• Article
  • March 20, 2019

Small Details Can Bring the Biggest Joy in Children's Hospitals

Sometimes the minute details in a children's hospital experience can greatly impact a patient's recovery, family support and staff retention, all by inspiring joy. 

"Little moments often get overlooked," says Ingrid Fetell Lee, keynote speaker at the 2019 Quality and Safety in Children's Health Conference and author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. "We have a culture that's obsessed with the pursuit of happiness and joy often gets overlooked. They're different concepts."

Lee has spent most of her adult life studying the concept of joy and how it impacts so much more than just your mood. "Small moments of joy have big effects," she says.

There's a difference, she says, between happiness and joy. Happiness is a broad evaluation of how people feel about their lives over time. It's how you feel about work, how you're connected to others, and how you find meaning and purpose in your life.

Joy is much simpler and more immediate. It's an intense momentary experience of positive emotion. It does more than make you smile, too. According to Lee, joy:

  • Relieves stress
  • Sharpens the mind
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Helps change behaviors
  • Makes people more resilient

With health care specifically, joy can impact how patients recover. "Joy evolved to guide us toward the things that help us thrive," Lee says. It's what draws you toward naturally colorful things in nature; the things that survive in nutrient-rich environments.

Keeping joy in mind while planning hospital design changes can not only improve the wellbeing of patients, but staff and families as well. Lee explained that higher levels of joy can:

  1. Reduce stress and anxiety. For example, several children's hospitals have recruited artists to paint colorful, playful characters inside ambulances, including the ceiling, for kids to look at while lying down during transport. The goal is to reduce anxiety and intimidation while kids are in an ambulance. Other hospitals have borrowed similar ideas and painted artwork in x-ray suites.

  2. Ease pain and speed healing. Music, laughter and flowers can help reduce pain. One study showed that patients after gallbladder surgery who had a view of nature out of their recovery window typically left the hospital sooner.

  3.  Help staff provide the best possible care. Studies have shown that hospitals with natural light not only showed less stress in their nursing staff, but also stimulated more laughter in the workplace and helped staff sleep better. Morning natural light has also shown to be effective for patients with mental health disorders.

  4. Create an environment of wellness, not illness. Most kids have color in their homes, bedrooms and schools. They aren't used to being in grey, sterile environments. Creating health care environments that are welcoming for not just patients, but families, encourage cultural and emotional support in addition to medical support.

  5. Make space for play. It can help remove distractions and help us lose sense of time. Additionally, play time helps lift the spirits of young patients and their families, encouraging a sense of normalcy.

Children's hospitals can start incorporating natural light, fun design elements and play spaces to increase levels of joy in patients, family and staff. Lee recommends searching #joyspotting on Instagram for ideas.

Send questions or comments.