This panel considers the sharing of joy, humor, and pleasure as sensory forces that sway people’s lives, as well as how this is balanced against realities of suffering: affective, intimate, structural. We think about embodied experiences of joy and their material effects as born in and through art practices. In turn, we consider creativity in the ethnographic form • one building on and borrowing from different artistic and aesthetic repertoires • as an essential medium for reflecting and making sense of the balance between joy and suffering in everyday life, and in extraordinary times. Rather than studying happiness as a fantasy always out of reach and outside the self (Berlant 2011), we explore the joys that manifest in the ordinary, in the self, in the (literal and figurative) spaces between people. We conceptualize joy as inseparable from the social suffering in which the lives of our interlocutors are enmeshed, and we aim to understand how this tension finds expression through art. Against this backdrop, we consider how everyday life-affirming acts, self-care, and claiming the right to feel and express joy may surface as forms of “political warfare” (Lorde 1988) for groups whose lives are erased and disparaged by dominant narratives. Inspired by the work of scholars who call for “pleasure activism” (maree brown 2019) and “joyful militancy” (Bergman and Montgomery 2017), or as new forms of “desire” (Tuck and Ree 2016) within contexts of structural violence, this panel asks: How do people whose lives are treated as expendable or invisible affirm themselves as desirable and desiring? In what ways do they refuse to identify with the suffering that is frequently used to describe them and /or address suffering in new ways and forms? How can we think of joy and creativity as affective refusals to be defined by dominant structures and narratives?