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Want More Joy in Your Life? Seek Out These Five Aesthetics

Color Eyes diptych

It’s been the moral of many stories throughout history: Happiness doesn’t come from physical objects, but from within. Though there is certainly legitimacy to this view, author and designer Ingrid Fetell Lee offers an important caveat: Our external world is full of joy to be discovered as well.

In 2009, she began investigating what exact features make objects and environments joyful. After conducting surveys and reading about the science of joy over many years, Lee formulated ten “aesthetics of joy”: energy, abundance, play, surprise, celebration, freedom, harmony, transcendence, magic, and renewal. Each of these has its own feel and defining elements, and each can be harnessed to make our lives brighter.

With an emphasis on quality and beautiful contemporary design, Copenhagen is no stranger to the idea that our surroundings can improve our lives. Read on to discover Lee’s first five aesthetics of joy with a “livelier” feel, as well as Copenhagen pieces that embody each.


This aesthetic is all about the joy we get from color and light. Lee offers examples of festivals around the world that use vivid colors to celebrate (like Carnival and Holi), pointing out that the link between color and joy is cross-cultural. What’s more, color vision likely developed in primates because it made fruits and other colorful, high-energy food sources easier to distinguish. As such, we are drawn to color not just for aesthetic reasons, but because millions of years ago, recognizing color helped us to survive.

Today, plenty of evidence still suggests that strategic use of bright color boosts productivity and well-being. A study by Küller et al (2006) surveyed nearly a thousand people worldwide and found that “[those] working in bright, colorful offices were more alert than those working in duller spaces,” as well as more “joyful, friendly, and confident.”

Ready to add more of the energy aesthetic to your life? Look for these distinguishing traits:

• Bright, warm colors
• Saturated or neon hues
• Sunlight or other vibrant lighting

Copenhagen offers the Consul Chair and Ottoman, with rich henna leather upholstery that will add a burst of energy to any interior. Looking for an even bigger infusion of energy? Try the Gaia Sectional, upholstered in mustard yellow microfiber and outfitted with two power reclining seats for a piece that’s both relaxing and re-invigorating.


This aesthetic is about the joy we get from our environment having an abundance of resources or otherwise being varied and stimulating. Though the abundance aesthetic may not appeal to everyone, Lee argues that even someone who favors minimalism will feel joyful in certain abundant settings, such as a candy store or carnival. Like the preference for bright color, this aesthetic has biological underpinnings – early humans leading lives of scarcity would understandably rejoice in finding a setting rich with food sources and useful materials.

In a modernized world, abundance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can lead to waste and overconsumption. On the other hand, the right kind of abundance can invigorate and heal. For instance, one study showed that visiting parks high in biodiversity boosts one’s sense of well-being (Fuller et al, 2007). Additionally, a therapy called Snoezelen, which lets patients explore specialized multisensory rooms, has helped individuals with dementia.

Distinguishing traits of the abundance aesthetic include:

• Variety and layering of patterns, colors, and textures
• Diversity and multitude of objects in a space
• Engagement of multiple sensory modalities
• Maximalist rather than minimalist

As a design example, Copenhagen’s Bonnie Chair has fabric upholstery in a kaleidoscopic design of stripes, squares, circles, and leaves in shades of purple, green, and orange. This multicolored fabric contrasts with the darker leather of the base and the brown angled metal legs for a piece that displays abundance in color, material, and shape.

Adorned with a glass border shaped into hundreds of shining “bubbles,” the Pop Round Mirror instantly conveys abundance. Its large size and brilliant visual impact make it ideal for those who love maximalist interiors.


Lee says play is “the only activity humans engage in solely because it produces joy.” Though we may find satisfaction in work or relish a good meal, we engage in these other activities because they have a practical function other than joy. Even so, researcher Stuart Brown has found that play is necessary for social and emotional development. His study of prisoners convicted of murder found that “nearly all these offenders had deficient or deviant play histories” (Brown, 2009).

According to Lee, no shape embodies the play aesthetic better than the circle. Circular, spherical, and rounded forms tend to be safer and more approachable than sharp forms, as well as offering versatility of use – think of how many games and sports involve a ball. Even sea lions have been observed playing with pufferfish like they were beach balls!

Want to channel your inner child? Seek out these traits of the play aesthetic:

• Rounded, circular, or spherical forms
• Curvy, wavy, or squiggly lines and shapes
• Sense of “cuteness”

The Eva Bowl was created by Danish artist Bjorn Wiinblad, known for his whimsical designs that challenged prevailing trends of minimalism in Scandinavia. From Eva’s rounded, oversized head to her pink cheeks and 3-D flower accents, this bowl is playful through and through.

For playfulness on a slightly larger scale, try the Aldo Chair, upholstered in bold red leather. The backrest, arms, and seat feature rounded lines for an inviting and comfortable feel, while swiveling and rocking functions add a touch of fun.


Surprise is one of the six basic emotions conceptualized by psychologist Paul Ekman (along with happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust). From an evolutionary perspective, surprise makes us alert to threats or opportunities in our environment. Unpleasant surprises certainly exist, but Lee argues that “joyful surprises bring our attention…back out into the world, prompting us to approach and engage.”

Though it may seem paradoxical to try to seek out or design for surprise, Lee suggests one way to bring more of this aesthetic to your life is to hide small surprises for yourself and others in your environment – that way, they can be forgotten about and rediscovered. Factors to think about when designing for surprise include:

• Unexpected yet positive elements
• Tasteful or whimsical contrast or imperfection
• “Hidden” elements
• Playing with proportions or scale

With a wood exterior and angled cutouts lacquered in your choice of bright blue or cacao brown, the Horizon 3-Door Cupboard offers an additional surprise to anyone who opens it – the back of each door is also finished in the same eye-catching colored lacquer.

For a statement piece that will delight your guests, consider the Madison Cocktail Table. This table features an ingeniously designed mechanism that allows four stacked tabletops to go from a nested single form to a fully expanded form with a simple push.


The celebration aesthetic is about what Lee calls “the pinnacles of joy in our lives,” from birthdays to holidays to weddings. A crucial element of celebration is its communal nature – festivities typically involve multiple or large numbers of people. This suggests celebration served an adaptive function in human prehistory by strengthening community bonds.

Every culture has celebration rituals, and even animals seem capable of celebrating. For instance, when a primatologist observed chimpanzees in captivity, he was struck by the way they vocalized and energetically embraced each other upon receiving fresh food (de Waal, 1996).

If you want to bring a celebratory atmosphere to your everyday life, think about these features:

• Sparkling, shimmering, or bursting elements
• Oversized elements
• Music or dance
• Design that encourages people to interact and mingle

The Atari XL Coffee Table stands on two wooden supports shaped like stars or bursting fireworks that are easily viewable through its glass top. Additionally, its extra-large size makes this table great for guests to gather around at parties and other occasions.

With Bluetooth capability and a natural walnut casing, the Orbit Mirror Wall Bar lets you turn up your music and celebrate. This combination bar, mirror, and music player also has a rainbow of LED lights that can sync to the beat of your favorite tunes, making it a joyful choice whether you’re throwing a birthday bash or having a relaxing night in.

From bright hues to bursts of music, these are just some of the aesthetics we can tap into to find joy every day. And since no two people are alike, there are many more aesthetics of joy than just the five listed here. But if you’re as passionate about high-end contemporary furniture and interiors as we are at Copenhagen, why not stop in today and see what sparks your joy?

All information in this post was sourced from Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.