I'm in the midst of dumping my happiness obsession for something else, but I wonder what is the key to a good life if I'm giving up on happiness? I thought maybe it was interestingness, but I am a little worried because I confess that I'd rather fall asleep in the farmer's arms than solve the meaning of life. Or maybe I am doing them both at the same time? I don't know. I just know that ideas overwhelm me sometimes, and until I go to a doctor to get medication to calm my head down, I'm not convinced I need more interestingness in my life than my already-spinning head.
Then I thought maybe I needed expertise: striving to be an expert would be my obsession. Which it might be. But I don't think it replaces happiness. It sort of sits next to it. Like, obsessing about being an expert comes naturally to me, but I'm not sure why.
So I'm still looking for what can replace happiness as my what-am-I-doing-here thing. And I'm thinking that maybe it's mindfulness. It kills me to even write the word, because for the last decade, while I was busy turning Ashtanga yoga into a competitive sport, my teachers kept talking about mindfulness. I kept thinking to myself, I wish they'd shut up and just rank us so I know if I'm best.
But I'm convinced that mindfulness is what gives us the self-discipline to do all the stuff the happiness researchers say will make us happy. And it makes sense, because my yoga teacher always told me mindful would make me happy, if I'd just try it.
So I get about ten zillion books in the mail because publishers ignore the fact that most book reviews on this blog simply say why I didn't like the book. But. Whatever. So I get this book in the mail — The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World — and for some reason I find myself reading it during violin practice. This is very bad because we are in a Suzuki program, which means I'm the teacher.
I said to myself, this is crazy, I'm reading a book about slowing down my life as a way to multitask while I am teaching my child to love music. I forced myself to put the book down.
But I liked the book. And I asked the author, Christine Louise Hohlbaum, to write a guest post on my blog. Which is something I never do. Because I end up hating all guest posts and spending way too much time editing them.
The first thing I did when I saw her guest post is I said no. I said this cannot be a guest post. But I think it was okay because that's her first piece of advice:
1. Learn to say no with panache.
So instead of spending way too much time going back and forth editing, I am just going to plumage through the guest post for stuff I like. I like no. She says, “One of the biggest time sucks in our lives is saying “?yes' to something we should have declined. Taking on that extra project at work, organizing the blood drive (again), or accepting yet another party invitation can eat up your time you could have spent doing something you truly love. We have been conditioned to believe “?no' is an evil word, when, in fact, it is a complete sentence.” This is how I know she won't mind that I dumped her guest post but took her best material.
2. Watch your words.
This is the advice that initially hooked me: Hohlbaum says, “Busy is the new fine.” It's true. Someone asks, “How are you?” and you say, “Busy.” Can you see how messed up that is? It's a script, right? The person doesn't really care how you are. The person wants to just hear that you're fine and move on to the meat and potatoes of the conversation. So if you say busy, you are either saying you do not understand the social convention of opening niceties (very bad to say) or you are saying that busy is the new fine (also very bad to say). Busy is not fine. Busy is too much going on to be your best self. So stop talking about it and fix it.
3. Honor Set-Up Time.
You know the feeling. You return from a week's vacation to a mountain of work that piled up in your absence. It takes you three days just to slog through it all, and you wonder why you even bothered to leave in the first place. We have the expectation that we should be able to jump right back into what we were doing at a rapid pace. Not so. Every project requires set-up time. Honor the time it takes to get started. It is not about procrastination. It is about wading into the task at hand. It is no wonder you get your best ideas in the shower. You are relaxed and stress-free. Set-up time allows you to tap into your deepest thinking. Make room for it in your life—it will contribute more to your success than pushing through with no stops.
4. Save the best for last.
“Procrastination is a huge time-killer. You spend most of your time worrying about what you haven't started, pushing it into the recess of your mind. Instead, start saving the best for last. Tackle the hardest project earlier in the day. Reward yourself with your favorite project at the end.”
I love this advice in a book about slow, because it's not just a way to get your stuff done. It's a way to slow time down. If you are procrastinating, time goes so much faster than if you have your most important stuff done.
I am trying to figure out what mindful is. And I'm pretty sure it's doing this stuff. It's making little rules for yourself throughout the day that force you to check in to make sure you are living a conscious life, purposefully guided. These might not make me happy—that might be impossible—but they might make my head spin slower.