Intentional non-productivity is a productivity tool

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Almost 95% of Jews do something to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I want my kids to be part of this when they grow up, so the only way to do that is to model it for them now. Because it’s completely clear to me that people who believe in God are fundamentally more optimistic and more connected to community, and I want my kids to have that.

Also, I try not to work on the holidays because I want to be known, somehow, as a Jew who blogs about being Jewish. And if I’m going to do that, then I want to be known as someone who does not work on the holidays. It’s part of being Jewish, I think, to struggle with what to do on these days. So I want to struggle, too.

Every year it is hard for me to stay away from work, even when every year that I have worked has felt terrible. But even if I could feel okay working on these days, it’s not the person I want to be. Here's who I am right now: the person who just two years ago moved to a state I knew no one in, and then got a divorce. So I’m not exactly the queen of community right now. A holiday like Rosh Hashanah emphasizes this, but makes me more committed to fixing the problem.

This is also the time that I start gearing up for Yom Kippur, which comes in a week. Yom Kippur is about being sorry for not being nice to other people, so I try to fix as much as I can in the next week so I can be less sorry.

I think first of my not-quite ex-husband. And I cry. Maybe you didn’t think that I cry about the divorce. I didn’t ever start crying about it until he became a little nicer, which was once he was sure he was getting a divorce. He really wants a break from me. I’m not sure he totally hates me, but I am sure he totally hates being married to me.

But we have great moments, too. He came to the house for Rosh Hashanah. I usually leave the house to give him space to be with the kids. But he agreed that we could all eat dinner together for the holiday because he knows how important it is to me.

I cooked. Which I’m thinking is a primal instinct thing for someone you love. I mean, cooking is very easy to outsource, (since I outsource almost everything already) but it doesn’t feel right to me. I want to cook for people I’m close to. But it doesn’t feel right to do a primal-instinct-I-love-you-thing for the guy who wants a divorce, so I also bought sushi, which he really likes.

Then my not-quite-ex, who is not-quite-convinced that religion matters, said the prayers with us before dinner. Which almost made me cry.

Then, I said, “Oh. There’s a fly. We need a fly swatter.”

And he said, “You should hire one.”

And we both laughed.

That’s what made me cry.

We had a nice dinner, and then after dinner, I had to leave the house. Because the not-ex and I have a deal that he doesn’t have to have me around when he’s parenting. I think I make him nervous. Or I make him want to kill me. It’s a fine line, really.

So I left. Usually I love leaving. Because I work. I usually have phone meetings booked when I leave the house until midnight. But I didn’t want to work. I thought reading would be more appropriate. But I didn’t want to buy a latte at Starbucks and read there. I can’t be a self-respecting Jew and buy a latte on Rosh Hashanah.

So I sat in the car on a dark street and thought about work. I thought about what work I would most like to be doing instead of sitting in the car in the dark.

And here’s what I thought of: The three blog posts I owe to people who have been really nice to me. I have made three promises to write posts and broken all three of them.

One of the promises is more than a year old, to ERE. It’s a great organization because they are at the cutting edge of online recruiting. Actually one of the best speaking gigs I’ve ever had.

Then there’s the post for Tony Morgan. He’s a Christian blogger who reads this blog—I love that blogging helps me cross cultural lines to people who I wouldn’t normally come into contact with. I want him to know that I love being part of a Christian community when he links to me. (And I love watching how the Christians leverage the blogosphere to make being Christian interesting. Why can’t the Jews do that? Probably because we just blog about High Holiday guilt.)

The last one is that I owe Leo Babauta a blurb. He asked me to write one for the back of his new book that’s been sitting on my desk for a while. It is about to be the next thing that I’ve waited on so long that I have actually been inconsiderate.

So I decide that as soon as Rosh Hashanah ends, I’m going to write these three things. And write this post.

All this to say: you don’t need the Jewish holidays in order to learn something about yourself. Force yourself to isolate for a day. Don’t allow yourself to do all the usual things. You will learn something about yourself. It’s impossible not to.

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  1. madeleine
    madeleine says:

    It's funny, you mention wanted to work on the holiday, then feeling bad everytime that you do. Though I am not Jewish, for many years I lived with a Jewish man, and we spent the high holidays with his family…and though I was always frustrated by the preparations for them, whenever we got there, I was so happy to be embraced by his family. Plus, I was always stoked for his Nana's gifltefish and homemade beet horseradish (but that's a culinary sidebar).

    I was proud of his little cousin when he blew the Shofar, and I loved the ritual and prayers. Being a part of his traditions made my life richer, so I am glad that you were able to stop for a little bit on this day, even if you only sat in the car in the dark.

    Shana tova.

  2. tony morgan
    tony morgan says:

    when i grow up, i hope i’m able to express my journey through life as well as you do. thanks for “getting naked” for the world to see. we’re all dealing with joy and junk in our lives. it’s refreshing to see someone who’s actually willing to admit it so the rest of us can consider our next steps.


    p.s. and thanks for the post. :-)

  3. Tim in SF
    Tim in SF says:

    “Because it’s completely clear to me that people who believe in God are fundamentally more optimistic and more connected to community,”

    I call bullshit. Where’s your data? Prove it.

    * * * * * * *

    Thanks for this comment. You are right — this would have been a good spot for a link. So, here is a link that gives, in footnote number one, a good list of the research that shows that people who are religious are in better health.

    That research is pretty well established. Today people try to figure out WHY the correlation is so strong. We know that people who are religious are more connected to community (they go to church regularly, for example). I read about this in Time magazine. I can’t find the link. It was about how to not grow old fast and one way was to go to church becuase of the correlation between community and health.

    The last part is my own. I think that people who are optimistic are more likely to have faith. I know they are not the same thing. I have just found, in my own life, that very optimistic people tend to have faith, and very cynical people tend to doubt God. So I think maybe believing in God can make a person more optimisitic. I have no data for this, but there are a bunch of happiness researchers (and happiness research afficionados) who read this blog. Maybe one will weigh in.


  4. Holly Hoffman
    Holly Hoffman says:

    This post made me want to cry. It’s the kind things that people do that make my heart break. Perhaps we get used to the mean, the ugly, the indifferent, the brutal. That’s our world, we say, hands thrown up in the air. When I see acts of kindness from flawed people it’s like light shining through cracks of a dusty window. I cry for my indifference, my meanness, my brutality, and I cry for the person they could be if only they would let it shine more.

    I know that’s not on topic, but it’s what touched me in this post. Well written, P.

  5. Mike McAllister
    Mike McAllister says:

    Your posts are always good, but to me, this is your best post ever. Thank you so much.


  6. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    This is the perfect post to follow the previous on how to find meaningful work – because YOU have found meaningful work, albeit in a nontradional way. Speaking from the hip (and from the heart) allows you to touch us in unexpected ways, like the commenter who isn’t Jewish but can relate to your High Holiday angst. Because truthfully, it is the same thing non-Jews go thru in December: the stress of disfunctional family get-togethers, that sinking feeling that another year has passed and we have not accomplished any menaningful goals, that life is passing us by, etc. We Jews just get to do it twice a year, sometimes with a lot more soul-searching. Kudos to you for setting a good example for your kids. And kudos to your mom for raising a good Jewish daughter.

  7. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi, Penelope. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. Don’t forget to share apples and honey with your children, and to eat a pomegranate today.

    I am a Christian who has a deep connexion to Judaism: I attended shul (in addition to church) while studying Hebrew and Judaism in college and was assistant to the senior rabbi of a large Modern Orthodox synagogue for three years. I now work for three Jewish men, each of whom represents a different branch of Judaism. All three take off on Rosh Hashanah, and all of our offices are closed on Yom Kippur.

    As I understand it, Yom Kippur runs a little deeper than you implied. “My” rabbi explained to me that in Christian terms it’s about showing contrition for sins of omission and sins of commission.

    Sins of omission spring from neglecting to do what G-d has required of us — failing in mitzvot and chesed, if you will. This is the “not being nice to people” part. Sins of commission are intentional sins — breaking a specific prohibition, like committing adultery or eating treif.

    During the Yamim Noraim, we are supposed to seek out those whom we have wronged and make amends. Yom Kippur is about admitting and making amends to G-d for our wrongs against Him. Yom Kippur is about guilt only insofar as its observance helps us to recognise our imperfections and spurs us to more charitable behaviour. The point is to bring us to repentance and to inspire us to righteousness.

    It sounds like you have already entered the spirit of Yom Kippur by recalling those promises made and not yet fulfilled, and by purposing to keep your word as soon as the prohibition on work is lifted.

    L’Shana Tova, and may G-d bless you in the coming year.

  8. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    If you were born Hindu, you would have no option but to work on every holiday! Hindus have festivals for every day of the year. You name it, we (not me) celebrate it – new moon, full moon, 11th day of the lunar cycle, 14th day of the lunar cycle, harvest, end of season, start of season and so on. Then we have Gods and Goddesses allocated to days of the week and special, unique days of the year. And we can’t work because we have finger-lickin’ food, special treats for each one of those festivals. So we eat, and eat some more, and then some.

    In practice, most of us ignore most of the festivals, although some continue to celebrate a day in the year dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, when we do pens-down and don’t, really don’t work.

    This year, Rosh Hashanah coincides with Eid for Muslims and the start of Hindus’ Navratri, a 9-day (didn’t you read the line just before this one?) period of festivity, dedicated to celebrating the Goddess, whose various avatars (incarnations) embody Shakti (Power). It seems religiosity driven non-productivity is a universally binding force.

  9. Dara
    Dara says:

    It really sounds like you read Authentic Happiness from Martin Seligman (this post and others). OR if you haven’t, you really should because it fits with your last 2 blogs very well. It also sounds like you need to do the gratitude exercise in his book (with your mention of writing to 3 people you appreciate). The gratitude exercise is really tough to do, but worth it.

  10. Joselle Palacios
    Joselle Palacios says:

    After you write posts like this, all I can think to say is I love you for writing.

    I think that you’re probably right about people who believe in God people being happier and more connected, though I think even an atheist who is really connected to a cause that is bigger than the self could do the same. I think of my vegan atheist boyfriend whose connection to animals and acts on their behalf is very holy.

    When I went to a 12-step program and prayed everyday, I was more optimistic. I was in more turmoil but I was more hopeful. Then my faith in God was shattered and, I don’t think I became an atheist. I don’t know if that’s possible for me. I think I am just giving God the silent treatment.

  11. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    Because it’s completely clear to me that people who believe in God are fundamentally more optimistic and more connected to community, and I want my kids to have that.

    I was really disappointed to find this statement on your blog. I’m not religious, but I’m not lacking community. I have my work community, my dance class community, my volunteer group community. Geez. Just because I don’t have a god in my life does not mean I lack community! It’s insulting to assume that just because someone does not go to church, they sit around pessimistic and lonely.

    This too, was frustrating to read: I have just found, in my own life, that very optimistic people tend to have faith, and very cynical people tend to doubt God. So I think maybe believing in God can make a person more optimisitic.

    Are the people you meet more pessimistic because they don’t believe? Or is there some other reason? Just because the two are correlated does not mean that one causes the other.

    I, for one, was pretty pessimistic when I was STRUGGLING with faith . . . but then when I realized I was an atheist, I became happier and more optimistic than ever. Maybe the people you meet are pessimistic because they are trying to reconcile doubts and experience confusion. Maybe they are pessimistic because they have been rejected by friends and family because of their different beliefs. But should they pretend to believe for the sake of community? I know I’d rather be rejected and lonely than be with people who wouldn’t accept me for who I really was.

    Atheism does not necessarily cause cynicsm. Perhaps you should check out some more atheist blogs. You’ll see a lot of happiness, a lot of optimism, and a lot of the love for the one life we get.

  12. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Great post, but you really should reconsider sitting alone in your car on the street. Esp. one that is dark.

  13. Grace
    Grace says:

    One of the hardest things I every tried to do was to observe the Sabbath. It was also exceedingly rewarding.

    I am a Christian, so I celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday. I wanted the Sabbath to be more than just the day you go to church. My rules for the Sabbath were no work, no housework, no meaningless diversions. It wasn’t about avoiding work, it was about being restored. It was not about isolation, but about enhancing my intimate relationships. My day of rest was to be intentional – only choosing activities that would truly fill me and bring honour to God and my family.

    For me, that meant no huge family dinners (Sunday became leftover night) because lots of cooking means lots of clean up. It also meant no computer or TV unless there was a special movie or game that I could share with my children. Also, there was no shopping or unnecessary driving. Keeping things simple was key.

    Saturdays became extra frantic as I had to make sure our clothes/homework etc. were ready for Monday morning.

    It took about 2 months before I became comfortable with taking a Sabbath. The world didn’t like it – taking a whole day each week is hard to explain when there are meetings to be had and messages to be returned. It was very difficult, but I know it was worth it when my young son said, “Mom, I wish everyday was like Sunday.” (Isn’t that a Morrisey song?) Knowing that I would have the Sabbath to rest made the other days of the week more productive. I didn’t freak out about working longer hours, because I knew that refreshment was only days away.

    Sadly, I recently have given in to the pressures of the world, and have begun working on Sundays again. My kids don’t like it and I feel that my family life has been cheapened because of it.

    We can’t work like maniacs for 50 weeks of the year and expect to be refreshed with a stressful two week holiday. I think God commanded the observance of the Sabbath and other holidays because we don’t know what is good for us, and left to our own devices, we will run ourselves into the ground.

  14. Maya
    Maya says:

    Wonderful post and very admirable, Penelope.

    A few weeks ago you talked about a change in pace in you 9/11 post. The change of pace you talked about there is exactly what I see here ….except here it is self designed and lasted a day …. and ended up being so productive in such a different way ….a productivity that could not have been achieved without doing what you did. And the best part is that it made your life better. Thank you for sharing this.

    This blog is advice at the intersection of work and life, but it is only recently that I am seeing really good life advice that could enhance our careers :)

  15. wendy
    wendy says:

    Good post, Penelope. I cried a little too. Hopefully you two can become good partners in parenting after the divorce, even if the partners in marriage bit did not work out too well.

  16. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I’m with earlgreyrooibos, Penelope. I know you like to paint with a very broad brush, but this time you need to switch to something a little finer.

    Generally, the research into the supposed health benefits from having a faith in God can be best interpreted as “health improves when stress is removed.” And generally, people stress when they’re trying to process the unknown or otherwise Big Questions — for example, what happens when one dies. Thus, in a way, religion is just a means to occupy that answer-void so that people can move on to something more important. Like eating and sex.

    Having your kids believe in God for the health benefits is like having them believe in Santa Claus for the annual mega-sales at Nordstrom’s. Although the two may be associated, there is no evidence for a causal relationship.

    If you want your kids to believe in God, fine. If you want your kids to be optimistic, great. Just know that religion isn’t going to be the killer app for achieving either. Indeed, the best way to achieve these goals with your kids is to set the example, yourself.

  17. Craig
    Craig says:

    Penelope: A “twitter” friend of mine recommended this post to me after I twittered about my returning from the Rosh Hashanah ritual. Great post. As an attorney who for many years worked at larger firms, I struggled with taking off more than a day for Rosh Hashanah for fear of being labeled as taking advantage of my judaism. I now have my own firm and dealt with similar guilt, except now its how much work I need to attend to and since I am the only attorney, I have to be there and get it done. Also, can relate to your “divorce” issues as my wife and I were recently heading in that direction after 20 years of marriage, but have decided to really work at what we have b/c it is so special. IT is tough, especially as you get older. But I could feel your thoughts and pain in your writing and wish you a sweet and beautiful new year ahead.

  18. LP
    LP says:

    Because it’s completely clear to me that people who believe in God are fundamentally more optimistic and more connected to community…

    I was pretty angry when I read this, because it really overstates what the research actually shows, and is also generally offensive to alot of happy, content atheists, agnostics, and a-religious folks. PT, if you had just inserted a word like ‘most’ or ‘many’ before ‘people who believe…’, it would not have been offensive. I am grateful to the thoughtful commenters above who addressed this issue, saving me from leaving an angry comment behind.

  19. klein
    klein says:

    And then you blogged all about your not-quite-ex and wondered why he was divorcing you.

    And then you realized that you were a narcissist and that there are two people in a relationship, and when one is so focused on themselves that it might not work.

    And then you thought, maybe my blog should be about career advice and not my personal life.

  20. Paige Presley
    Paige Presley says:


    I know a lot of people experience similar things, but sometimes I can’t help but think that we’re the same person.

    Your last paragraph has been the exact thing that I’ve been telling my ex-boyfriend. I left him because he was immature, he didn’t know himself. I tried giving him that advice, and things fell apart.

    I’m glad to know that I’m not crazy for thinking that being alone… really alone… is good for soul-searching and self-discovery.

    Thank you for reaching out through your blog!

  21. Burton Lo
    Burton Lo says:

    Regarding “God” and optimism/faith, I’m curious for those that resist the idea to describe/define “God” and “faith”. I don’t doubt their experience, I simply have mine to go by, and I relish the chance to have others share their thoughts/opinions on these matters with me.

    Meaningful dialogue, considerate deliberation, getting to know one another, yadda, yadda, yadda…

    For me, faith is a belief in something I can’t see or fully comprehend. For me, “God” is a really simple label for all the mysteries in the universe that I choose to perceive as inclusive of all.

    Yes, those mysteries that I call “God” include everything a Christian, Jew, or Hindu might describe. Those mysteries also include everything that science is still trying to describe.

    Anyway, enough about me. I’d love to hear from others.

    To the major point of this post, though, I’m excited for Penelope that she can find the benefits of quiet consideration. I often call this time for myself “meditation”, but that’s just a word I use for convenience.

    I have also experienced the “blessing” of quiet consideration, and I often laugh at myself that, even though I know the value of it, I’m really inconsistent with doing it. A friend told me, though, to have patience with myself. As with many other behaviors, it takes practice and that, with practice, not only will it become easier to do more frequently, but the results are often of higher quality.

    I use these times to try and find “Truth” for myself. There are some things that come easily, especially if I’ve hit my head against them often before, and there are things that elude me for way longer than I wish. You know, things like “am I ready to date” or “what’s my next career step gonna be”…

    Oh, last thing I thought of while reading the post was a suggestion: that you may find value in recapturing the mental space that you had in your car after dinner on a more frequent or regular basis. Why wait for a High Holiday? Perhaps there’s an opportunity while waiting on line for something, or while pumping gas, etc… Maybe, in fact, that same mental space can be had in the shower? Maybe you’ve been doing it more than you think, but there have been distractions that seemed more important in the past?

    Just thinking while typing. Thanks for the post! Love your show.

  22. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    Wow, klein. It’s one thing to disagree with an author. It’s another to be completely rude. If you think this blog is too narcissistic, maybe you’re better off just not reading it.

    I personally like the intersection of career and personal life. Because I consider myself a “brazen careerist,” but I also have hobbies and a husband. So I think the combination of career advice and the writer’s personal life is useful.

    Plus, it’s Penelope’s blog. She can write about whatever she wants.

  23. Clay Collins
    Clay Collins says:

    Even if intentional non-productivity weren’t a productivity tool, I’d still practice it with passion.

    Intentional non-productivity is essential to feeling human. And I’d like to feel human a little more often.


  24. Dara
    Dara says:,9171,1015902,00.html

    Link to the TIME magazine article discussing academic (some completely non-religious folks) research on happiness, characteristics of “happy people” etc. Stop bashing what Penelope is trying to say. She’s being pretty noncommittal about God (not saying Christianity, Muslim, Hindu). So, just stop jumping to conclusions and go read about what the “experts” have been saying since 2004 or so.

    * * * * * *
    Thanks for finding this link, Dara. I loved this article when I read it.


  25. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:


    Penelope is being noncommittal about a specific religion, but pretty specific about belief in a god. And as an atheist, I get pretty darn sick of people implying that I should believe in something, anything, because my life is somehow lacking. I get that at least once a week. So I’m going to call it out, because it’s not true.

    Furthermore, if the “experts” tell me I should be religious, does that mean I should just pretend that I believe a deity exists and join a church/mosque whatever? How can an “expert” tell me that my personal beliefs make me more or less happy? How on earth could a person who does not believe in a god, after reading that article, think “oh, well experts say religious people are happier. I guess that a god exists!” and start believing?

  26. Dara
    Dara says:


    Actually, Seligman the leading expert in some of this research or a field called Positive Psychology doesn’t believe in God. He simply discovered many common virtues extolled by several major world religions and cultures. He developed those virtues into strengths that he thinks people need to utilize to lead meaningful lives. Nowhere in his research does he say anyone has to have faith in God to be happy (though research points that people that DO have faith, generally are more likely to be happy…just raw statistics that prove it out).

    People of faith simply think to themselves “No kidding Dr. Seligman, all these virtues you’ve ‘recently discovered’ can lead to a meaningful life!” We know the answer why that is through our faith in God (I’m an evangelical Christian so I’m terming this in the way I think).

    I think Penelope is simply saying that she agrees with the research based on her own observations. Nowhere does she say that an atheist CAN’T be happy. The research also says having close supportive relationships makes you happy, which is common sense to most people, but I guess a recluse could come on here and yell about how happy he/she is without other people and no one should be telling him/her how to live her life…that ain’t the point.

  27. Burton Lo
    Burton Lo says:

    How about if you believe in the spirit of friendship or family? How about the spirit from a sorority or club? Maybe a non-profit charity? The “kindness of others”? Any underdog team that came from behind? Comraderie? Esprit de corps?

    I believe there’s something that happens when we think of more than ourselves, or more than just flesh and bone. That’s just me, though, and I choose to consider that a part of “God”.

    None of what I’m saying has anything to do with “religion” per se. It’s looking for some spirit that we can relate to. And, if we can relate to it together, let’s call it something.

    I’m okay with calling it God in some fashion but, obviously, “team spirit” can be a lot more appropriate at times.

  28. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    I think Ayn Rand did that – she was an atheist, but used the word “spirit” to refer to an intangible emotional/mental aspect that cannot be named.

    Personally, I don’t do that. The nonprofit I work for? I think in terms of the goals and objectives of that nonprofit. The organization I volunteer for? Once again, the goals of the organization rather than the spirit of it. In friendship, it’s still different, but I haven’t used the phrase “spirit of friendship,” at least not recently. I consciously avoid using religion-related terms in my vocabulary whenever possible, because I don’t believe in anything supernatural or spiritual.

    That’s not to say you can’t. That’s not to say you’re wrong. It’s just my own practice. It’s easier for me as an atheist (and a linguaphile) to pay attention to the words I use and their implicit associations. There’s nothing “spiritual” about my relationship with my best friend or my husband or my sister.

    Further, I simply don’t believe there’s anything “more” than humanity. I don’t think there’s anything “bigger” than the people on this planet. Perhaps the welfare of the rest of the population is more important than my individual desires, but the point is, I don’t see anything bigger than “us,” the collective that is humankind.

  29. Burton Lo
    Burton Lo says:


    Thanks for telling me about your perspective. I appreciate it!

    Your brother in spirit,


    p.s. Just playing! I kid, I kid…

    p.p.s. I really did appreciate your response.

  30. Juki Schor
    Juki Schor says:

    Reading the post, a sentence from my past popped up: “As you believe, thy shall be done onto you”.
    It is very tricky, this sentence.
    Considering the belief that there is different categories of sin and guilt as well as being “imperfect” and having to meet some “divine” landmark of perfection as a human, it helps to believe in a God who supports you with managing all this. I have experienced religion as something that first creates a problem and then delivers solutions through some invisible “helper” who supports us with solving the problems we would not have if s/he didn’t believe that we need “helping” with our life in the first place. Pew. Of course it feels good when you believe that you have help available in this mess. Once I realized that I could just drop the problems and follow my instincts, I was all of a sudden able to be happy without help from above. Why take a detour?

  31. Burton Lo
    Burton Lo says:


    I, too, take exception to “religion” at times, thus I try to talk strictly about “spirituality”. For me, I have come to the belief that various people “oh so long ago” tried to talk about things that were hard to describe and some of these manners of discussion evolved into religions.

    Someone once said to me that they considered religions to be “spiritual grade school” and I’ve since come to believe that many practitioners of religion stop themselves from further schooling.

    To be clear, I see the shortcoming described above to be the case of individuals choosing to limit their understandings or considerations of what any one religion tries describe. This is as opposed to a fault in the religion itself.

    For example, I find myself in wonder of Jesus Christ’s example yet find myself perplexed by many Christians. Yet, I can say the same for Jews, Muslims, Taoists, and atheists. Oh, I don’t want to forget Republicans and Democrats…

    Ulp! Back to work. More later?

  32. junger
    junger says:

    One of the best things I ever added to my life was keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath). Every Friday night ’til Saturday night, there’s no TV/work/driving/computer/phones/writing/buying … it’s all about taking a day out of your week and resting.

    I didn’t grow up keeping Shabbat, but when I started to, I found community. I found inspiration. And I found the drive to get things done.

    When you know that you can’t work, you prepare for it. When you’re done resting, you’re itching to get back to it.

    For the past two days, I haven’t touched my iPhone or turned on my big screen TV. Instead, I’ve been spending time in synagogue, eating meals with family and friends, and preparing for the new year.

    Disconnecting from the modern world really is the best way to connect with what really matters.

  33. Janet Meiners
    Janet Meiners says:

    This post is so tender. You give us such an intimate glimpse into your life and feelings. And you’re optimistic no matter what. You find the lessons in everything and so we learn and are entertained along with you.
    I’m Mormon and my husband is Methodist. He prays more than he used to and wants to (once a day for him, at least times a day for me). But it’s my favorite part of each day. Plus he’s so good to me it inspires me to be better.
    I hope things are going well with you and the Farmer because he seems to adore you and appreciate you. Must be a refreshing balance from your soon-to-be ex.
    Happy Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

  34. Yule Heibel
    Yule Heibel says:

    I’m not religious, but I finished a PhD in the humanities (art history) at Harvard in five years (for those who don’t know, that’s fairly brisk), not least (in my estimation) because I stuck to a strict “sabbath” routine.

    Here’s how: I *never* worked on Friday evenings, or Saturday afternoons or evenings, or Sunday mornings, NO MATTER what sort of deadline or pressure I had. IOW, although I broke my “sabbath” into these bits, they were strict.

    And it really worked. If you *know* that you absolutely CANNOT work in a certain allotted time, you just get more efficient about how you work in the time that you are allotted.

    Alas, the whole lovely scheme fell apart when I had kids, because as every parent knows, babies and toddlers just don’t know from “sabbath”/ time off. It’s me-me-me and now-now-now all the time-time-time, and poof, there goes the momentum. (Personally, I think that’s why women have a more tricky relationship with all the philosophical benefits that sabbath regularity can bring, but it also means they have more realistic insights into what its limitations are.)

    Anyway, great post, Penelope. I say that as an atheist whose nose is not put out of joint by your assertion that the religious are more optimistic/ happier. I figure it’s all a question of where you decide to land, and whether you need a parachute to get there. I’m optimistic in the sense that I expect I’ll land on my feet, and failing that, I’ll land on my head, which means it’s a soft landing …with added bounce! I’ll worry once I’m dead — for now, there’s just so much to learn and experience, and Friday night (with work / worry interdiction) is *never* far away.

  35. Katy
    Katy says:

    Great blog :)
    This post left me wondering though -why do you think that you “can’t be a self-respecting Jew and buy a latte on Rosh Hashanah” ? It’s not as though latte is a forbidden food- although I assume it isn’t strictly kosher, neither on Rosh Hashana or any other day of the year :)

  36. Hershel
    Hershel says:


    You’re not supposed to engage in any commerce on Rosh Hashana, which is governed by the same prohibitions on work as the Sabbath. So you can’t pay for stuff.

    Of course, if they just gave the latte to P, I suppose that would be alright.

  37. Katy
    Katy says:

    I’ve missed the “handling money” part of that latte transaction , thanks for clarifying it.

    I feel that reflecting on what’s essentially other people’s sins is not what Yom Kippur is about… :)

  38. Sital
    Sital says:


    Thank you for your authenticity

    I always get at least one great insite about myself when reading your posts and the susequent debate in the comments section after it.

    This post is no exception

  39. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    One of the great things about our country is the freedom of religion. As a Christian I do not feel I can be objective about whether that creates a tendency for me to me happier. Also I try never to judge those comments by non believers as the word I rely on is clear that people are free to make their own choices and God honors that choice. I reserve the right to pray for everyone but try to not hammer anyone with my faith except to let them know if they are looking for answers I am willing to help on Christian questions. As far as happiness I have noticed with wonder that sometimes the most happy have the least and may not have any faith. For example, the next time you are about to pass a homeless person speak to them respectfully and pass them a dollar and you may be surprised how happy they seem compared to the more affluent teenager that receives a dollar from dad and says: “a dollar”. Happiness is a choice you can make and faith may help but I do not think it is necessary. Loved the post and wish you had a better place to go than sitting in your car on Rosh Hashanah.

  40. Christine
    Christine says:

    I cried reading your post this morning. Granted, I have been weepy for the past couple of weeks; I too am re-examining my life and my connection to community. My background is Greek and I’m coming up to my beloved Mama’s two-year mark since her passing. I want to retain a strong connection to my heritage, especially since I am blessed with a lovely and spirited daughter. So I am dealing with the whole home/work/life balance – as I work a more than full-time job.

  41. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    @Hershel, Katy – assuming that Penelope is not an Orthodox Jew, the handling of money involved in purchasing a latte on Rosh Hashana is really moot – for instance, she would need to drive to Starbucks, which an observant Jew would not do on the Sabbath or holidays. I think her point is that her way of honoring the holiday is to spend the evening doing something different than her normal routine – ie, quiet contemplation – but doing it at a Starbucks with a latte seems somehow wrong to her (and I agree)

  42. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    While meditating on Yom Kippor and repenting for any feelings you may have hurt along your journey this past year, please also remember all of those you don’t know (like myself). You consistently inspire, cause laughter, motivate, and raise the bar. Most importantly, you create an environment for unexpected self reflection and critical thought. You make me, and others, want to be better.

    Shana Tova from a transplanted NY Jew in CA who worked too many hours (again) this Rosh Hashanah and will likely do the same on Yom Kippor…but will think about it a little bit more:)

  43. ERICA
    ERICA says:


    Your beautiful soul shines through this posts, as does the spirit of renewal that characterizes Rosh Hashanah.

    And the criticism of your (correctly) linking God to optimism and community is just SO MUCH BUNK! Methinks your critics doth protest too much!

    May you, your kids, and your not-yet-ex be inscribed for the best of years.

  44. Charles
    Charles says:

    I like this post. It is very honest. I find it comforting to see you are taking time out to rest and reflect. Too often we find ourselves rushing around reacting to circumstances and trying to fix problems that are actually healing themselves. We just make them worse by picking at them. That being said atonement and repentance are very important and setting things right is often easier than we imagine.

    I know what you mean when you write about your ex. I have a recent ex girlfriend I love dearly, but cannot live with. Her personality is too incompatible with mine. You can not outsource your feelings and your desire to do nice things for others. Your cooking and his participation doesn't mean that things are magically okay, or that you will return to the place where you want to be. You two sound like you are moving on to different phases of your lives. That doesn't mean you don't care about each other or that it is wrong to have amenable relations.

    There are some suggestions. First remember that you are valuable and worthwhile not only to us but to yourself. We accept you for your faults (and if you were perfect we would all hate you because nobody likes Ms. Perfect).

    Beware of filling your time with work and feel the need to keep constantly busy. It is an avoidance trap which can eventually lead to a breakdown. It is good that you are taking time out to think, but I would also recommend daily meditation and mindfulness so that you can recognize those negative patterns you fall into and to seek balance without guilt or shame. If you find yourself too busy to do this, take a few moments to appreciate what you do have. (It sounds like you already do this. — Kudos.)

    Anyway advice if futile and annoying so I will end here.


  45. micsmith
    micsmith says:

    Lots of things confuse me… and you mentioned several.. being Jewish, marriage, divorce, raising kids, working too much, religion, single women sitting in a car at night on a dark street, etc.

    The one thing I do understand and this comes from working in schools is that children.. no matter how old need a mom and a dad.

    One of the nicest things you can give your kids is the piece of mind that their parents can be in the same room and eat dinner together.

    Kids want to see all their parents (could be 2 or 4 or possibly more) at dinner, birthday parties, games, parent-teacher conferences, and graduation.

    As simple of an act as these are… they will grow up knowing you love each other.

    And I don’t think you have to be married to be in love.

    Of course, this is something else that confuses me and should be added to my list.

  46. PCD
    PCD says:

    “Because it’s completely clear to me that people who believe in God are fundamentally more optimistic and more connected to community, and I want my kids to have that.”

    I was going to reference Martin Seligman but Dara beat me to it! I haven’t read his book, but I would note that in his TED speech ( he says that he found no correlation between those who were religious and those who were happy. Also (as earlgreyrooibos eluded to) even if a correlation existed it wouldn’t necessarily imply causation (

    That being said, I agree with Penelope’s comment on a gut level from my own experience, I just don’t know if it justifies giving your children a biased viewpoint. Unless you’re certain God exists, wouldn’t it be better to be honest and let their faith form organically?

    I don’t know, I don’t have children but if my parents knowingly mislead me so that they could steer me towards their idea of what was best for me, I might resent it later on.

  47. Lane
    Lane says:

    I always find it interesting that people read “Those who believe in God tend to be more optimistic and connected with their community,” and think it is saying, “How dare you say I have to believe in God to be connected to my community or be happy!”

    Let’s widen our horizons a bit. All apples are fruit, but not all fruit are apples. Yes, people who have a dedicated religion DO tend to be more involved in their community because it is part of the structure of the faith. However, that doesn’t mean that a complete atheist can’t also be involved in the community. The same with happiness, stability, positivity, etc.

    PT was just referencing studies showing that such influences in one’s life tend to push a person specifically in that direction. It doesn’t mean that a person cannot choose the same direction of their own volition.

    As a non-religious person who is generally positive, optimistic, and very involved in the community, I think perhaps sensitivities get a little too wound up at times.

    Optimistic and community-connected do not necessarily equal “happy”, although the reverse does seem to be true.

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