The Psychology of Sparking Joy

(and Why in the World It Can Be Good To Care)

3-5 minute read

Spaces Impact Us:
Did you know- We’re impacted on a deep biological and psychological level by our environments? Thedesign of spaces such as our homes, offices, schools and play-places have a strong impact us.  

Like when you imagine being in this space might feel something like this!  


Better yet, there’s a growing body of science telling us how design elements impact us.  Like this study that states access to natural elements such as plants, natural materials, views to the exterior and access to daylight can reduce stress, improve overall wellbeing and enhance productivity in people working in office environments. Or this study which outlines that health, satisfaction, attention, and consequently performance of students are regularly improved when access to natural light is present in education space as compared to when daylight is not available, such as in classrooms without windows or with very limited access to windows.

The body of research is substantial and it’s evolving. The conversation of how our environments impact us is becoming a more mainstream conversation.

Does It Spark Joy? 
One example of this conversation is being led by a powerful and infectiously high-spirited woman, Marie Kondo, who is taking the world by storm! Her question “does it spark Joy?” is simple yet profound.

You ask yourself this question while you’re sitting there holding each item. For example, you'd ask "does it spark joy?" while holding that ceramic snake trinket that’s been sitting in the bottom of your shelf from your ex’s ex-mother-in-law’s brother (…wheww..that was a mouthful!…). With this item you might get a resounding “HECK NO!” it does not spark joy. “come to think of it, it actually kinda creeps me out a bit!” 

Why in the world did I pack this thing and take it with me through three cross-country moves? No judgments. We all have those things. We have those things and we (…well most of us) are still really really awesome humans.

A Biological Response to Non-Joy Sparkers:
So, what happens when we hold space for items that don’t serve us anymore? Or worse, hold space for things that cause us stress? For starters we can limit the ability for new more positive aspects to come into our lives because all the current space, be it physical or mental, is full.  

Another reaction can happen on a biological level. Long story short,  when we see an item that causes us stress or does the opposite of “Sparking Joy” our bodies can quickly go through the process of preparing for fight or flight.

To paraphrase this study our amygdala can often trigger a neurological and biological sequence to occur where our blood pressure rises, our muscles tense, our fists can tighten and our heart-rate increases.


Our bodies can often take up to four hours to calm down to a resting state from a stress triggered state... FOUR HOURS!

This fight or flight reaction happens to us frequently throughout the day on varying levels.  Imagine for a moment, that you have just 3-4 items in your home or office that trigger this reaction.  It’s possible you can be in the heightened state of stress your entire waking day.

Stress, and its subsequent biological response, is a reaction that’s meant to protect us from harm, so it’s not always a bad thing. However, now the stress trigger is a small ceramic snake sitting quietly on a shelf instead of a giant tiger chasing you for its lunch.  It’s pretty safe to say, the majority of our surroundings have changed a bit since the “fight or flight” stress reaction originated. Therefore, the resulting physical state can be a tad bit too intense to be healthy on an ongoing basis today.


Tips to Support You: 

So we now know this happens and we’re maybe a bit freaked out about it-what can we do? Here are some things to consider with your environment to help minimize the stress and increase the positive responses.

1) Encourage a State of Appreciation 

  • In the words of a good friend, “I know I’m not a savage, I have a few really wonderful elements in my spaces. I just need helping knowing how to be intentional with them.”  So true!  So much advertising goes into what’s wrong with our space so we’ll buy buy buy that new couch, that new office furniture, that new this or that! It can be toxic.  

    • Take a few moments and think about what you’re already grateful for in your space - be it your home, your office or any environment you spend time in regularly. Think of a few specific elements. Maybe it’s the fact that your office building has great daylight or your living room is so welcoming it invites your friends and family to enjoy each other’s company often. Maybe it's the fact that your space is designed just for you and everyone else stays the heck out of it! (introverts unite! ...from our comfortable separate spaces) 

    •  Each attribute will be different for each person. The point here is to shift our minds from thinking we’re savages-you’re not (thanks advertising!) and into a state of gratitude.  The simple shift of being appreciative can have profound effects on reducing stress and increasing wellbeing.

2) Bit by Bit: Prioritize the Areas You See First

  • Now that you’ve shifted your thinking, do a mental or physical walk-through of your environment.  What area do you see first?  Second? Third?  Remove what no longer serves you from those areas then add a few intentional elements that spark a state of appreciation for your life and your general bada*@ery. 

  • Maybe it’s an element such as a pin or artwork or thank you note from a large project you or a family member completed. Maybe it’s a small keepsake from a trip you took on your own. Maybe it’s where you keep your keys to remind you how amazing it is to have a space that’s lockable that keeps you safe, warm and dry.  We have so much to be thankful for in this wonderful life!

3) Integrate Nature 

  • Consider adding natural elements to your environment. Add natural materials such as those with woodgrain or natural colors, add plants around your space (images of nature have been shown to reduce stress and increase wellbeing too for those non-green thumbers) and my goodness- open your blinds and windows every now and again. 

4) Use the psychology of color 

  • There’s a psychology of how we can be impacted by color in our environments.  While elements such as cultural and personal preferences can impact this experience greatly, consider the below general aspects in your environments.

  • Blues and greens tend to have calming effects on us (think more natural hues - that electric vibrant green sequined disco suit might not be the most calming...just as an example though if you have one will you send us a picture?!).

  • Yellows, oranges and reds tend to be energizing. These are great as accent colors to balance out the energy. Maybe you have an terracotta orange accent wall in your office to help increase your energy levels. 

  • Too many grays can actually put people in a more depressive state- so be sure to integrate other colors as accents if you tend to follow a more neutral pallet of grey.

5) Marie Kondo Your Space 

  • Take a look at her process if it’s right for you in “The Life Change Magic of Tidying”.  She’s great!

 Enjoy and have a wonderful day! 

Figure References: 
Fig. 1  Onekindesign.  retrieved on 3.1.2019 from:
Fig. 2  Sound of Music retrieved on 3.1.2019 from anniversary.html
Fig. 3 Dutta, PhD. retrieved on 3.1.2019
Fig. 4 Antique NikNak (n.d.) retrieved on 3.1.2019 from: