Mindfulness makes you more productive


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.

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  1. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    Sorry to hear you’re dumping your obsession with happiness. Maybe the problem you had was failing to find an ACTIVITY that consistently enhanced your happiness. Happiness, it seems to me, isn’t something you find but rather something you create. Which means you have to actually DO something to create it rather than look for it as if it were lying under a pillow somewhere in your house. Instead of focusing on becoming an expert at something or on mindfulness, I’d like to suggest you focus simply on creating value for others, in whatever way suits your interests and talents best. You can literally do this almost every moment of your life.

    I don’t mean this to sound like I’m giving advice (though I guess I am) because I don’t really know your personal situation. But if you’re interested, you might check out this link:


  2. Meghan
    Meghan says:

    I love this post. This reminds me of why the mental aspects yoga are just as important as the physical. I love the idea of “rewarding yourself with your favorite project at the end”. That is such a great way to attack an incredibly overwhelming to do list. I think too often we are so worried about accomplishing as many tasks as we can that we don’t focus enough on the task that is right in front of us. Personally, I think I could get more enjoyment out of my favorite tasks by allowing them more quality time in my day. Good stuff, thanks!

  3. Amy Dean
    Amy Dean says:

    For my thesis to complete my Yoga teacher training, I embarked on a quest to answer the question: are we drawn to the yoga we want or the yoga we need. The short answer is the yoga we want. I learned that each Dosha (water/Kapha, fire/Pitta, air/Vata) tends to seek its own energy rather than moving toward balance. Sounds like you are a Pitta/Vata personality, so Ashtanga, as amazing as it feels, might not be the best yoga practice for you. Try to balance it with Yin Yoga, Restorative or Hatha. Everything is energy. It just needs to appear in equal parts for someone to feel at ease.

  4. ioana
    ioana says:

    I think the Ashtanga comment is very telling.
    I think the point of yoga is learning to breathe, and taking this knowledge into your daily life. And I mean this in the most pragmatic, functional way possible.

    But I also think that sometimes it only works backwards. You start with meditation and stick with it. For a long time. And then the mindfulness will percolate into your daily life. Free your a$$ and your mind will follow, as they say.

    Of all people I know, I think you are one of the ones that would benefit the most out of grounding yourself.

  5. Kari
    Kari says:

    I’ve recently discovered that being “mindful” is the only way I have ever found to keep my anger under control – taking life a moment at a time. I tend to have the “spinning head syndrome” too and being present in each moment really cuts down on that. Which makes me happier. So… bonus!

  6. Menez
    Menez says:

    Have you read Russ Harris’ book “The Happiness Trap” ? Or “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Steven C. Hayes ? (These guys are serious psychiatrists and scientists – And great human beings)

    They basically describe the principles behind ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and how to use them. Very practical books.

    ACT is not some New Age fad that’ll fade. It’s anchored in some serious studies, curiosity about the human psyche and meditation techniques. It brings together 2 fundamental poles of existence, divergence (acceptance, mindfulness) and convergence (commitment, values), if I can say so.

    Most of all, it does away with the pathological focus and fusion with Happiness… Rather, it proposes to integrates happiness as "by-product" (even if an important one – ), the symptom of a life that resembles you.

    (Sorry for the clumsiness, as English is not my first language)

  7. A Student
    A Student says:

    One thing that I found interesting about this post is that the things you are looking for are all end results: you want to be happy, be interesting, be an expert. I have lately come to the conclusion that (for myself at least) I become more happy, more interesting and an expert on more things by focusing on the journey (or the process) not the destination. Live in the now and be mindful of what you are doing at this exact moment because once you get to a destination, you will just be looking for the next destination. Which just leads to a never-ending cycle of seeking but not finding…

    • Dan Kligerman
      Dan Kligerman says:

      Yes–I feel the same way. Choose whatever destination you think is best at the moment, and then focus on the journey. The beauty of this is that the destination is uncoupled from the overall goal (whether that be happiness, mindfulness, or whatever), so you can change destinations without fear of messing with achieving that goal.

  8. Erika Harris
    Erika Harris says:

    Happiness. Mindfulness. Solving the meaning of life.

    I believe you can enjoy this trifecta… by falling asleep in the farmer’s arms.

    Fill your cup with that, and then do whatever you choose. But you’ll be hydrated. With something far superior to the sugar-water of frenzy, multi-tasking and perfectionism.

    Recovering from strep seems like a good time to practice :-)

  9. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Congratulations for giving up “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s like chasing the horizon: you never get there. Happiness is the by-product of a way of life, not a destination.

    I like the mindfulness idea. The Dalai Lama wrote a book called “The Art of Happiness.” It should have been called “The Art of Mindfulness.” He writes well (smart man), so it’s a good read. You might like it. Very conducive to happiness.

    BTW Asperger people often have difficulty with anxiety brainwave patterns (high-beta or “busy brain” frequencies). These intense brainwaves don’t shut off even when there’s nothing to be anxious about. The pattern gets stuck. It’s kind of like a shrill silent alarm inside the head, kind of like a vortex that swallows everything that goes on, so that everything becomes a stress event.

    Offhand, I don’t know of any Asperger people who don’t have this (or have had it). EEG neurofeedback training is the best solution because it trains the brain out of that pattern.

    Then you would have your mind back to be mindful in.

  10. Kerry Kimble
    Kerry Kimble says:

    You do see yourself linking “mindfulness” and “being more productive,” don’t you? I know you wrote that headline, and I note that it’s at odds with the actual content of the post, but I wonder if you yourself actually understand the problem with that headline.

    “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.”

    This is a good example of the kind of statement that is at the heart of the love/hate relationship I have with your blog. On the one hand, I put myself in your kid’s shoes, and I hate you. On the other, I feel profound admiration for the honesty with which you write about your shortcomings. You do me and your readers a real service in this, and you raise the bar for all bloggers, few of whom come anywhere close to your brutally honest self-expression.

    “Busy is not fine. Busy is too much going on to be your best self. So stop talking about it and fix it.”

    Do you intend to be less busy? Do you have it in you to be less busy? Do you actually want to be less busy? There’s a particular dynamic among smart, articulate, high-achievers who nonetheless lack important skills — social skills, parenting skills, the ability to love genuinely, to pay genuine attention, to be a true friend, the help those in need, and so forth — which is to make themselves as busy as possible so as to always have busy-ness available as an excuse for not practicing the skills they need to.

    You’ve had great success in your life: you’re a high-earner, you’re famous, you’re well-regarded. You got there by keeping busy — also by paying attention, which is very different from being mindful, although it often seems like the same thing.

    Through your blog posts, I’ve learned what an incredible handicap Aspberger’s is. I can only guess at the complex structures you’ve created in your life to compensate for it, and to ease the pain that it continually causes you. When I’m able to put aside my own anger at you when I read about how you scream at your children — when you’ve robbed yourself of the patience you need to remain calm, because you’ve made yourself so busy that you don’t have the time that you need to do mindfully what you’ve committed to do — I find myself overwhelmed with sadness for you, sometimes to the point of tears. What mother wants her own shortcomings to create such fear and pain in her children? It’s hard enough for healthy and skilled parents to negotiate this, let alone someone with the kind of severe handicap you suffer from.

    Also, I confess, I can’t get used to the rules of Blogland — in this case, someone who is not mindful writing about the importance of mindfulness. I understand that you’re searching for the answer to a problem that is a many-headed hydra, but you have constructed — mindfully, intentionally, assiduously — a locomotive that travels on rails through the whistle-stops of adult achievement: marriage, children, the accumulation of money and skill, a second marriage, notoriety, the respect of respectable people. Mindfulness travels on a separate set of tracks, and requires that you bring this particular train to a complete stop. Are you really capable of doing that? This is not another brass ring for you to reach for and take hold of.

    My fear for you is that that the actual process of living mindfully will leave you — you — feeling empty, a failure, because the outcome is so utterly intangible. Your hope that “doing” mindfulness will result in your head “spinning more slowly” profoundly misses the point. This is not like funding a company, or wrestling a reluctant man to the altar, or finding a method of not exploding with anger at your child when he can’t find his socks. And while I’m certain that you understand that intellectually, I’m afraid the lived experience of practicing-without-reward will come up hard against the handicap of your Aspbergers, which as you live it requires constant fiddling with “doing.”

    It’s always a pleasure — albeit a complicated pleasure — reading these posts. Keep up the good work.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. Hm. Thanks for the insight, Kerry. The title actually makes me cringe, now that you say that. Although I have to tell you that I think it’s a good title for SEO (search engine optimization). Not that I usually think of that, but now that I hate the title, I think of SEO to console myself.


      • Kerry Kimble
        Kerry Kimble says:

        But that’s the point, isn’t it? Doing nothing except being mindful while your child practices the violin will do nothing for your SEO, to help you earn your living, fund your company, or get Seth Godin to link back to you. It’s just a way of loving your child. It may help your head spin more slowly, and it may not — it’s not a thing you “do” in an effort to “achieve” a particular “outcome.” It’s a way of being, with yourself and others. Writing about the experience of being mindful will make for the most extraordinarily boring blog posts. That may be a good sign post of your progress on this road.

  11. Wayne Allen
    Wayne Allen says:

    Hey, P’lope,
    Closer and closer!
    I’m thinking that there is difficulty when meditating (mindfully or otherwise…) as a means to an end. As Ioana said, it “percolates”… “just sitting” (zazen) is it. The rest is just commentary!
    When I started my counselling practice back in ’82, I gave lip service to it being about Mind, Body, and Spirit. Over the last 28 years, as I have shifted my perspective, so has my practice shifted to what I call Zen Bodywork Psychotherapy.
    It seems to me that a self-responsible mental perspective, coupled with deep bodywork, and time spent on the cushion helps me (and my clients…) to find a bit of spaciousness to simply be.
    I continue to wish for you some space and some gentleness with yourself and environment. And no, I’m not creating a duality – I’m simply encouraging your continued quest for balance.
    Drop me an e-mail some time and I’ll send you a copy of my books… ;-) and check the link!

  12. Rosemary Nickel
    Rosemary Nickel says:

    Debbie Phillips turned me on to your blog. She knows I am a fan of honest, blunt, straight forward, real life reality…you are ALL THAT!!! LOVE IT!!!

    I laughed when you said you kept hearing Mindfulness all the time..I hear the word “Systems”…”you need a System”…I go to a seminar…”We have a System, you should too”….talk to an organized person and they tell you to “get a System”! UGH…stop with the “systems” already!!! Much like your “mindfulness”…I think I need a “System” LOL

    As far as happiness goes, I think it comes from with in. You being happy with YOU and who you are and what you are doing. I don’t believe you will find it anywhere else.

    Be “MINDFUL” of what it is that makes you…YOU. Try writing down the things that made you happy each day before you go to bed. You just might find the happiness you are looking for has been there along! An easy way to do that is when you are tucking your little ones in at night. I ask them what their favorite thing about their day was…and then I tell them mine.

    I try to practice the GET THE ELEPHANT project out of the way first….but because I don’t have a “system”…it generally hangs around the room for days at a time(even longer)!!

    I really enjoyed this particular blog quite a bit.

    Enjoying reading your blog!!


  13. ResumeWriter
    ResumeWriter says:

    It sounds as if you’re trying too hard to manufacture happiness, or interestingness, or expertness. I think we all gravitate towards things we like and are good at, and I know (from reading your blog) that you are no exception. Dwelling on these things seems like it would take away some of the enjoyment – as if there HAS

  14. ResumeWriter
    ResumeWriter says:

    (sorry – my finger slipped)

    as if there HAS to be happiness at the end of each task. Instead, do something just for the sake of doing it and you’ll probably be happier than if you over-analyzed it.

    But what do I know? I don’t do yoga.

  15. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    “Live” is a verb. It’s an action, a process, not an end point. Mindfulness, to me, means being conscious of the process. They say that to be a painter, one must enjoy the smell of paint: because a painter is not “one who has created a painting” but “one who paints.”

    The happiness stuff has always made me crazy because there’s not some magical point at which You’ve Done It! You’ve Achieved Happiness! Just like there’s no magical point at which your house is clean. I mean, it might be clean for an hour after the cleaner leaves but before the kids come home, but that’s the best you’ll get.

  16. RunCherylRun
    RunCherylRun says:

    Thich Nhat Hanh says: “"The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers."

    Your anecdote of reading a book while teaching violin is a sign of the true epidemic of our times. Everyone is doing two things at once and no one thing, no one moment is good enough. If one has a interesting, fun or profound moment it needs to be tweeted, facebooked and texted to others instantaneously – instead of reveling in the moment. Its become acceptable in our society to have cell phones at the dinner table, to read a book while having a conversation. Our human interaction and our human respect is dwindling.

  17. Jill Gernaat
    Jill Gernaat says:

    Penelope, you are happy. Mindfulness is allowing yourself to recognize that. Now get something done.

  18. Susan Young
    Susan Young says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I saw myself in your words. I was at my first yoga class yesterday (I would have been struggling to get to the ranking part too!) Had to laugh. Mindfulness for busy people is an ongoing awareness. My favorite mantra: “Where ever my feet are, my head is.”
    And as Eckhart Tolle wrote, The Time is Now.
    Thank you for sharing your insights and humor!


  19. Ben - Boy Wonder
    Ben - Boy Wonder says:

    Penelope (was to be the name of my daughter. But, I had 3 boys.)-

    My thoughts on mindfulness and happiness:

    Both seem to be coping mechanisms, doomed to be inadequate, until we address the ‘vital lie’. Ernest Becker helped me articulate this in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, ‘The Denial of Death’. Without an ‘anchor in eternity’ we are adrift, searching for meaning and crafting illusions of relevance.

    I think we all construct these coping mechanisms. Some construct very durable means of coping, that see them into old age. Some create less durable means of coping and are startled awake in their 40’s or 50’s and are compelled to buy a red sports car, leave their wife and go racing around with a 20-yr-old blonde. Still others shift coping mechanisms like they’re changing socks.

    You seem to be cursed with an immunity to the ‘social instinct’. That is, you forego the easy assimilation into society’s prevalent coping mechanisms: TV, Facebook, lots of bad food, etc. Since you are not easily distracted from the vital lie, I reckon you must probe it, dissect it and emerge with an answer. I did, and life is simpler, happiness more abundant and ‘yes’ life is more meaningful.

    My very best wishes to you.

  20. Jamie Beckland
    Jamie Beckland says:

    I love how your posts are written as advise, when they are really a bunch of questions. Questions that you are asking yourself, so you pose them your audience.

    Besides SEO, this title is completely nonsensical. As are many of your post titles that ostensibly have something to do with career advice.

    But, I like that you are using the internet’s rules to get what you need out of it. I get that’s what you are doing. But I don’t think most people get it.

    As soon as you use the word mindfulness and reference yoga, people start talking about chakras and how “everything is energy.” I don’t think that’s really germaine to the conversation.

    This is really a conversation about evaluating success. Like, how do you know if you are living a successful life?

    The answer to that question is very personal, but my favorite is by playwrite Tobin James Mueller: by creating more than you destroy.

    And, the community you have created gives you lots of bank on that front.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. I like this comment so much, Jamie. Thank you. I like that you see my posts as asking questions. I am tired of advice. But you’re right, I think people want advice. So I like to think that my titles are about the genre of advice I would be giving in the post if I were not so sidetracked by asking questions instead.


  21. Jorge Lazaro Diaz
    Jorge Lazaro Diaz says:

    Last Spring I smacked the front end of a Mercedes with my SUV and gave it more than a ding. It was all because I was doing a million things and completely UNmindful of everything around me. (You can read about that adventure and how Yoga was part of the solution by searching for “Fender Bender” on my http://www.CareerJockey.org blog.)

    I’m going to check out the Power of Slow book you recommend and see what that can teach me. I promise not to read it on my Kindle while I’m driving to work :)

  22. Brad
    Brad says:

    You’re going to “plumage through the guest post”? When did bird feathers become a verb?

    Anyone who wants to be an expert wants recognition from others, which is antithetical to the idea of mindfulness.

  23. Liza
    Liza says:

    “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.”

    I always think its funny that people think multi-tasking is a positive trait. They fail to realize that trying to do two things at once slows us down and causes more errors-which leads to having to do the said multi-tasking all over again.

    Maybe you should obsess over that :)

    Hint: Its not about doing so many things at once, but to plan on doing so many things in such a short amount of time-efficiently-that it appears your doing more than one thing at once. Good job for putting the book down!

  24. ISR
    ISR says:


    Your title is really not an oxymoron although it might have been more precise to say that mindfulness “may” make you more productive. Most people have a misguided idea of what mindfulness is; that it is some flaky, chant filled practice that “clears your mind.”

    Mindfulness is a practice that helps you learn to be aware of what is in your mind and right in front of you at any moment. It would be hard for me to describe how powerful that information can be.

    If you want to see the benefits of mindfulness for all types of people including doctors, lawyers, cancer patients and prisoners, search Google News on the subject. You’ll even find an article about how mindfulness can “boost your mood.” I tell you this because even though the point is not to go into it with a goal in mind, it may help you persist with it to know that there are benefits.

    I have no idea what the challenges of a mindfulness practice are for someone with Aspergers. My personal experience after the first year I meditated consistently for 1/2 hour every day is that it made me feel less fearful, more comfortable with my decisions and more creative.

    If you can get tapes or join a group or get a teacher (for specifically mindfulness meditation since there are other types) it would help.

    I’d recommend the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn or anything by Sylvia Boorstein. You might also look at Kabat-Zinn’s talk at Google which is on YouTube.

    I love your truthiness and mindfulness would magnify it. Can’t wait to read about it if you do decide to practice.

    • Menez
      Menez says:

      “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn…
      Yes, a classic, a great book to be added to any mindfulness bibliography.

  25. neko
    neko says:

    after reading the post, i skimmed through the comments section fairly quickly vice reading them because i couldnt find one that i could actually understand(!).

    (that, and i’m still not sure what the word “mindfulness” means ….)

  26. Matt Wrench
    Matt Wrench says:

    Personally, I don’t particularly care about making “my head spin slower” because the goal of that seems to be just creating more time. Yet, not all time is equal, and I would gladly trade a quantity of time to increase the remainder’s quality (through happiness, interest, or something of meaning).

  27. Valter
    Valter says:

    Happiness? Mindfulness? Interestingness?
    What about “Awareness”?

    Problem is, I can’t explain it! :-D
    I know when I am in it (I feel ok no-matter-what, everything is clear, I am joyous, peaceful, serene).
    And I know when I’m out of it :-(
    (nothing is really ok, me first)

    But I couldn’t say what awareness is. Perhaps because it’s just “being”… without all the noise and the frenzy we put up to fill our void. :-|

    Perhaps, I could say awareness is the space where everything is ok, despite any imperfection.

  28. Brent
    Brent says:

    Interestingly, on the same day you post that you’re about to give up your obsession with happiness, LiveScience.com runs a story about a study that has proven there are 5 things you can do to make yourself happier: http://tinyurl.com/yz4qnmn. This seems to be the kind of thing you love: a study by academic psychologists that is published in a peer-reviewed journal. And it says happiness is within your grasp! Maybe not ecstatic bliss of transcendent oceanic peace or whatever, but the point is that we can increase our happiness by doing certain simple things. I won’t bore us all with the whole list of 5, but I will say that “Be complacent” is not on the list. And “Be grateful” is. So let me take this opportunity to tell you that I’m grateful for your blog. Thank you for sharing these pieces of your life with us.

    • Menez
      Menez says:

      The main proponent in this article is actually Sonja Lyubomirsky. She published “The How of Happiness”in 2008. A great book where these 5 ideas and others are explored in details. Yes, some things tend to make humans feel good and satisfied — and these things are not contextual.

  29. Cesca Louise
    Cesca Louise says:

    This is my first ever blog post, and your blog was my first ever blog. I can’t tell you how much I love it. I am a late digital bloomer. That said, I found the need to comment here after I read your post.

    I recently gave up the pursuit of happiness as well. The truth is, for me it’s not about happiness being so unattainable. I am fairly happy much of the time. What I realized is that happiness does not make me happy. Happiness, like everything else I feel, just makes me want to feel something else, so, as you have said before, life can be interesting.

    I think I am looking to be satisfied. My husband said, when I told him that, “yeah, right, you want to be happy, to be content.” (Sometime he thinks I get to wordy and become redundant). But I don’t want to be content. To be content implies that I don’t want to make enormous goals and kill myself to get to them. I want to KNOW what I want, not to settle in ok-ness. I want to work my ass off to get those things, I want to have interesting conversations some days and lazily zone out at the TV others. I want to hang with my kid one day and lead an executive meeting the next.

    I have felt very guilty recently about not wanting to jump on the pursuit of happiness train. I have friends who smile and jump around a lot and talk about how great everything is. That’s great, but not for me. I want the world to be interesting, to be happy some, to be terrible some, to be smart and stupid and fun. I want to feel satisfied.

  30. Simon Hay
    Simon Hay says:

    If you had nothing to measure happiness against the emotion wouldn’t exist. Being mindful is an exercise in self discovery. I’m angry. I can be mindful of that, but still choose to stay angry. The reason I’m angry is not always what I believe it to be. By being mindful I learn about myself. Its only self interacting or reacting. Intensity can make me happy but doesn’t mean I’m smiling. You’d think love would make everybody happy, but often love is painful. Be observant of the journey. You make me smile. That makes me happy. If you calmed your head down I think you’d feel loss. There’s only the complete you in this moment. There’s often balance in disorder.

    Take care, Simon.

  31. Beth
    Beth says:

    I am laughing at your post – not because it is particularly funny, but because my husband and I had a very similar discussion about an hour ago. I am not happy – but then I have never taken the time to figure out what makes me happy because I am too busy trying to make money because we bought more stuff because we had more money.
    After living in the LA area for about 10 years, we are in the process of moving back to WI and live on my brother’s farm for awhile. My husband asked me one favor – to slow down enough to find out what makes me happy. I made no promises, but I will certainly give it a try…

  32. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I kept thinking to myself, I wish they'd shut up and just rank us so I know if I'm best.

    Hilarious and timely. I was in Pilates last night wondering who the teacher thought was best and then chastising myself for it ;-).

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      I also thought this was hilarious! But for the opposite reason – because it never even occurred to me that anyone would think such a thing!
      Penelope, I was so thrilled to see you considering mindfulness – it can change your life.
      Live in the moment, it’s such a cliche, but so hard to do.
      But the rewards are limitless.
      Good luck.
      PS Thanks to the other commenters for some great links. I also am grateful for PT’s blog!

  33. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:


    I’m extremely new to your blog. I found it because my boss told me to read up on Tim Ferriss and your blog about hating him was the first thing I read. I got hooked.

    I have been reading your old posts about happiness, it’s relation to career, money etc. I am that 20something, post college gal trying to figure things out and when one of your posts made reference to “just enjoying being lost” I almost laughed out loud at how much I felt like you directed it right to me.

    But that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s fabulous that you’re looking into mindfulness. I know that “fabulous” and “mindful” don’t usually go in the same sentence, but I think that’s because too many people think mindfulness happens while seated in the lotus position with your eyes closed.

    That’s what I thought anyway.

    Until, that is I graduated from college (after being an intense and intensely busy good-GPA-and-tons-of-extracurriculars girl), had no idea what to do with myself, and my body started freaking out. I started having crazy pain everywhere that no doctors could figure out. Finally I ended up at a yoga class.

    “Vinyasa flow” is the only thing that got me out of my head, onto my mat, and out of pain. I became obsessed with mindfulness after that.

    I read books (especially recommend “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and “That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist” by Sylvia Boorstein), talked to everyone I could think of (from a therapist to my rabbi to my Zen-practicing boyfriend’s mom), and tried to find a way to marry what seemed to be two disparate ideas- productivity and mindfulness.

    What I came to realize is that mindfulness doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means doing everything with a level of self-awareness that makes everything that much better, and that much less overwhelming.

    I’m much more at peace than I was before and, perhaps ironically for where you are coming from, much happier. Most people who know me probably don’t even see much of a difference. On the inside I’m mindful. On the outside, I’m still the same fabulous girl I’ve always been. Except I probably burn more incense.

  34. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Umm, mindfulness is about being in the present moment. Not obsessing about what is happening in five minutes, five hours, five days or five years time. Just. Be. Here. Now.
    The points you’ve drawn from your ‘guest’ poster’s thoughts are to lead you to that point. But you need to remember the point – it’s not the activities – it’s being right where you are.

    Mindfulness will become simpler when you start doing it, and stop worrying about the activity.

    just be

  35. Michael Arnoldus
    Michael Arnoldus says:

    What if –
    * There really isn’t anybody to be happy?
    * The thing we call “me” isn’t really there?
    * There’s no such thing as a “bad experience”?
    * There’s only what is?

    Then –
    * Being “happy” or “not happy” is the same – perfect bliss
    * The entire world is what “I” am
    * Every experience is the right experience (even if we at some point have learnt otherwise)
    * An entire world is there to enjoy

    Why are you unhappy?
    Because 99.9 per cent
    Of everything you think,
    And of everything you do,
    Is for yourself –
    And there isn’t one.
    – Ask The Awakened

    (Wei Wu Wei)

  36. Michael Arnoldus
    Michael Arnoldus says:

    One more thing – beware of the advice to strain to “Be in the now”. The small mind, the ego, the thing we identify as “me” is quick to adopt such advice and start searching for the technique to “be present” – and the search itself is exactly the thing that will prevent being present.

    Actually it makes about as much sense as hitting yourself on the head with a hammer – because it’s such a wonderful feeling when you stop :-)

  37. Kat
    Kat says:

    Penelope ~
    Although you may not be a huge fan of your title (save the SEO bonus) – I think you’re onto something that more people could really benefit from! The Sanskrit term Vinyasa literally translates, “to place in a special way”. More generally, “to move with intention.” The practice of yoga is the practice of physical mindfulness, eventually facilitating and delivering a form of “moving meditation” – the ultimate goal of yoga. If all tasks were completed with mindfulness, it would alleviate the need to RE-DO them, perhaps actually allowing tasks to be completed the first time around, ultimately saving time to complete other tasks – allowing for a more productive day. Have you ever stopped to think about how much of your day is taken up dealing with other people’s inadequacies or the lack of other people to successfully perform their job?!? Think about all the time that could be saved, the stress alleviated, conflicts avoided if all people approached their lives and their work with mindfulness and actually GOT SH*T DONE RIGHT! Seems like the world would be a much better place! Maybe everyone just needs to do more yoga!
    As for your Ashtanga practice, my friend, perhaps take a break from your mysore practice and take a couple good vinyasa flow classes that target your 1st & 3rd chakra. Sounds like both your Muladhara & Manipura are out of balance! I feel your pain! If you don’t have a good vinyasa studio, let me know – i’d be happy to send you a good flow … from one Pita-Vata to another!

  38. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    I think maybe this blog is an obstacle to happiness. And it’s finally time to stop reading it. Lists of the latest things to do for happiness (according to the “happiness” industry no doubt) will just never end, leading you to a bankrupt soul. If you’re really serious, go find the dalai lama or similar, sit at his feet for 3 months and then right about what you felt. Rather than thought. Many wishes

  39. Mick Morris
    Mick Morris says:

    Penelope, I’ll make you a wager….

    If you are committed to being mindful…..then you will find far more happiness that when you were trying to be happy…

    Let me know how it goes

  40. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    Happiness always seems like the mushiest of aspirations to me, and now that it’s an industry, even more so.

    I think responding to “How are you?” with “Busy” is incredibly rude. It shuts down all further conversation and makes me feel like you’re too busy for me. I think it must make people feel important to say that, but it is truly alienating and unconscionably rude.

    Finally — people like you are the reason I don’t go to classes and do my Astanga yoga at home. But at least you’re not pretending you’re doing it for a reason that’s respectful of the practice, or for anything other than ego and arrogance. The funny thing about yoga is that it’s probably doing much more for you than you realize.

  41. Phil Bolton
    Phil Bolton says:

    Dumping happiness for mindfulness – a pretty bold statement. I spent some time chasing mindfulness and got lost in the process. It brought out my introvert and I shut down the world around me. It wasn’t great. Now I look at the middle path – being mindful and still looking to make an impact on the world around me and enjoy that. It’s a cracker and I suspect that is what you’re talking about here. Good luck!


  42. G
    G says:

    It’s funny to find you finally writing about mindfulness, because I think it’s already one of the main subjects of your blog!

    Whenever you successfully observe yourself, and then blog about something you’ve done wrong, that’s mindfulness. You noticed you were reading during the violin lesson, you noticed it was wrong, and you forced yourself to stop. And then you blogged about it, which shows that you’re open to acknowledging your emotions and responses, which I think is what mindfulness is all about.

    That’s also why it was funny to read an old post of yours in which you mentioned that you’d missed the point of the mental side of yoga. Because, from your writing, I would have expected you to have discovered that a long time ago.

    I’m definitely no yoga expert (I only just started taking actual classes and learning the physical side of it, but I could be cheesy and say I’d been practising yoga for a years…) but I think mindfulness is about putting some space between what goes in and what comes out. For instance, your kid does something that makes you angry, and you *notice* that your immediate reaction is to want to snap at them, and just that act of ‘noticing’ is enough to give you time to step back a bit and consider whether taking a few deep breaths and being firm would be a better idea.

    I did the same thing as you of moving from aiming for happiness to aiming for mindfulness, and in my opinion it’s probably the final step – a lifetime’s work, with a lifetime’s reward – because that space between reaction and response is often all you need to feel more in control, and to cope better with anything you put your mind to. And in contrast to the quest for happiness, mindfulness isn’t about blocking out or fighting negative feelings, it’s about acknowledging and dealing with them. Which means that when you feel like shit, you’re not failing in your ultimate goal (if you can call it a goal… it’s more of an ongoing process) as long as you can acknowledge it (blog about it!) and deal with it. The mindfulness goal is there whether you’re happy or sad or angry, and it can be a huge comfort and an amazing tool in any situation.

    The only problem is, as I’ve proved with this comment, it’s very difficult to talk about mindfulness without sounding like you’re about to grow a beard and move to india to play sitar with the Beatles. Can you keep your career-oriented readers interested while getting into mindfulness? Possibly not… but then again, people are always saying your mindful posts (the ones about you, and about how the different parts of your life relate to each other) are your best ones, so perhaps that’s the audience you should be writing for anyway?

    I don’t read this blog for career advice, I read it because you’re the best writer I’ve come across on the subject of how to live well and get to know yourself. Career is an important part of living well, but the bigger picture is far more important.

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