The key to feeling cheerful lies not in our inner wellbeing but in the world around us

Your work gives me a feeling of joy,” one of the professors said. The others nodded. I should have been happy. Nine months before, I had left my career as a brand strategist to pursue a graduate degree in a field in which I had no experience: industrial design. Many times over the course of the year I had felt overwhelmed by the new skills I needed to learn, from drawing to colour-mixing to woodworking. But today I had passed the assessment, and I did feel relieved to know that my career shift hadn’t been a giant mistake.

And yet, as I looked at those nodding faces, my heart sank in my chest. I wanted to be a designer because I believed design could solve serious problems. I volunteered with a non-profit organisation designing low-cost reflective backpacks to prevent roadside injury among schoolchildren in Ghana. Late at night, I pored over books on renewable materials and environmentally friendly manufacturing strategies. I had hoped the professors would see in my work a commitment to using design to build a safer, fairer, more sustainable world. Instead, they saw joy.

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