On February 17, I posted about the first two aesthetics of joy (energy, i.e. color and light, and abundance) from Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things To Create Extraordinary Happiness. When I broke my wrist, I found it difficult to identify joy. At times I could barely keep up, doing everything left-handed, and dealing with pain. But now that I get my cast off in two days, I am hunting for what makes me feel light and content. What makes you say “Yay” or “Wow”? Can you hold your own joy treasure hunt?

Photography, hiking, and mountains are included in my joy treasure hunt. While I haven't been able to get out as often as I'd like since December 10, once my cast comes off there will be nothing left to stop me. Rainier casts a shadow beyond Little Tahoma, sunset July 10, 2017.
Photography, hiking, and mountains are included in my joy treasure hunt. While I haven’t been able to get out as often as I’d like since December 10, once my cast comes off there will be nothing left to stop me. Rainier casts a shadow beyond Little Tahoma, sunset July 10, 2017.

Joy Treasure Hunt: Aesthetic of Freedom

The joy aesthetic that means the most to me is freedom. I had just started listening to Lee discuss this aesthetic as we headed for Arches National Park. I looked forward to traveling, exploring new places, hiking, and shooting photos. Even after I broke my wrist, I had to get out and enjoy the aftermath of a big snowstorm, sling and all.

Taking photos using my left hand — with two fingers, no less — proved difficult. But I sparked with joy when I saw the expanse of blue sky over crisp white snow and red rock. The freedom aesthetic includes a preference for natural fabrics and loose-fitting clothing. I am glad I had some with me, as it was the only thing I could maneuver one-handed AND fit over my bulky sling. If we hadn’t had fresh snow on the ground, I would have removed my shoes to walk around barefoot, a practice known as grounding or earthing.

On one of my "Freedom walks" which I take most mornings in every new place I visit, I often look for my shadow. Here, I'm set against red rock, white snow, and crisp blue sky.
On one of my “Freedom walks”, I often look for my shadow. Here, I’m set against red rock, white snow, and crisp blue sky.

The Aesthetic of Transcendence

Of Lee’s next four aesthetics (Harmony, Play, Surprise, and Transcendence), I identify most with transcendence. She includes in it the power of the treehouse. (I have always wanted one). Of skylights and rooms with space and high ceilings, both of which we have in our current home. Lofts, hills, mountains, and looking up to the clouds, skies, and stars. Views from elevated places. Check. She really speaks my language.

When I look at the shadow cast by Mt. Rainier and see that summit looming, beckoning, I feel awe. Joy. And when she mentioned inflatables, I smiled, recalling the memorable birthday experience I had several years ago during a sunset hot-air balloon ride.

What would you include in your own joy treasure hunt? Can you include more of those moments?
What would you include in your own joy treasure hunt? Can you include more of those moments?

The Aesthetic of Celebration

Of Lee’s last three aesthetics, Magic, Celebration, and Renewal, we experienced all three at the Admitted Students Preview on the University of Washington campus. On March 26, we experienced a magical day that combined school spirit, a celebration of my daughter’s hard work over the past four years, and gorgeous seasonal cherry blossoms in full splendor.

Two beaming Admitted Students preview the University of Washington campus. Huge joyful grins. What's not to love?
Two beaming Admitted Students preview the University of Washington campus. Huge joyful grins. What’s not to love?

Think of those moments that stand out to you as special. What made them so? Was it the place, the event, the people you were with? Did you enjoy novelty, surprise, or whimsy? In the next few days, whenever you catch yourself smiling, jot down a few words about the moment. See what patterns you find. In going on your own joy treasure hunt, you will discover your unique “recipe” to create even more. And if my two-part “book review” intrigues you, check it out for yourself. Happy hunting.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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  1. I will first need to speak to “Surprise”. This is just because waiting for the weekly blog post, and not knowing what exactly it will about, has become one of these little pleasures I know I can rely on. This is not unlike my end of the day routine, when I wind down reading a “good book”; there is peace, centering, and joy spending some time in the company of carefully crafted words.
    Past “Surprise” I then inevitably gravitate towards “Transcendence” too. Rooms with space and high ceiling, skylights, hills, mountains… yes, yes and more yes. One ritual I have developed while on the trail is to find a good spot for a break, where I can lay down on my back and just look at the sky above; sometimes through the canopy of trees, sometimes alive with a flotilla of clouds, sometimes with just an immensity of unbroken blue. While I gaze at this blue infinity, I also listen to the sounds of the wilderness around me. I am pretty confident I must look like someone hiking under the influence (HUI) of a very legal substance…. Joy! Having been born oversees, in Old Europe, I still very vividly remember my first encounters with the wide open landscapes of the American West. It did not hurt that my first ever visit outside of US cities was a two-weeks stay in Yellowstone. A couple weeks later I spent the same amount of time in the baked deserts of the South West. I was reborn. Nothing up to that point, and since then, has made me feel more meaningfully alive than being a guest, for a short while, in vast expanses with little to no trace of human activity. Part of the goofy smile I probably sport in many such instances is the absolute certainty that I am no more special than a limestone bench, sword fern, a chipmunk, or a polished river rock… but I am gifted with the ability to experience (enjoy) an immense variety of big and little treasures this tiny tiny planet has to offer. With age, the allure of “the big” and “the spectacular” has been enhanced – not replaced — with the ability to derive joy from the small and the familiar too; just yesterday, I hiked a 16 miles trail through an unbroken forest and could not stop but marveling at sights that, not so long ago, would have made me ask: where are the views? Am I there yet?? Lady ferns, the leathery trunk of Madrones, frost on top of rhodies, colorful lychens, etc. Joy seems to be there all around us “for the taking” if we can chose to take a breath and let it in. To conclude, I will shamelessly draw from your picture and mention of effect the Mt Rainier’s shadow had on you. If one thing is guaranteed to bring joy to me, it is natural light in all its forms and subtleties (OK, dark and grey days are not on the top of that list…). That purple shadow is stunning and mesmerizing. Pre-dawn, that first suggestion of light-to-come while still bundled in my sleeping bag; the first rays of the sun across a lake; a rainbow after an afternoon shower; the punishing sun of a mid-day in the desert; sunbeams breaking through a lifting fog; a beam spotlighting a fern in a dark forest; glistening dew drops at day break; the milky glow of the landscape under a full moon; OK… I should probably stop here lest I take the joy out of it all 😊

    1. Beautiful post, Gerard! Yes, America’s national parks are gifts to all (Thank you Teddy Roosevelt!) and Yellowstone is top of my list along with New Zealand’s Fjordlands for unparalleled beauty and stunning landscapes. I am thrilled to hear that “Surprise” in the form of blog posts is one of your joys. One of mine is thought-provoking comments from readers! I, too, used to go for big views but the tiny (maybe along the vein of “surprise”) can also spark joy like the photos I have shared of the single dewy feather or fallen leaf among woody fungus. Just this morning I saw two Northern flickers excavating cavities in the highest remains of a birch snag we had to trim back (mostly) in our front yard, but they have created nesting spaces for chickadees and juncos. Peering down at me I felt like we were silently communicating: “Thanks for leaving this snag for us!” “Thanks for visiting today!” And yesterday we saw the hunkering shape of a raccoon in a bush and got down at eye level and stared at it. Spark, spark! I love urban nature and the surprises that await us if we get out of our heads and into the moment. I invite more such precious moments as we “slow down to smell the roses.” May every day carry moments of joy–after all, we remember moments, not days. Spark on!

  2. Nice to start Sunday morning with a great article like this. I need to get this book on my bed nightstand. Thanks for sharing and I hope you will continue to write about it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Silvie-Marie! I have one more planned on “joy” later this week and then I will move on as we all leap into spring. It’s a very thought-provoking book and worth a visit!