashed walls impact our mental health and why we like to arrange the wooden planks in our flooring in grid-like pattern.

Ben: Right.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: That’s two pretty strong ones. I have another one similar to design.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: It’s by Victor Papanek. It’s called Design for the Real World.

Caitlin: Okay.

Ben: This book made quite a, quite an impact on me-

Caitlin: I’ve heard of this.

Ben: – when I read it because it ties the design, like design to social and ecological consequences.

Caitlin: Wow.

Ben: So. He talks about insights that he’s learned, how we can improve design at a more, like, industrial level, for socially morally environmentally more responsible approaches.

Caitlin: Wow.

Ben: Yeah, I think this one kind of stuck with me, because I never thought that, right, if we are going to take climate change seriously we do have to make more fundamental changes, not just in like, I buy less plastic.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: Yeah. So. Design for the Real World and Wonderland. Those are the two books that I would recommend.

Caitlin: Awesome. Great recommendations. Thanks, Ben.

Ben: No problem, Caitlin. This episode of Simplify was produced by Caitlin Schiller. Hi Caitlin.

Caitlin: Hi!

Ben: Me, Benjamin Stoler and Florian Tippe. Hey, Flo. Thanks again for helping out.

Caitlin: And if you enjoyed this episode of Simplify, please consider rating it, and leaving us a review in Apple Podcasts. It helps other people find us, and it makes me happy.

Ben: I’m curious if people are listening a lot in Spotify.

Caitlin: Me too, actually.

Ben: You can see that data, but I haven’t looked in there. I’m curious because Spotify keeps getting bigger and bigger in podcast land.

Caitlin: It does. It’s a behemoth.

Ben: It’s gonna overtake Apple soon.

Caitlin: You think so?

Ben: Yeah.

Caitlin: Ooh, Predictions.

Ben: Right. So, if you want to, let us know if you listen on Spotify or if you have any other thoughts about this interview or if you’ve read any of the books we’ve recommended or have more books, reach out to us. You can email us, we’re at Also on Twitter. I’m B-S-T-O, @bsto, and Caitlin is @CaitlinSchiller with two L’s.

So you can find us there. If you don’t know, Caitlin and I work at a company called Blinkist, here in Berlin. Blinkist is an App for Android and iOS, and also on the web, which basically condenses the world’s best non-fiction books into short little easily digestible bits that you can read or listen to in 15 to 20 minutes or so. So, check us out, go to and you can try out the service. You can try out Blinkist for 14 days for free if you put in the coupon code ‘joyful‘. J-O-Y-F-U-L. Nailed it.

Caitlin: Yeah, you’re a great speller, Ben.

Ben: Joyful.

Caitlin: Joyful without two L’s, unlike my last name.

Ben: Correct.

Caitlin: Great. Okay, so then that’s it. We’ll be back with more Simplify next week.

Ben: Rock on. Checkin’ out.

Caitlin: Checkin’ out.

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