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Matt here,

Coming at you with a longer email, one that has a personal and philosophical message. If you’re into that sort of thing, I hope you’ll read on…

Last month I participated in The Global Joy Symposium. This was an online event about cultivating joy in the workplace.

During the event, I created two paintings in real time with my Zoom camera on. And then I got to talk about my finished artwork and share my personal philosophy about joy.

That’s what I’m going to write about in this blog.

Painting #1: The Burden of Being Human

Sometimes it feels like my human brain is a burden. (Maybe you can relate?)

It reminds me of Nietzsche’s description of what it’s like to be an overthinker: “To be crushed under a burden that one can neither bear nor cast off.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-brain.

That meatball in my skull is one of the most powerful objects in the known universe. Look around at the modern world to see the wonders of which it is capable.

But it’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes it can turn against you. Here’s how…

Critical thinking…turns into self-criticism.

Your capacity to plan for the future…causes you to stress about the future.

Your robust sense of selfhood and commitment to your values and identity… makes you feel self-obsessed and self-conscious.

And so on.

Now, this is not a reason to despair. It just means that you need to acknowledge that your brain has powers that are both wonderful and terrible.

And, as William James suggested: it’s your responsibility to make it your ally instead of your enemy.

This is what I call “cognitive stewardship.”

Exercising cognitive stewardship means recognizing that your brain is your most valuable asset as a human being, but only if you take care of it.

That means…

Cultivating mental focus and avoiding distractions.

Expose yourself to positivity instead of negativity.

Exercising and eating right.



Get a good night of sleep. And so on.

It’s definitely a lot of work. Much easier said than done.

But it’s worth it.

Painting #2: The Lightness of Joy

When you exercise cognitive stewardship, you regain control over your mental state.

You have the power to be focused instead of distracted; to be positive instead of negative.

You have the power to cultivate joy instead of stress.

You have the power to relieve yourself of the burdens of the human mind.

And you have the power to put yourself into a state of lightness and ease.

The point that I’m getting at isn’t just a bunch of woo-woo nonsense. I didn’t learn this stuff from a life coach or a yoga retreat. (And I’ve never watched The Secret.)

There is real empirical research to back this up. And here’s what some of it says, according to my best understanding.

Remember what I mentioned above: The same brain functions that create human greatness…are the same brain functions that create human misery.

Humans are great at thinking. And for that reason, we are also great at over-thinking.

But you can make those overthinkey parts of your brain quiet down. And there is a lot of research on how exactly to do that.

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions…

[1] When you exercise, your brain is too busy executing complex motor patterns and activating muscles. And, at some level, your brain thinks you’re running away from a predator or fighting someone to the death. For these reasons, there’s no mental energy leftover for stress and worry. You are focused in the here and now.

[2] The same occurs when you go for a walk: If you can focus on the rhythmic nature of your steps and breathing patterns, it’s easy to slip into a daydream or a trance-like state. Or you can do some great creative thinking. Bonus points if you do it in nature.

[3] Speaking of breath, you can make simple changes to your breathing patterns to become calm, focused, and creative. For example, breathing through your nose or slowing down your exhales. But simply becoming more aware of your breath can have a down-regulating effect on your nervous system.

[4] Creative activities can do the trick as well. Just like exercise, creative productivity involves a lot of brain systems at once: pattern recognition, visual or auditory, space and time, hand-eye coordination, lateral thinking. There’s no way that you can ramp all of these powers up, and still have enough juice leftover to also be worrying about bills or the news.

There are plenty of other options for shifting your brain into a state of peace and joy.

But the four that I listed have something in common: they are inexpensive (if not free) and accessible to almost all living humans.

And thus, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my life:

There are lots of zero-cost activities that will make your brain work better and put you into a more joyful state of being.

Of course, this is a lesson that I’m continually reminding myself of. (Dear reader, I am writing this email for myself more than I am writing it for you.)

The battle rages on.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you.

And if you found this email valuable and it resonated with you, please hit reply and share your thoughts. Would you like to read more like it?
Until the next one: Stay strong and stay free.


Want to join us?

Then pull up a chair. It’s time for JOY!

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