My New Year’s resolution: pay attention


Somehow, last year, I got too big-picture. It’s not surprising since I’m an ENTJ. I understand my deficit, which is one reason I picked the Farmer, an ISTP-—extremely short-term thinking.

At the end of the day, the Farmer walks in the house and talks about his day’s accomplishments, and the weather. I used to tell him that the weather is such a stupid topic that it actually makes me uncomfortable to have him bring it up. But now I realize that the weather is a segue to talking about what is happening right now. And that’s something I need to get better at.

1. Pay attention to the short term.
So my first resolution is to be more excited with what’s going on in my life in the near-term.

On January 1st the Farmer separated from his parents’ farm, and he has pigs are at our farm now. (I am saying our farm now. It shows us being a team more. It’s hard to write, but I guess this is a sub-resolution within the resolution: Think like a team.) He used to make the pigs have babies in crates, at his parent’s farm. The birthing process was confinement—the moms couldn’t move so they couldn’t roll onto the babies. Now he is letting the pigs breed while they wallow in grassy mud, and he’s letting the moms have babies wherever they choose in a barn full of soft hay bedding. The pig will roll on some of the babies probably, but probably that’s why pigs have big litters.

Anyway, the Farmer is excited and scared and curious and he comes into the house each day and says something fun about the new pig setup. I should have something fun to say each day about my work, too. I want to be excited that I’m trying new things.

2. Pay attention to moment-to-moment happiness.
Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, and my happiness research idol, is shifting his focus to the workplace. This is not surprising. As our education system grows more and more inadequate, companies are taking more responsibility for educating their employees. So there’s a lot of money in corporate America earmarked for education, and if you have a new idea, you’d best start selling it to those purse holders.

Anyway, Gilbert gives a great interview in the Harvard Business Review this month about what makes people happy. And, first of all, it’s really clear for the last two decades of research that events do not make us more happy or more sad. We overestimate how much a single event will change us — a huge raise, a lost limb — all of it has little long-term impact on our happiness because we bounce back on both ends of the spectrum to our happiness set point — that is, the one we’re born with. (If you’re interested in facing the reality of the fact that happiness is basically predetermined at birth, a good book on the happiness set point, check out The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.)

So work is simply not going to change how happy you are. That’s not how work works. On the other hand, you do have to be at work for eight hours a day — well, most of us do, in one way or another, even Tim Ferriss — so we should get a good feeling from being there.

And here’s where we can affect our happiness: minute-to-minute. One of the lucky grad students in Daniel Gilbert’s research lab at Harvard is Matthew Killingsworth, who distributed an app (through this blog, actually) to track peoples’ happiness on a moment-to-moment basis. As we learn more about people reporting their own happiness we know that our ability to predict happiness stinks, and the way we remember our happiness levels is inaccurate, but we are pretty decent at knowing how we feel if someone asks us. (I know, this flies in the face of every marriage counseling session in the world, but still, I believe Gilbert knows what he’s talking about.)

This is where we get good information about work. People are happy, minute-to-minute at work if they are setting reasonable goals and meeting them.

3. Pay attention to paragraph breaks.
I want to try new things in my work and I want to set goals for myself. At my core, I think I’m a writer. And I need to always be improving. Some of that will come from forcing myself to make more money from this blog. I have to organize my ideas in different ways if I want to make more money from them, and so now seems like a good a time to tell you that I’ll have a new book coming out this spring. (More on that later.)

I’ve also been forcing myself to try different ways of writing blog posts on my homeschooling blog. (Here’s one that I like that is different than anything I would write here.)

I am obsessed with expertise. And people get better and better at something — anything — by being focused on what they are working on and pushing themselves in new directions to reach hard goals.

I think to myself: what am I doing with my writing to make myself get better? It scares me that I’m not getting better. Mostly, I just need to write more to get better — it’s what anyone needs to do to get better. But I want a goal, also, so this year I’m going to focus more on the paragraph break. I think that’s where the big potential is to elevate my writing.

Like there. Right? You stopped a beat to think, oh, here’s a break. Something big will happen. The break is an opportunity for an intimate moment with the reader. It’s the part of writing I like best, and I could do much more with it.

Do people give New Year’s presents? Here is mine to you. Or to me. It makes me happy just to have this poem here on my blog:

Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

By Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle

That while you watched turned into pieces of snow

Riding a gradient invisible

From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.

And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

70 replies
    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i know me too! i read that she’ll pay more attention to details and then the pic….i don’t know if they’re playing or he’s trying to hump her.

      i get confused with my dogs like that all the time.


      sometimes they are just playing :)

  1. Sam
    Sam says:

    I read your paragraph about writing more as something relating to the sheer quantity of writing in order to improve the quality of writing. That might not be what you had in mind when you wrote the paragraph.

    (What Outliers, just as well as K Anders Ericsson, is talking about is “deliberate practice”, and I’m prepared to bet on that given your level of experience, most of the writing you do for your blog is routine work that lies in your comfort zone (from a technical perspective; I’m sure it’s emotional for other reasons) that does not stretch your writing abilities at all).

  2. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Your writing inspires me to write more personally. Too many people write in a way that’s awkward and distant. I’ve noticed my writing improves the most after I’ve forced myself to write everyday for months at a time – even if some of it’s really bad. There’s this great feeling I have after writing a piece I’m so proud of that those crap days seem completely worth it.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i hate reading blogs were people depersonalize and start telling you how to do things.

      this blog is essentially that, dishing advice and telling you what to do. but different in the sense that she says so after experience of trial and error. she tells you what to do after figuring out what worked best coupled with research.

      but i like it because there’s so much vulnerability. i am more open to receive advice about something i’m not good at…or even if i’m good at it, from someone that doesn’t pretend she/she has got it all together.

  3. lb
    lb says:

    Thanks for the reminder – again – that work isnt going to make me happy (afterall, it’s called “work” for a reason).

    I seem to make myself crazy/miserable when I think of all the years of work I have ahead of me. Instead, I should follow your lead & focus on the moment-to-moment and make the best of it/let myself be happy with the small daily accomplishments at the office.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants.

    And, for the lovely winter poem ….

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i know me too! i feel like my life is wasted when i come to work and i’m kinda miserable…because i’m so bored!

      like the epitomy of a happy life moved from whitepicketfencewithdog to a job you just can’t wait to wake up to or actually sleep at. like the show Bones, the lady sleeps in her office.

      sometimes i feel cheated out of life for not having a job that is so dang interesting i want to ignore the love of my life, eating, showering and sleeping for it.

      hmmm…i just notice all those things sound like being in love. and being in love doesn’t last more than 2 years straight (scientifically proven). I mean, you fall in love again and again with your spouse/sig other but normally the honeymoon face doesn’t last more than 2 solid years. you come down and go back up again.

      maybe i should give up chasing the fantasy of having a job that gives me the butterflies like being in love. because now that i’m married i see that even that doesn’t last and my marriage is pretty solid.

  4. Illuum
    Illuum says:

    Hi Penelope, We (Illuum) read your blog all the time and really like point #2 in your post. Actually, we built an app of our own to help everyone be more mindful of happiness (it even helps with resolutions). You should try it out at, we’d love to hear what you think.

    Keep the awesome posts coming.

  5. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I think paragraphs are important, particularly for writing that will be read on-line.

    People digest words in chunks and your paragraphs should be organized to accommodatete that.

  6. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    It’s hard to have any enthusiasm about your life with the Farmer given than you’ve told us he abuses you. Imagine if you had a friend who kept telling you over and over again about their terrible marriage – in which their husband physically abused them in front of their children – and then not only refused to leave, but expected you to be enthusiastic about their pleasant little stories of normal life with their abuser. How would you begin to feel about those stories? They’s start to sound a lot less fun, wouldn’t they?

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      YES. i feel like all the commenters are ignoring the last 2 posts. is that what we are supposed to do? oh. interesting vs happy. yay. it feels wrong and sad. i’ve had a shit day and this makes me feel lied to and lethargic. sigh.

  7. Can't stop watching
    Can't stop watching says:

    “On January 1st the Farmer separated from his parents' farm, and he has pigs are at our farm now.”
    Big milestone. Mazel tov, Farmer and family. Do you think there’s a connection between this major transition and other recent unpleasantness?

    • Kusandra
      Kusandra says:

      The connection is obvious and despite most judgement spewed against The Farmer it makes his apparent actions understandable. Most people go through this transition in early adulthood, he did it now for the love and dream of building a family with P and sons. It can and will work. This appears to be a real commitment. Sorry for those of you who live in a black and white world, most of s live in messy, crazy color.

      • PJN
        PJN says:

        “it makes his apparent actions understandable”

        No, it really doesn’t. It makes his actions abuse – the same thing it always has been. It’s a shame you don’t have a resolution about getting yourself and your children into a better, healthier living situation.

      • Ismone
        Ismone says:

        Punching people when going through a major life change, and then blaming those people for the fact you are hitting them =/= understandable.

        I have been through things that make his life look like the cakewalk it is, and I never hit anyone over it.

  8. karelys
    karelys says:

    the poem makes me all sorts of emotional.

    i actually pictured a tiny tear falling from my right eye. I pictured it fast enough to stop myself from going through with it. I’m at work and people don’t cry at work for beautiful poems.

    your blog has been challenging. so challenging that after i’ve broken free from most things i thought were my barometer to measure how well i was doing. now i got no barometer.

    it feels nice. but then i’m afraid i’m stagnant.

    i am terrified of not being excellent at something. AT LEAST SOMETHING!

    but then the things i’m passionate about seem to not lead me to make money.

    maybe i’m still unreasonably attaching being rich to making it easier to me to accomplish and enable the activities that make me happy.

    like when i read your homeschool blog i find myself enthralled by the realization that learning happens out of nothing and it can be so organic. and oh what i’d give to work as a nanny and spend tons of time with kids to help them along with this! (if it only paid my bills…which are not a lot…at all).

    i have this non fully form idea that we put so much stock in childhood. like when i see you fretting about homeschool. maybe it’s because we believe that we must work hard to give kids an awesome childhood so we CHURN OUT great adults.

    and that kinda fixes us on the future. like we do every step in front of the other because of the future.

    a bit because of the present because kids are all about the present but mostly we work hard because of their future.

    i used to be all about the future and looked down on those stuck in the present. they seemed to move so slowly if at all.

    but i try now to live in the present and i’m happy.

    now and then i fret that i’ve thrown my future to the garbage.

    but i try to have faith that if i throw myself at what i love i will have sown a seed of my passion that tomorrow will grow and then i’ll have a passion of my fruit in the future.

    if that makes any sense.

  9. Darrel Crane
    Darrel Crane says:

    My thoughts about marriage. Marriage is less about happiness, and more about growth. Learning from the strength of your partner, and sharing your weakness for growth. If they allow, you can share your strength, but use for the benefit of the relationship.

    Also, love is not for happiness either. True love is other centered at personal cost, by deliberate choice. This is actually more satisfying than selfishness.

  10. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    I enjoyed this post. Lots of great links and I totally learned stuff. I thought about my husband with regard to the short-term/long-term vision, did his Myers-Briggs, and concluded that we are exactly opposite–I’m INTJ and he’s ESFP. I was thinking that the Moonies should have matched up marriages by Myers-Briggs instead of picking external things like age and race differences as the things to work through in order to “find God through each other.”

  11. ConnieLee
    ConnieLee says:

    Love what the team is doing with the pigs. Louis Bromfield farmed in Ohio and wrote wonderful books about farming and animals and the environment, way back in the 1940s and 1950s. He loved pigs and in one of his books devoted a chapter to their excellent qualities.

  12. Bryan Thompson
    Bryan Thompson says:

    Hi Penelope! I’m an ENTJ too! (I took the MB test 7 years ago and was an ENFJ – turns out, after taking some beatings, the “Feeling” was banished forever and replaced by “Thinking.” Funny how that works.) I am also Adult A-D-D. So, it would do well for me to pay attention more to the short-term as well.

    I am learning to be grateful for the moments as they come and realize them for what they are: blessings that are NEVER an accident.

    Thanks for the food for thought! Hope 2012 is going well for you!

  13. David McKnight
    David McKnight says:


    To help you with your resolution may I suggest you consider the book…

    The Presence Process: A Journey into Present Moment Awareness by Michael Brown

    Full disclosure: it’s on my to do list once I get into the right frame of mind. I’m still on a journey of new beginnings leaving an employer of 24 years and seeking my own path.

    My wife would be more than happy to give you her perspective as it’s helped her tremendously…she has read it, and did the process, three times. Each time she feels things get clearer for her. You can connect with her in the home schooling group we all belong too. It’s a big part of what helps her unleash the teacher in herself.

    Best of luck in pursuit of your resolution.

    Make 2012 Great!

  14. le@third
    le@third says:

    so P are you going to be more in the moment with the farmer … and less in your head :) hope the boys are well after recent events and you are finding/making your happiness quota – best le

  15. awiz8
    awiz8 says:

    How about this one?

    Pay attention when your safety and that of your childrens’ is being threatened, and take appropriate action immediately, so that you can reflect later if you managed to keep your other resolutions.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      Just a week ago, the farmer was a raging serial abuser. Many commenters thought he was potentially homicidal. Now he is “excited and scared and curious and he comes into the house each day and says something fun”.

      And yet P’s fans see no contradiction. (New paragraph added for dramatic effect)

      • Can't stop watching
        Can't stop watching says:

        Oh, I see plenty of contradiction. My curiosity involves the question of whether Penelope is aware she is splitting, or her posts reflect her true perception of reality, or this is indeed part of an attempt to be edgy and provocative while launching her latest book.

      • chris
        chris says:

        Between the armchair psychologists and the cynics and the vultures . . .

        Have you ever heard of the cliche: Taken at face value? No, we don’t know the whole story very often. We have to take what Penelope writes at face value and respond to the bits she gives us. So be it.

        Another cliche for your consideration: Find the good and praise it. Enough said?

      • Can't stop watching
        Can't stop watching says:

        “We have to take what Penelope writes at face value and respond to the bits she gives us.”
        Penelope has given us the facts that the Farmer has repeatedly been violent with her, that he says he won’t anymore if she doesn’t talk to him at night, and that she’s going back to him with her young children. What more do you need to know to realize this is a very troubled woman?

        “Another cliche for your consideration: Find the good and praise it. Enough said?”
        Fair enough. Yay Penelope for not (yet) letting your kids be assaulted and avoiding the ER (so far.)

      • Brad
        Brad says:

        The only way the abuse saga makes sense is to NOT take it at face value.

        The farmer deleted from his post the cryptic comment about how a blog may not reflect reality. Too nasty, apparently. Given that he lets P come and go as she pleases, and write whatever she pleases, he is one mellow perp.

        I suspect we’ve seen the last mention of domestic violence, until P moves out for good. She didn’t count on one of her loyal readers calling the police.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        when i was young and had to live with my parents they both were a handful. they’d yell for little things that bothered them. they were not physical and emotionally abusive in the common understanding of the terms. but i DID feel emotionally abused. it was torture.

        at some point my dad would say some things and be mean and yadayadayada and then two hours later he’d do something beautiful.

        the only way to recognize this and not slip stuff in his food to make him terribly sick was to separate myself from the situation and try to look at it objectively.

        people who are crazy, violent, abusive, etc. have also the capability to do beautiful things, to be encouraging, to give good advice, to be romantic, to be good.

        most of the time we can’t see it because we’re so angry at who did what to us that we just color everything that way.

        i understand that in extreme cases personality splitting happens to be able to cope with everything. but i don’t have a split personality. just the ability to see and remove myself from the situation to be able to appreciate what is happening.

  16. Heroine Worshiper
    Heroine Worshiper says:

    Paragraph breaks were the #1 topic in our college writing class, even limiting paragraphs to 2 sentences. Generation Y conspicuously writes in 1 block.

  17. Daniel Clough
    Daniel Clough says:

    Love the short term bit of this post. I too tend to set big goals and try and figure out the next few years, but things change too much and sometimes it’s more important to focus on being in the moment and making the most out of each day, each week.

    I still have the big goals, but now they are more areas or focus for the year and I just make each day and week count.

    Enjoy reading your blog by the way. Your honesty is sometimes a bit startling, but refreshing :)

  18. Mark Wiehenstroer
    Mark Wiehenstroer says:

    You know what?

    I see more paragraph breaks in the comments section and it makes reading them easier!

  19. chris
    chris says:

    Ahhh, Penelope, so you DO believe in happiness! Not only “interestingness” but

    Living in the moment, embracing the moments of happiness or joy or contentment is hard. Our society and our work rewards “planning”. I don’t think it can be one to the exclusion of the other–planning AND living in the moment.

    I believe we should try to project how the dominoes may fall as much as we can, humbly, without the arrogance of certitude.

    What I find to be true is that children can teach us this living-in-the-moment lesson.
    The younger the child, the more wisdom and skill in this area, I believe. Thus . . .

    . . . . pay attention to the children.

  20. chris
    chris says:

    The photo of the pigs, hay, barn, sky points towards a rising-up. Hopefully, you feel this now.

    Penelope and team, rising!

  21. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    I liked your comments on paragraphs, they are too often under used, especially in emails to make a point(s) more clear.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      one paragraph – one thought works pretty well.

      They are underused in email because many email programs require insertion of an “empty line” to preserve a paragraph break.

      And I do fail to see the contradiction between work and happiness. I don’t expect happiness to be delivered to me, but it is possible to find happiness in work, the two are not mutually exclusive.

  22. Rocky
    Rocky says:

    I really found the blog interesting! # 2 was way interesting. This a skill that quite a few people lack! But your insight was crisp and I liked it!
    Keep up the good work!

  23. Denys Yeo
    Denys Yeo says:

    I can also recommend Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The how of happiness – it is good to read a book on happiness, that is not only a good read, but is also based on research and ideas that are likely to work!

  24. Just Plain Brian
    Just Plain Brian says:

    This time of year, it’s important to ask yourself: Will this year be different, or are we just staring at the same old pigfuck?

  25. Emily Kentman
    Emily Kentman says:

    First you were dying. Then it was your fault. Now it’s all over and you are starting fresh. Does any of this look familiar?

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines the following symptoms of BPD:

    1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

    2. Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

    3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

    4.Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

    5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.

    6.Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood.

    6.Chronic feelings of emptiness.

    7.Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.

    8. Transient, stress, related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

    You don’t have Aspberger’s you have BPD. You can be helped. Unless, of course, you want to be a Boderline Personality Disorder.

  26. Janet
    Janet says:

    Weather’s kind of important to farmers….just a thought from someone with a lot of experience on Wisconsin farms!
    The poem is wonderful.

  27. Alison Hodgson
    Alison Hodgson says:

    I am in the middle of reading “The How of Happiness” by Sonya Lyubomirsky and recommend it as well.

    There aren’t any surprises in what contributes to our happiness, but what is instructive are the, seemingly, minor distinctions.

    For example, in practicing gratitude, the research showed that those who were asked to count their blesses every Sunday night reported increases in their happiness levels while those who were asked to count them three times a week didn’t obtain any benefit.

    Happiness is peculiar. My house burned a year and a half ago through an act of random arson. My husband and I and our three kids were all home and in bed. We escaped with the clothes on our backs.

    When everyone assumed I’d be devastated I was fine. Losing our home and belongings was nothing but a thing, literally. The early weeks after the fire were great. Shock is awesome and near death experiences bring clarity.

    The following year wrangling with insurance, rebuilding and dealing with the trauma all in the midst of the normal busyness of raising three kids (one of whom has a multiplicity of challenges) is what broke me.

    Understanding our happiness set point as well as the percentage that is in play has been helpful and encouraging.

    Penelope, thanks for the recommendation of “Stumbling on Happiness” and the lovely poem.

    Happy New Year.

  28. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    “Yay Penelope for not (yet) letting your kids be assaulted and avoiding the ER (so far.)”

    “The pig will roll on some of the babies probably, but probably that's why pigs have big litters.”


  29. Liz
    Liz says:

    Having apparent “free-range” pigs is a great business idea…this would definitely appeal to the paleo/primal-diet community, which is highly popular and definitely growing.

  30. c
    c says:

    Thank you farmer. There is a law against crate birthing in many states because it is cruel and inhumane. Thank you for looking out for the defenseless little piggies.

  31. Pen
    Pen says:

    I’m surprised to hear that the farmer is an “extremely short-term thinking” person. From reading his blog, and from thinking about farming in general, I figured he was the type to think/plan ahead a few seasons, at least.

    Of course that doesn’t mean one can’t also live in the moment, but that’s not the way that phrase came across.

  32. terri
    terri says:

    Somehow, “pay attention to paragraph breaks” doesn’t seem to fit in the otherwise, big thinking, life changing style of your two other resolutions. Maybe title the entry, “pay attention to improving my art of writing” or am I missing something here?

  33. Amy D.
    Amy D. says:

    Sometimes, especially after a life-time of chaos and fun and craziness and ups-and-downs and achievement and everything else, sometimes choosing to be happy and in the moment are truly the most interesting choices to be made.

    Hope you stick to it : )

  34. fern
    fern says:

    the way to improve your writing is to read…a lot. And read a lot of different authors and styles. That will teach you to write better.

  35. Becky
    Becky says:

    Thank you for the poem gift.

    I’d like to resolve to commit some things to memory and this would be an excellent place to start.

  36. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I really want to like poetry. And tried to read that poem, but just read the first word


    and my eyes glazed over. Went completely ADHD, and thought about Pirates of the Caribbean.
    Is there any ‘chic’ disorder that makes you good at math & visual arts, and bad at poetry and stuff like that?

    PS – I tried to read it again. It says something about gradient. What’s up with that?

  37. Gordon Chen
    Gordon Chen says:

    Penelope, your post got me thinking so much so I wrote a post about it. I think we should forget about New Years Resolutions and focus on a January resolution!

    There is a saying in the Financial Markets "As goes January, so goes the year". January sets the tone for the rest of the year, so if we don't get January right than the rest of the year is going to be a stretch.
    I’d say go for a January resolution which is like your point 1. Pay attention to the short term :)

  38. Rynormnysvor
    Rynormnysvor says:

    For example, in practicing gratitude, the research showed that those who were asked to count their blesses every Sunday night reported increases in their happiness levels while those who were asked to count them three times a week didn’t obtain any benefit.

Comments are closed.