February 10, 2023

Could This Practice be the Antidote to the Productivity Trap?


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No matter how far I’ve travelled from the days when I used to make New Year’s resolutions about weight loss or getting organized, the beginning of the year always gets to me.

Maybe it’s the turning over of the calendar, with all those breathy blank pages, or the muscle memory of making ambitious resolutions, or the influx of marketing messaging that seeps into our inboxes.

Either way, my addiction to striving is alive and well.

Working for what we want—whether it’s a calmer, more spiritual life, improved health, or aligning our finances with our values—isn’t an inherently bad thing.

But doesn’t it conflict a bit with the natural cycle of life?

Striving toward our goals might work for a good long while—from the moment we’re conceived, we’re in a state of constant development, changing and growing at breakneck speed. As we grow and enter the education system, we’re taught to do our best—to get good grades, so we can get into a good college and find a good career and make good money.

But at some point, doesn’t the arc begin to change? Our bodies begin to wear out. We begin to lose things—our health, our independence, our mobility. The dreams we’ve been clasping onto for so long, we realize, might not come to fruition.

It’s so easy, in Western culture, to make productivity our higher power. But does striving make us kinder, more loving, or happier? Or does it just turn us into big, grumpy hamsters trapped on a wheel, panting over some mystical point in the distance that we’ll never actually arrive at?

As I wrestle with my New Year demons, it occurs to me that if there’s an opposite to striving, perhaps it’s this:


My husband was recently out of town for more than a week, which meant many days of solo parenting my 13-year-old and my 11-year-old. By Sunday of the week he was gone, I was struggling. I was tired and cranky and felt like a sh*tty parent as my kids indulged in countless hours of screen time. But the next day, I rallied and took my kids snow tubing.

Hurtling down the hill with my kids, I screamed until my throat hurt. Little crystals of ice nipped at my cheeks. My eyes squeezed closed, I could hear my kids’ laughter and the whooshing sound of the tubes rushing through snow. I felt…alive.

I’ve been experimenting with savoring that moment of cold air and velocity and laughter with my kids. Writing it down helps, and replaying it in my mind does, too. It sounds trite, but these sweet little moments are so important, and yet so often they seem to slip away amidst the busyness of life. When we savor these moments, we give them extra life.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been trying to capture more of these moments.

There’s even some science that suggests that savoring can boost our moods.  Frederick B. Bryant, Ph.D. and author of the book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, has identified four distinct types of savoring in his research:

  1. Marveling. This happens when we experience awe or wonder; visiting the ocean or gazing at stars could both invoke awe.
  2. Luxuriating. We luxuriate when we we treat ourselves to a massage or mindfully eat a great meal.
  3. Basking. Soaking up praise instead of shrugging a compliment off is an example of basking.
  4. Gratitude.

I’ve found writing down my savor-worthy moments helps me to both savor the moment soon after it occurs while also creating a record I can return to. Recording these moments can take as little or as much time as we’d like. We could take 15 minutes and write down as much as we can about a moment, or we could take 15 seconds to jot it on a Post-It note and stash it in a jar to rediscover later. We could keep a journal of awe, where we write down moments of marvel.

It’s a delight to be able to pour over these moments later. There was the time my 13-year-old asked me to wash his hair for him in the kitchen sink, and it felt like a sacrament. Or the December afternoon when my daughter asked if we could drive somewhere to watch the sunset, and we spent a gold-drenched half-hour watching the sun sink below the horizon. Or the time my husband cracked a joke about our dog and we both laughed hard and he said, “You know, we’re the only two people in the world who would understand that joke,” and I pressed the moment into my mind like a handful of dried flowers.

The silly moments are worth savoring, too—for instance, the other day, I spontaneously grabbed a broom and “rode it” around the living room cackling, which made the rest of my family laugh. All of these are ordinary moments with a gleam of the sacred.

When I shift more of my focus to these moments, I feel happier, more grateful, sated. It’s an antidote not only to the striving I tend to fall into, but to living in a fast-paced, information-drenched world.

Today, I will notice the good moments. I’ll let them linger in my mind for a few extra breaths. I’ll notice the sensory details—the smells, the sounds, physical sensations, the lighting, the time of day—so that I can easily return to these moments later on.


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