Ahhhhhhh, the infinite pursuit of happiness. We all do take this path at one time or another and yet, what does it really mean? What is happiness?
Well, happiness is said to be something that is measured over time. It is a broad evaluation of how we feel about our how our lives are going.
Happiness includes many different factors: How we feel about our work? Does it give us meaning and purpose? How we feel about our health, our relationships, our children?
Happiness can also sometimes be a little bit vague. You can go through periods where you’re indecisive: Am I happy? Why are some things good and some things not so good?
As human beings, we’re always sort of processing all of that on the whole in order to come up with this determination of whether or not we’re (ahem) "happy."
Joy, on the other hand, is much simpler and more immediate.
Psychologists define joy as an intense momentary experience of positive emotion. It can be measured through direct physical expression.
So the feeling of smiling, laughter, and wanting to jump up and down. We get that feeling when something gives us a spark of joy.
Often times, we have to work to find joy and/or bring joy into our lives. But fundamentally it is far easier to create more moments of joy, and design joy into our lives, than it is to go about finding happiness.
Happiness is bigger and more complex and joy is often about remembering what gives us joy and leaning into those things more and more often. Here in our little hamlet of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, joy is abundant and it is magically designed into our environment.
Please allow me to explain...
For many, many years, the discipline of psychology focused on what’s happening inside of us, as opposed to how are our surroundings influencing our emotions. In this day and age, we don't need a psychologist to tell us that there is a profound connection between the physical world around us and the emotional world within us.
For example, studies show that people working in more vibrant, colorful offices are more joyful and therefore make better, more productive, more creative employees. Hmmm, it makes sense, right?
I mean, do you want to be here?
I know that for me, my eyes are drawn immediately to the green chairs and the floor-to-ceiling windows. The natural light and that view certainly doesn't hurt either. In fact, it doesn't hurt you at all. Employees in environments like this are seen to be more focused and alert and more confident and friendly.
So, that said . . . just using the power of your sight to elicit joy . . . try this out.
Do you want to be here?
In Eureka Springs, AR, our surroundings elicit an abundance of joy and from there, we make emotional choices. It's been this way since the very beginning when thousands flocked here because of the healing waters. Visitors came to Basin Spring to bask in an intense momentary experience of positive emotion. Joy. Visitors come for joy.
Eureka Springs has many attributes that make it a joyful place but I have decided to focus today on these three attributes that many of our visitors and residents know to be true about Eureka Springs.
Color and brightness: We often think about color in terms of hue; we think about red versus blue versus yellow. But the color isn’t what matters; it’s how pure the color is. The brighter the color, the more pigment that’s in the color, the more associated it will be with joy.
Hues that are dark or dim generally associate with sadness and these are known to be universal associations.
Connect your nest to nature: One of the things that is really quite powerful to do is paint to paint your front door a bright color. Because this is the first thing that you see when you come home every day, and the last thing you see when you leave. Doing this also puts joy out into your neighborhood and it changes the way that your house engages with the world.
Check out this joyful video featuring many unique front doors welcoming visitors to Eureka Springs.
Wearing more color does the same thing. When you wear a bright color, people respond in a certain way. They often will smile instinctively because joy is contagious. When people smile at you, you tend to smile back. And that creates a virtuous, joyful circle.
The true colorful show happens here in Autumn. This joyful season is spectacular and one of the busiest times to visit Eureka Springs.
Curves and round shapes: I read a report that explained when researchers put people into functional MRI machines and showed them pictures of angular objects, they found that a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is associated with unconscious fear and anxiety, lights up.
When they provided patients with round objects to look at, the amygdala stayed silent.
Conclusion: there is something in our brains that finds a sense of ease and playfulness around curves.
If you see me around town in the peak of season talking to some of our visitors, I often end my exchanges with them something like this, "It's very nice to meet you, oh, and by the way, as one of the local gay residents of Eureka Springs, it is my duty to inform you that there are no straight streets here. Enjoy your visit." We all laugh and move along. It truly is a moment of joy for me to gush about my unique Eureka to our visitors.
Why YES! Eureka Springs does have more than its fair share curves. Many curves. Curvy curves. Curves that curve around curves. We definitely have lots of curves.
This fine fact draws hundreds of thousands of bikers from all across the globe to visit The Ozarks and experience the famous pig trail for something known as - JOY RIDES! (Huh, go figure.)
Find ways to get outside and experience the little surprises Eureka Springs has to offer. There truly is another moment of joy awaiting you around every curve.
When we share little moments of joy with other people, it forms a signal that lets them know that we’re actually going to be there for them not just when things are good but when times are tough.
In Eureka Springs, the locals come together often for different events, dinners, community connections and fundraisers and also to deliver a new, vibrant parade right through the center of town that is locally-driven, locally planned and organized and locally sponsored.
The residents of Eureka Springs are doers. They participate to make joyful moments for each other and for our hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Coming together like this influences our well-being. Experiencing little moments of joy on a regular basis reduces stress. Did you know that when we undergo something very stressful, and soon after, experience a moment of joy, it can actually speed the physical recovery?
When we exhibit joy, we actually end up attracting others, which of course makes us feel more connected to the world around us.
In society today, there is still an odd correlation with joy and childishness. Businessmen do not to wear color because they are afraid they won't be taken seriously. Women don't buy themselves flowers because they were taught somewhere along the way that it is self-indulgent. Because society expects that men are supposed to meet a masculine aesthetic, they don’t have societal permission to be silly or to wear color.
In Eureka Springs, we do none of this bull****. We choose to be silly, have fun, wear colors, participate, take a joy ride, and we DO NOT hold ourselves back from joy in order to fit in with "society." We are our society and it takes a village to create this environment everyday for ourselves and our visitors. We're proud of our joyful community and our magical environment.
So in short, happiness is something that we measure over time and joy is about feeling good in the moment. It’s really that simple.
Get out there and pursue small simple moments and experience the joy that is all around you. Trust me, you'll be very happy you did.