A Work of Joy.5 Spark Joy: What Sparks Joy for You?


This is the fifth of a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. We have been calling it: A Work of Joy! It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This fifth blog looks at the work of Marie Kondo (who has been called the Beyoncé of Organizing), The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her new book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Sandy had consulted Kondo’s first book when she was recently down-sizing. We turn to her second book, Spark Joy, not so much for tidying up, but rather for her method of determining whether or not something brings you joy. Kondo writes, “I am convinced that the perspective we gain through this process represents the driving force that can make not only our lifestyle, but our very lives, shine,” (xii).


Kondo’s method is surprisingly simple, yet helps to get you out of your logical mind and in touch with your heart.  Here is what she says to determine if something sparks joy for you.


“When deciding, it’s important to touch it, and by that, I mean holding it firmly in both hands as if communicating with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this. When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells of your body are slowly rising. When you hold something that doesn’t bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier,” (8).


In regards to organizing, she writes that you should focus on what things bring you joy and that you want to keep, not on trying to get rid of things just for the sake of getting rid of things. Even with the things you discard, however, Kondo invites you to connect with and communicate with.


“Keep only those things that bring you joy. And when you discard anything that doesn’t, don’t forget to thank it before saying good-bye. By letting go of things that have been in your life with a feeling of gratitude, you foster appreciation for, and a desire to take better care of, the things in your life,” (8).


What Kondo is doing is inviting us to get in touch with the soul of things, to see how your heart resonates with the soul of the object, and if you are going to discard it, to honor the soul of the objects that are exiting your life. This reminds me, in some ways, of the world view of many Native American people, that all things are alive and are our brothers and sisters. Maybe this part of mainstream American culture’s emphasis on the accumulation of things, we do not connect to the soul of things and thus we never feel joy in our hearts and keep on accumulating objects.


When starting to practice determining what sparks joy in your life, Kondo recommends starting with the clothing that you wear closest to your heart, “Because that’s where you feel joy―in your heart, not in your head,” (18). This reinforces that joy, whether in tidying or in work, comes from the heart, not the head. It shows why an intellectual solution to a lack of joy will not be successful unless it partners with the heart.


After going through your belongings, object by object, you can get to where everything you have sparks some joy. “When you wear and surround yourself with things you love, your house becomes your own personal paradise,” (26). Kondo also sees objects as being capable of being transformed by love and that this can be felt as well as the physical elements of the object. So the act of loving something is part of how that object brings joy.


“I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum,” (47).


In looking at Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, and her method of tidying, we can use this in several ways in regard to our larger focus of Joy in Work. The first level is the level of our surroundings and our physical workspace. We could use this method of looking at the objects around us and asking if they bring joy. Many things in a medical environment are necessary and utilitarian, we may not be able to say, “This blood pressure cuff does not bring me joy, so I am going to let it go!” We can declutter both our own personal workspace as well as shared work spaces. Shared workspaces tend to accumulate things that apparently belong to no one and we just work around them. The next aspect of this level is adding some seasoning to our work space, bringing in something that sparks joy for us. Again we may have restrictions on certain items in a medical setting, but a plant, a small vase, a little animal figurine, a favorite book, a nice pen, a colorful note pad, even an inspirational saying written on a notecard can bring joy to a personal work space. Some people in medical settings do not have a personal work space, in that case, you have to put the joy on your person (a pin, jewelry, a pen you like) or you could take on the task of bringing some joy to your collective workspace – see if you can put up a picture, bring in a plant, or even something temporary like a small vase of flowers.


Kondo teaches us that there are three common elements that determine joy, “the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value),” (45). Thus, it is important to realize that joy is not a static trait of an object, it is also increased by the love and enjoyment that we have with an object. For instance, I have a pair of non-descript gardening gloves. I didn’t feel joy necessarily when I bought them, but they are very comfortable and now, after using them for a couple years, they bring me joy. Also, the factor of time, I have been using them now for a while and they hold many happy memories of digging in the dirt. I like using my bare hands too, and getting dirt under my fingernails, but some jobs, like pruning a rose bush are better done with gardening gloves. These gloves now feel like a second skin to me. It is important to realize that even something plain and utilitarian can be infused with joy from years of love and use. Joy is not a one-way street. We are not separate and isolated from the physical world, but can be in a love relationship with the earth and the physical world of matter.


Our surroundings are an important part of our health, although medical settings often do not create joyful or healing environments. At the VA, we are implementing work coming out of the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. In particular, we are using the Circle of Health and have developed a Whole Health Class that rotates through 8 different health domains over 8 weeks. One of those domains is “Surroundings: Physical & Emotional,” and we work with Veterans to generate ideas around little ways that they can make their surroundings more health promoting. In my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, I also have a dimension of “context” which looks at our physical and situational environment.


VA Circle of Health

The main reason I wanted to blog about Marie Kondo’s book was not simply for the physical work space issues, but for the method she uses of helping us sensitize and train our hearts to be open and attuned to joy in our lives. Joy is not something you can mandate and joy will be different for each person. To spark joy, we need to make room for our hearts in our work. Administration can do many things to either diminish joy or enhance joy, but ultimately, it is up to us to show up for the joy revolution, by attending to our hearts and bringing them to work each day, and by discerning what it is that we need around us in order to nurture our joy.