23rd June 2023

A recent email from Ingrid Fetell Lee opened with an intriguing question, ‘Do some cultures experience more joy than others?’ Fascinated by her query, we read on.

Whilst Ingrid acknowledges that there’s not a lot of data that exists ‘on whether there’s a difference in the small, daily joys people find around the world’, she believes that ‘there are certain places where joy sits closer to the surface’. This became especially apparent as she found herself flicking through the pages of a new book ‘Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life’. The book explores the French notion of joie de vivre (the exuberant enjoyment of life), which Ingrid found herself looking in upon with ‘a pang of envy for what it must be like to live in a culture that fundamentally believes joy matters’. 

She sat down with the book’s author, Ajiri Aki, to learn more. Together, they unpacked some of Ajiri’s thoughts on what it means to experience the joy of living, and how it manifests in the daily life of the French. 

‘It’s not a big, grandiose thing. It’s little things that happen every day; little sparks of joy in your day.’

Having now lived in Paris for 12 years, Ajiri has come to realise that the French tap into simple pleasures every day, ‘buying flowers, buying food that pleases them, having a meal’, and all without constantly worrying whether those acts would be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply partake in them for the pleasure they provide.

In fact, pleasure is paramount to the French as Ajiri found in some of the simple turns of phrase commonly used by the French. At the end of a meal, instead of asking ‘Are you done?’, they say ‘Did it please you?’. When issued an invitation to a social event, they’ll often respond with ‘avec plaisir’ which translates to ‘with pleasure’.  

The French have found a way to take the guilt out of what are sometimes considered guilty pleasures and as such, move through life without the same constraints other collective cultures impose on themselves. They make experiencing pleasure and joy a primary focus, ensuring they prioritise small, repeatable moments of pleasure that can be found day in and day out. 

So, next time you pick up needle and thread, instead of chastising yourself for what didn’t get done in place of stitching, being critical of how much you completed or how well each stitch was laid, find your ‘inner Parisian’, and simply ask yourself, ‘Did it please me?’. And we think for the most part, your answer will be a resounding ‘Yes’!

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