As our life seems more static than growing, designing joy purposefully will bring in energy. Designing joy in small things is nice but grand activities will stimulate mind and body.
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Evening, the word evening—I was struggling to write this word a few years ago. Today, four years later, I am sitting and writing my weekly column, an entire barrage of words.
I remember clearly. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, a week or so before Diwali in 2016 and I was working on my then to-do list and writing some notes. I struggled to spell the word ‘evening.’ I don’t have any memory of the context but I remember my baffled state of mind which wasn't sure if it should be a ‘v’ or a ‘w’ in the ‘eve’ of evening. I had struggled and had given up on the fight of getting the word right. I had other battles to choose that week. This incident is of the time when I was running my entrepreneurial firm, RedPolka, and I was in the thick of the workload of a fledgling startup, trying to manage funds and to make Diwali better for everyone associated with the business. That temporary mind-fog had left a scar then.
Today, I wouldn’t have remembered the word had it not been in an email I wrote to my children during that time. My children were small, so sometimes to capture a happy day memory or a funny story I would jot down a mail and send it to their email id I had opened in their name - mydearxxx and mydearyyy. Yesterday, we were reading some of those mails when I came across the above mentioned one. It read: “It was a last minute decision for me to stay back and not come with you for our Diwali break while my toothbrush went with you in your bags. I came back home from the airport holding my boarding pass.” That year, I had spent four days alone at home for the first time in my life during a Diwali break, away from family, away from work, away from any social life. Decision taken on a spur, it was a big step for me and my family. I had written in the email, “One day, I forgot how to spell the word ‘evening’ and realised I was saying things that I would regret later... I was extremely fatigued. I had lost bandwidth to make the smallest decision like setting the dinner menu…” and the story goes on. The email was written to explain to them the importance of giving priority to oneself and the importance of being joyful, even if it required gestures like locking away from the world.
Months later, I felt happy when I read about Bill Gates’s Think Weeks. Gates spends a week in a cabin in a forest where he spends time with his books, thinking, reading and writing. Gates’ Think Weeks started in the 1980s. The first ones were quiet visits to his grandmother’s house. As they evolved, no visitors were allowed to the cabin during Gates’ Think Week other than someone who dropped off two meals a day at the cabin. Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work, calls these as Grand Gestures. And, ever since I took mine, even before knowing about Bill Gates Think Week or Grand Gestures, I learnt the value of such acts and its impact on one’s thinking. And, Grand Gesture entered as one of the habits in the 15 Habits for forward thinking, SHIFT.
So in this week’s article on Habits for Thinking, I am writing to you about not being alone but about creating opportunities of Grand Gestures to spark up the mundane routine. Grand Gestures that will bring magic in your life.
With the beginning of the festival season, hope is rising in the air even though it is burdened with pandemic reality. The blurriness of worries creates a layer of mind-fog. To be hopeful and happy in a situation where distance with friends and family is forced and the basic need of staying safe and healthy is uncertain, is a tough ask. Yet the only option is to stay hopeful. There is no second option. And to stay hopeful, one has to design hope.
How do we design hope? By designing joy in our lives.
How do we design joy? Sometimes by taking small steps and sometimes by making grand gestures.
We have discussed working harder in the days of darkness in this article, but today we go on the other side, where we grow selfish and plan and design joy in our lives. Not because all work and no play makes you a dull boy, but, because all work and play but no joy makes you a poor-hope boy. Here, we are not going to talk about what we do with our mind to attain joy but actually about how to make our physical ambience become the trigger of our joys. We are not talking about think-weeks or solitude, but quite the opposite, gestures to be joyful and full of heart in the days of physical distancing.
Ingrid Fetell Lee in her book, Joyful, describes the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness. She talks about aesthetics— the properties that define the way an object looks and feels. If you have been to your workstation after a long gap this year, you would have noticed elements like a photograph or a note or an artifact that holds some memories and a whisker of joy.
Lee, a design-thinking expert, identified 10 aesthetics of joy, each of which reveals a connection between the feeling of joy and the tangible qualities of the world around us. Like confetti, which is related to the aesthetics of abundance, there are elements that evoke surprise, energy, magic, renewal, abundance, freedom, celebrations, etc.
One story that stands out as a grand piece is about a house in Tokyo, which is designed by architects, Arakawa and Gins to reverse ageing. It is called the Reverse Destiny site. Colourful, floor with sculpted bumps, layouts that are unusual, numerous fixtures from the ceiling, the house is unique and brings you alive. She writes: “This definitely took some getting used to, and as I moved around the apartment, I was constantly adjusting my balance. In so many ways, big and small, the apartment disrupted my equilibrium and challenged my ideas of what a home should feel like. By stimulating and destabilizing our senses, their hope was to wake us up to our bodies. In a way, their goal was to use architecture to promote a kind of mindfulness, and also a bodyfulness too, a word that if it doesn’t exist, probably should.”
As our life seems more static than growing, designing joy purposefully will bring in energy. Designing joy in small things is nice but grand activities will stimulate mind and body in a similar way as the Reverse Destiny home does. What can be grand for me may not be grand for you. The idea is to plan in a manner that requires effort and destabilises our senses. Remember, planning itself gives us a sense of growth.
For instance, you may like to use an abundance of colour to make it grand. Or, you may plan a vacation from home to Paris by planning two days of French living and take a culinary adventure/ buy a memoir/ solve a giant puzzle to go with the experience. You may go on a nature trail or bring a lot of nature home. Or, you may simply abstain from Netflix and screens for a week as your grand gesture.
You will know what is grand for you. You will know what will destabilize your senses.
Some tips to make it successful:
1 Keep a start date and end date- block it off the calendar.
2 Set the plan—a travel themed vacation from home, a house camp, a nature trail.
3 Invite co-thinkers or co-planners—like friends you take a holiday with or/and services that you can outsource. There are people who can send you a complete table setting and planned menus.
This season, as you manage physical distancing and stay safe, become selfish and make room for a Grand Gesture for yourself. It creates superpower for you.
(Vishakha Singh, author of a forward-thinking course SHIFT, is a business strategist & a design thinking practitioner. She writes at www.habitsforthinking.in, offering insights into the ever-changing business environment.)