About the plants + a joyful experiment

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Aestheticsofjoy houseplants2

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that it’s like all-plants, all-the-time on there lately. It’s true, I am a little obsessed. Last weekend A and I headed over to visit our friends at Saipua for their first Plantlab event in their new studio. The studio is incredible, so full of potential to be a space not just for flower-lovers but artists of all kinds. Meanwhile, we came home with nine (9!) new green friends of varying shapes and sizes. Let it never be said that we do anything halfway!

Since I started this blog I have found countless ways to add little bursts of joy to my life, from color-coding my books (as you see here) to arranging food in patterns (see here) to seeking out colorful places around the world (see herehere, and here). But sometimes I read studies about how to create more joy, and there seems to be a bit of inertia in my life that keeps me from putting it into practice. So, I’m thinking about starting some joyful experiments — one every couple of months — to be more intentional about what I’m trying and the effects on my life. Are they making me happier, healthier, more creative, as the science suggests they will?

Basically, I’m offering myself up as a guinea pig for you, dear readers! I promise to share the results of my experiments so you can decide for yourself whether or not something is for you. Even better: you can play along! If you want to try the experiment with me, please do so and share your results, and we’ll have even more data on ways to bring joy into our lives. And now if you’re game, let’s start the first experiment: Houseplants.

Aestheticsofjoy houseplants3

The Science
From a physical health perspective, plants have obvious benefits: their leaves release oxygen and moisture, and help purify the air by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. This can help reduce respiratory problems and even ease dry skin. Studies also show that exposure to plants reduces stress and speeds healing. In a study at Kansas State University, having plants in a patient’s hospital room lowered heart rate and blood pressure, and lowered patients’ ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue.

Plants may even enhance concentration: in a study in schools in England, students were 70% more attentive to lectures when the classroom contained plants. Another study suggests that being around plants improves memory retention by up to 20%.

The Experiment
Get at least one houseplant and put it in a place where you will see it often. It could be at home or in your cubicle at work. If cost is an issue, you don’t have to go out and buy a new plant: ask a friend if you can take a cutting of one of their plants to grow your own. And if you worry that you’re not a green thumb, check out this list of easy-to-grow houseplants.

Then, just be observant. Do you notice anything different about how you feel?

Early Results
I wasn’t prepared for how dramatically different our apartment would feel once the plants were there. I grew up with lots of houseplants, but in my nomadic twenties, it seemed impractical to have them, and I’d forgotten how great it feels to have them around. I now see that blue star fern (above) as soon as I walk in the house, and it feels like a whole bunch of happy green hands waving hello to me. (I fell in love with this plant, too, because the leaves remind me of many of the shapes Henri Matisse used in his work.) The little purple oxalis at the top of this post sits next to my jewelry box and makes me smile as I’m grabbing my earrings before running out the door. It’s just nice to have something living in the house; the whole place feels more alive as a result. And now that I’m traveling for work, I find I’m actually missing them…

Will plants be an enduring source of joy? Or will they be a short-term delight? I’ll share my experience in a few weeks, and if you try it out, share what you discover in the comments too!

Aestheticsofjoy houseplants1

March 14th, 2016


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    Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Mel (from Toronto) on March 16, 2016

    House-plants bring me an enduring source of joy! I treat them a bit like pets: my voice changes in tone and tenor when I come upon them, I coo and caw when they perk up after I water them. I try and give them the best conditions: rotating and turning them towards the sun, wiping the dust off their broad leaves when it collects. It must be the the joy that comes from watching something thrive because of you; it feels purposeful, and it matters. My girlfriends and I are all entering our thirties and undoubtedly there comes a moment in our recent hangouts (Friday nights on the couch with a bottle of wine) when we start talking about our house-plants: how their clippings are doing, what the ideal conditions are for a new find. Thanks for this post. Stay well!

    1. Ingrid on March 17, 2016

      Mel, I love this! Girls night in with a bottle of wine chatting about plants. How fun! I love your description of how you care for your plants and the reward you feel when they do well. I saw a new frond unfurling on our fern this morning and it gave me a surge of joy. New growth must mean we’re doing something right! Thanks for sharing and be well too! Xx Ingrid


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