Painting Joy

Hi Reader,

A few weeks ago, while squirreling around on Pinterest, I came across a particularly joyful little painted cottage.

I clicked through, and found an explosion of color, with paintings of flowers, butterflies, and birds covering nearly every surface.

A little digging revealed that the house belonged to a Canadian artist named Maud Lewis, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis beginning in childhood and lived in poverty for most of her life. She never sold a painting for more than $10 in her lifetime. Yet the world she created with her brush was nothing short of joyous.

In this week's post, we're introducing a series we call Muses, where we spotlight people whose work has helped to build a more joyful world. Many of the creatives you'll meet in this series were outsiders or iconoclasts, working in the margins of the establishment, finding their way toward art because it gave them a tool for pulling joy out of struggle.

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One of our favorite sayings in the School of Joy is that joy isn't just something we have to find. It's something we can create, for ourselves and others.

Inside Maud Lewis's tiny, exuberant cottage, we find a reminder that art can remake the world, and be a powerful source of resilience.

And read on for what I learned in toddler yoga, a thought on reclaiming pleasure, and an intriguing insight about the body-mind connection.



One Thing

Let yourself receive

Every Friday this summer we've been going to toddler yoga. The teacher, a grandmother of a toddler herself, walks the kids through breathing exercises and compares the yoga poses to familiar shapes. The whole thing is about as sweet and hilarious as you'd expect.

My favorite part of the class comes at the end. As the children lie on their mats in savasana, she and her assistant (a 10 year-old "graduate" of her class) come around and give foot massages. At first I thought it was kind of silly, but watching these little kids lie back at perfect ease as the teachers gently rub their feet, I was reminded that there's a lesson in being able to receive.

Kids aren't thinking about what they have to offer in return to make it "fair." They aren't worrying they don't deserve it. They're just allowing someone else to make them feel good. If they can do it, maybe we can too.

A Thought on Reclaiming Pleasure

I shared this a few days ago on Instagram, but I know not everyone is over there, so I'm resharing it here.

Mind over matter, the saying goes. But why?

Why are we so convinced that what's important is the world that's happening in our heads, and not the one we feel with our bodies?

We're told that caring about matter is frivolous. (It's just stuff, right?) To be materialistic is to be shallow, focused on the "wrong things." Yet to live a life of the mind is worthy, admirable.

One reason might be that "matter" has always had a feminine association. As Elise Loehnen points out in her book On Our Best Behavior, the root of the word matter is the Latin mater, which means mother.

Time and time again, we find the things our society wants to diminish and control are coded as feminine. Earth. Emotion. Intuition. Pleasure.

When we accept the premise that the material world is trivial, we begin to overemphasize the abstract over the concrete. We dissociate from our bodies and discount the wisdom of our senses. We fail to tend to our things and our environment, we undervalue our natural resources and let them be squandered.

Taking unabashed pleasure in beautiful things is a way of reclaiming the power of our physicality. It is a practice of reintegrating matter and mind, which were never meant to be separated. Be suspicious of anyone who makes you feel ashamed of it.

Research Highlight

And when it comes to emotions, it might be more a case of matter over mind than the other way around.

This is the takeaway from a study that finds that taking a simple, over-the-counter pain reliever dulls our responses to both painful and pleasurable stimuli. Researchers gave people a dose of either Tylenol (acetaminophen) or a placebo, and showed them a range of images designed to stimulate negative and positive emotions.

Participants who had taken acetaminophen were less reactive not only to the painful stimuli, but also to the pleasurable ones. The participants who took acetaminophen also found the images less emotionally arousing than those who received a placebo, meaning the pain reliever influenced not only the appraisal of the emotion (how positive or negative it seemed), but also how intense it felt.


Quote of the Week

“After all, the great problem of life seems to be how to keep body and soul together.”

— William James

The Joyletter

Designer, bestselling author, and founder of the School of Joy. I help people find more joy in life and work through design. Join more than 45,000 readers who receive our weekly treasure trove of science-backed tips, delightful discoveries, and inspiration for living a better life.

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