Posted by Renee Schmidt

It’s been quite a while since I’ve picked up my proverbial pen and sat down to write a blog post.  Anyone who understands me well also understands that my mind is constantly abuzz with information, thoughts, and ideas. But for whatever reason I’ve lately been unable or unwilling to take a breather —and a moment—to express myself. It’s been a compounding problem, as I’ll soon explain.  Over lunch yesterday with a dear and long-time friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, I was offered some simple and valuable advice: just start writing. And so I am.

In an increasingly interconnected world, to me, life is becoming increasingly noisy. So noisy that most days I feel completely awash in non-sense. Each new day I filter and consume more information than I did the day before. I can’t help but wonder if any of this information is life-enhancing or benefitting me in any way. Am I getting smarter? From celebrity reports via the media, to the Facebook shares of dancing dogs and singing cats, to the 30 times a day I check my email, to the Instagram photos reflecting that this one is traveling here or dining there, eating that –what’s really the point?

I read an interesting article from the NY Times this morning titled Healthy Body, Un-Healthy Mind.  The premise of the opinion piece questions why we aren’t as discerning of what goes into our minds as we are of the things we put into our mouths. Many of us obsess about nutrition and visits to the health club, but what about our mental health? I have previously questioned this myself but in another context.  I wondered what life would be like if I unsubscribed from everything and everyone and only “followed” 100 people digitally –the few people whom I’d like to emulate in some way. What if my social feeds reflected the shares and views of only the most philanthropic, innovative, spiritual, ambitious, altruistic and humanitarian individuals on the planet?  Would my consciousness change? And if so, would my life change to follow suit?

Are modern social feeds, reality TV shows, new apps and gadgetry, and the mainstream media simply a low-hanging diversion from having to face our own occasional aches of lack? And if so, what’s the consequence of filling our minds with so much junk? What exactly is on the other side of the pain? What would happen if we just sat still and explored that space. What might we find in there?

I believe what we’d find is happiness.

It took me a few decades to conclude this, but I’m now certain that happiness is a state of being coming from within. As hard as this may be to believe, with the training of one’s own mind, happiness is a state we can obtain and maintain no matter what is happening externally to us.

Looking at the flip side, we have what the NYT op-ed calls “externalists.” Externalists are modern folks who seek fulfillment from the outside –looking for external stimuli to produce a satiating feeling within, if even for a mere moment. But externalists (truth be told, most of us) don’t just stop at instant gratification. Externalists also hinge their longer-term happiness upon external measures of success too, like having a successful relationship (i.e. marriage, children), achieving success in business (wealth), or successfully losing weight (body and lbs).  Externalists chase success hoping it will make them happy. The problem with that approach is that “success” is always short-lived and ephemeral. We achieve a goal and we’re briefly happier… but we quickly redefine what success means and we’re looking toward the next big thing. If happiness is on the other side of success then we never actually get to be happy –it’s fleeting. When you flip the formula and focus instead on increasing happiness, research finds that you get both.

But how can we become happy? …Happiness is a state of mind. It’s a peace. An ease within. One that can truly only be found, as the title of this post suggests, in stillness.

But with all the stimuli around us, we’re apt to feel like a gridlocked freeway at rush hour.  “How can we ever be still?”, you’re probably wondering.

One secret to stillness, as I came to learn today, is through writing.


Writing > Stillness > Happiness > Success


Why writing? Because personally, I have an unusually busy mind and writing helps me ease it and organize my thoughts into two principal categories:

  1. What needs to be looked at, prioritized, and actioned; and
  2. What needs to be spurted out so I can de-gridlock and create more space for stillness (i.e. happiness).

In addition to writing, I realized I would benefit if I were to stop taking in so much new information and start making sense of what I already know. Here are a few things I want to do each day instead:

  • Add more structure and less ad hoc activity to my life (like less watching TV, or checking social feeds or email multiple times a day).  Email should be checked no more than 3x a day in pre-defined and blocked increments for a finite period of time. Anything beyond that is distracting and counterproductive. Other “mindless” activities would benefit from nixing, or a similar regimen.
  • Invest more time into activities that generate happiness, both directly and indirectly. For example, for someone who doesn’t like to break a sweat, one example of an activity that leads to happiness indirectly would be exercise (it’s scientifically proven that people who exercise regularly are happier).
  • Write a minimum of 30 minutes a day.  Whether the writing is shared or not, by virtue of my creating it, I am the key benefactor (as postulated above).
  • Invest more energy into healthy social and interpersonal interactions –hugs included (this is also scientifically proven to directly increase happiness).
  • Do things mindfully. Eat slowly, savor my morning coffee, sip slowly, laugh heartily, be present, drink more water, and smile 🙂

Above all else, I feel I must be easy on myself (and others).  That means none of the afore bullets can be written in stone. There can be no steadfast rules against ever picking up another book, reading another article, or watching another show. These bullets are meant instead to serve as one step in my growth process and an exercise to train my brain –an exercise I’m curious and excited to watch unfold.

I believe if I fill my brain with less junk, I’ll be less distracted from what I really need to focus on: generating happiness from within. Because as it turns out, the destination is less important than the spirit I bring to it. And that spirit is better developed by sitting still than by scattering myself around. After all, one day all I will have to turn to will be my spirit — and all that I have accomplished while going nowhere.

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
― Albert Einstein