The joy of undirected positive energy

By Ingrid Fetell Lee


Recently I’ve come across a lot of projects related to the idea of seeding joy and hope by just putting some positive energy out there. The good vibes aren’t directed at anyone in particular — they’re public, designed to touch strangers, people you’ve never met and may never actually meet.

One of these projects is You Are Beautiful. As part of the project, stickers like the ones above are distributed free of charge for anyone to place in whatever public places they choose. As the statement on their website says:

You Are Beautiful uses the medium of advertising and commercialization to spread a positive message. Projects like these make a difference in the world by catching us in the midst of daily life and creating moments of positive self realization.

The two key joyful elements here are surprise and transcendence. The surprise of seeing a positive, anonymous message catches our attention and interrupts whatever frame of mind we were in. That interruption, in turn, leads to a moment of transcendence, where the beauty of the sentiment is absorbed in what You Are Beautiful calls a “moment of positive self realization.” Ideally, it causes a shifting of perspective that makes us feel, if not beautiful, then at least connected to something beautiful.

Another variation on this theme is the yarnbombing movement, which is documented beautifully by Leanne Prain and Mandy Moore on their blog and forthcoming book of the same name. Yarnbombing, also known as guerrilla knitting, is an affectionate term for a kind of soft grafitti, where artists attach knit or crocheted “tags” of brightly colored yarn to elements of the landscape. Often found in urban settings, these tags brighten the environment and invite people to consider their surroundings in a new way. Sometimes just the sight of a knitted sleeve around a bus stop sign post will make people smile and share a laugh, connecting in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. I did an interview with Leanne earlier this summer, and she had so many wonderful insights that I’ll definitely be posting more on this topic (after I’ve finished chs 1 and 2…).

One more example is Operation Nice, a project designed to add a little positive energy to the world through gestures. A variant on the theme of random acts of kindness, Operation Nice posts examples of extraordinary niceness to inspire others to do the same. Reading the stories, you can’t help but feel good, and motivated to pass the positive energy along.

This positive energy is all the more powerful for being undirected. The joy of those who create it is purely in the giving, without even the satisfaction of seeing the results of their efforts. Once released, these positive vibes are free to ricochet around and recombine, creating unexpected combinations that compound the joy they bring. Recipients of kind acts may in turn spread more kindness, and those who witness an interjection of joy into their environment may be inspired to transform their world in their own way.

Image: temp13rec.

July 20th, 2009


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