CARNIVAL is the perfect time to examine what it means to be joyful – especially if you are a curmudgeon who can’t fathom how this event evokes joy in so many people. How can people be happy about jumping up in the hot sun in a skimpy costume and some feathers?
Like most people, I have been conditioned to believe joy – real joy comes from within – usually after a feeling of extreme accomplishment. It turns out I was wrong. Joy can emanate from tangible objects, the physical world around us or even action-packed or fun-filled events. People who hang out at the beach, watch sunsets, buy paintings or go to sporting events know this. Carnival masqueraders know this too.
In the book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Happiness, by designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, I discovered much about what gives us joy. This served me well when my daughter Ijanaya and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns over Christmas.
“What did you think,” Ijanaya asked when the movie ended, and I replied, quite spontaneously, “I loved it.” She said, “So did I.” Then, I proceeded to pick the movie apart. “I thought Mary Poppins was too sour and Michael was too whiny. The movie depended on a lot of gimmicks rather than the magic of the original version…”
My list of complaints seemed endless. Ijanaya agreed, and yet we came away from the movie feeling joyful. It all made sense. In Joyful, I learned how colour, surprise, abundance, energy and shape create a sense of joy. With all its faults, Mary Poppins Returns is full of surprises, which meet Lee’s criteria for joy.
The energy in all of those dance numbers multiplied by an abundance of people and plenty of balloons in the end of the movie evoke joy, because Lee says, round shapes and bright colours create joy. So does glitter.
I never thought much about glitter, but after reading Joyful, I went out and bought some of those balls covered in glitter and shards of mirrors, put them in a mosaic bowl that incorporated shards of mirrors and placed them on my glass coffee table so that the first thing I would see when I came home to my empty nest were balls of sparking light.
It worked. They’re the focal point of a large room, and I do smile when I open the door. It’s no wonder that Carnival revellers as well as spectators feel a surge or joy when they see those large, colourful queens and kings in competition or when they watch whole tribes of people dance in bright costumes with glitter, feathers and shiny, flowing cloth.
And when it comes to evoking a sense of joy, guess whose star looms large in one of the chapters of Joyful…Peter Minshall’s of course. Lee credits Minshall’s designs with bringing joy to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and to Carnival mas. He meets many of her criteria for joy: energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration and renewal.
In Joyful, I learned energy can come from colour. “Bright color buoys our spirits,” says Lee. She points out that certain violent neighbourhoods have been turned around by sprucing up the area and painting buildings with vivid, joy-provoking colours. Abundance and harmony symbolise joy. Watching 25 dancers like the Rockettes kicking in sync brings more joy than watching a single dancer, and the rule of many applies to Carnival bands.
Of course, play and surprise brings a sense of joy. Think about dolphins darting out of the water or children playing hide and seek or those masqueraders dancing on the street. The freedom to explore and discover evokes a sense of joy. Places can evoke magic. In Iceland, five per cent of the population say they’ve seen elves and half of the population believe elves could exist. Hot steamy pools in freezing landscapes evokes a sense of magic in Iceland.
Finally, renewal brings a sense of joy. Think about how vacations uplift our spirit and renew our energy. Joyful provides an extensive “Joyful Tookit” in the back of the book so readers can identify what triggers joy in their lives. Joy is definitely something you can tap into, as we seem to do every Carnival. We complain about the skimpy costumes, but somehow, Carnival manages to evoke a sense of joy. Check out Lee’s TED talk “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It” on YouTube to learn more about joy.