While I haven’t been blogging much about My Happiness Project, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been following through on it. These last few months have gone by incredibly quickly, but they have made me so much happier than I have been in a long while.

In my last post I talked about building community and reconnecting with my family, and I have to say that I wish I had set that goal YEARS ago. For many years now I have told myself that I don’t need anybody. I have prided myself on the fact that I never get homesick or miss my family while other travelers are desperate for news of home. But I think I finally understand why they thought I was the one who was missing out. In the past few months I have traveled to Utah, Arizona, California, and Washington, D.C., and have reconnected with friends and family that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.

Some of the highlights of these trips included hearing my 90-year-old grandmother talk about her experience working as a military nurse in WWII, going to the gym with my 90-year-old grandfather (!), and having the first real chat with my mother in about a decade. I came to terms with my own mortality on this journey, facing two aging grandparents who have been role models for me throughout the years and learning of my mother’s worsening health, which included brain surgery a week before my visit. All I can say is that I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see them again and that none of them seemed to mind that I have been MIA for so many of the last several years. Despite my upcoming move abroad, yet again, for once I feel like family will be one of the big things that I will miss about “home.”

As my most recent beau told me this weekend: With technology today, we are never too far apart. I think Senegal will still feel like worlds away, but I will try to be grateful for some Skype sessions with my baby nephews and my grandparents while I’m away.

Has it really been a month already? I had such big plans for this blog. I even made a schedule of when I would post and I have failed miserably. Perhaps this will be one of my goals in a future month. For now, however my focus is shifting toward strengthening relationships in my life.

Last month I chose to focus on my physical health because I figured it would be an easy place to start as I already have a strong exercise routine and would really only need to make some small alterations. It ended up being slightly more difficult than expected, however. First, my boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of the month, which meant I was going out more often and made my goal of drinking less alcohol suffer. In addition, I took on weight training with a personal trainer as part of my effort to mix up my workouts. Unfortunately, this led to a strained knee two weeks ago that I am still suffering from. I have continued to workout albeit without the squats and lunges that would have really helped to give me some shapely legs. I’m not willing to make this injury worse though as I am sure I would be much more miserable if I were to have to give up running and other forms of exercise for my vanity.

While things weren’t as successful as I’d hoped, I did learn quite a bit this past month by tracking my eating habits, trying new workouts, and creating some healthier eating habits. I will, of course, continue to work on this area, but with the changing of the month comes a change in focus.

One thing that really came into perspective last month was how few close ties I have here in Oregon despite having lived here for more than a year now. This was, of course, brought on by having broken up with my boyfriend which left me without standing weekend plans. But it wasn’t just that. It was also a trip home that really made me realize how much I miss having true friends in my life. Going home is always just so easy. My friends and I seem to pick up right where we left off and I always feel so free to speak my mind when I’m with them. There isn’t any judgment from them, which is something that is hard to find these days. I really struggle here in Oregon to open up to people because I tend to be very politically incorrect. People these days just don’t like to hear someone with an unpopular opinion and they definitely don’t like people who disagree with them. And so, I feel like I spend a lot of my time just biting my tongue or, even worse, not going out at all. I have become a bit of a hermit here in Oregon and it’s really depressing – as if the rain weren’t bad enough, right?

With these things in mind, I feel like it’s time to focus on creating a community for myself here. I have spoken to some colleagues about starting a book club and a writing group, and I have been participating in a guitar collective of sorts for awhile now. I want to make these a regular part of my life in the hopes that I will feel more connected to people here and, hopefully, will open up a little bit.

Goals for Month 2 – May – Creating a Community

*Family Relationships
– Mend fences
– Set aside time each week to talk to family
– Forgive; take responsibility for my role in bad relationships

*Friendships
– Make time for friends (join/start a group, go to happy hour, make weekend plans)
– Set aside time to talk to faraway friends
– Learn to remember people’s names when I meet new people
– Ask people questions about themselves (create a list of go-to icebreaker questions)
– Say yes more often

The Moral Bucket List by David Brooks – NYT Sunday Review

This Sunday in The New York Times, there was an article titled “The Moral Bucket List” by David Brooks. It is so similar to other things I’ve been reading and thinking lately, that I thought I’d share it with you in case you missed it. In the article, Brooks talks about those happy people you come across who seem to radiate a lightness of spirit. I typically refer to these people as “contagiously happy” people. They are the type of person you just want to be around and who make you feel valued. In the article, Brooks goes on to explore the things that make up these people and gives a short list of the things he thinks we can each do to build this kind of happiness within ourselves. His list includes being self-aware and humble, working on your weaknesses, accepting help from others, and taking risks. For more insight about these things, I’d recommend taking a gander a the article. Here is an excerpt to get you hooked:

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a version of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were. The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative.

The Language of Food

foodWhenever I read books about food, such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I begin thinking deeply about my own food choices and vowing to make improvements. For this reason, I decided that this month’s health focus could be prodded on by at least one “fun” book about food in addition to all of the books I’ve picked up for research purposes. I chose “The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu” by Dan Jurafsky, which I happened upon in my library’s new nonfiction section. Not only does this fulfill my requirement of being about food, but it also appeals to my own interest in linguistics, so I felt it was a perfect fit.

This book was a quick read that was enjoyable and fun. Not only do we get some fun linguistic knowledge, but also some interesting history of food trivia that could come in handy later. We learn such tidbits as ketchup originated in China, as well as the fact that it is we Americans, rather than the Europeans, who are still using the correct meaning of the word entree. Throughout the book, Jurafsky also includes recipes, which is always a fun addition to a book, especially a book about food.

The Complete Guide to Detoxing Your Body

detoxI’m sorry guys, but I hate, hate, hated this book. I’m sure I’m in the minority of people who pick up this book and then decide they dislike it. I am just SO over all of the vegan, gluten-free, nut allergy, hoo-ha that is shoved down our throats. I picked up this book because I wanted recipes and a schedule, which it provides, finally, in Chapter 9, but by that point I just wanted to throw the book out the window. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are interested in all the whys associated with deciding to detox, but I have to say that if you are buying this book, you’ve already made that decision. You don’t need to be convinced. At least, I don’t anyway. So, in fact, this book actually made me decide NOT to detox because I was so angry at it. If you want to detox, just take Michale Pollan’s advice and eat whole foods, stay at the edges of the grocery store, and avoid processed foods. Done and done.

As you know, one of my goals for this month has been to drink less coffee and alcohol, and to drink more water instead. I took on this goal because, after a month of tracking my diet, I found that many of my excess calories are coming from lattes and wine.  In addition, I’ve been wanting to lower my coffee intake to save money and possibly to sleep better. Another reason for giving up caffeine and alcohol is that I get terrible leg cramps when I get dehydrated. Therefore, because alcohol dehydrates me and my constant coffee drinking has caused a major decrease in my water consumption, I need to reduce my intake or else give up running (I will never give up running!). The problem though has been to motivate myself to drink more water in lieu of my favored beverages. All of this logical reasoning just wasn’t enough.

My solution? Lemon water (obviously). My best friend, Leslie, has been extolling the miracles of lemon water for years, but I never really let it sink in until recently. I spent some time a few weeks back researching lemon water to see if it had any added health benefits – turns out there are quite a few, including fresher breath and better digestion. Win! Given all of my reasoning, I decided to finally follow in Leslie’s footseps and adopt a morning lemon water regime in lieu of my coffee habit. This is also perfectly timed with the changing of the seasons, which will make the habit easier to cement into my daily routine. Once it begins getting warmer I find that I don’t really enjoy coffee beverages as much anyway. Yes, even the iced variety. I think it’s something about drinking milk when it’s hot out. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Lemon water is a great trade off. It allows me to drink something refreshing and flavored throughout the day that’s low in calories and doesn’t make me feel bad about myself. It also fulfills my need to have something to drink with me in class – I do this because it gives me something to do with my hands while my students are thinking over questions or doing group work and also because I sometimes get parched after two hours of talking.

One thing that had originally put me off about this idea of lemon water though was the inconvenience of it. Let’s face it, I’m lazy. I didn’t know if I’d really slice up lemons every morning and clean a water bottle every evening to make this goal work for me. Luckily, I happened upon this fabulous water bottle that has a lemon squeezer at the bottom, so there is minimal effort on my part. I just have to slice that lemon in half, stick it in there and go. It seriously couldn’t be easier. Even better, it makes it so the water is really infused with lemon, which I love.

What do you think? Have you tried any of the fruit infusion water bottles? Any favorite recipes? I tend to stick with just lemon, but there must be some other delicious choices out there. Please feel free to share them with me!

As I’ve been thinking more about how to live a more contented life, I have begun doing a bit of research about what makes people happy. I got a library card and checked out a couple of books like “100 Habits of Happy People” and other similar titles. One book, however, has really changed how I want to approach this project: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have not finished this book (I’m only on Chapter 6), but already I am impressed with the process that Mrs. Rubin describes in her book and am very excited to develop my own Happiness Project in a more organized way. With that in mind, I have broken my goals down into categories and will work on one aspect of my life at a time, rather than approaching a variety of goals at once and adding new ones all willy nilly as I have been doing. One of the nice things about this, too, is that focusing on one area of my life will inevitably improve other areas. For example, my choice to make coffee at home not only helps me to cut out some major calories (health and fitness), but it also helps me to save money (financial).

When I took an inventory of my happiness, the number one thing I felt was affecting my mood and general discontent was my physical health. I have gained 15 pounds since returning to the United States and have picked up some bad habits like drinking less water, eating out too often, and going to bed too late. Because this is having such an effect on other areas of my life, I thought it would be best to focus on this area first. So, now I’m putting it in writing. Below are my goals for this month. I plan to talk about each one in more detail as the month goes on, but wanted to get this out there so I’m committed to it. If you have any suggestions or help to offer, please do! I’d love to hear about you own health and fitness goals and what you’ve done to achieve them!

Month 1 – April – Let’s Get Physical
Eat healthier – eat more vegetables, eat less sugar
Less caffeine and alcohol, more water
Take vitamins
Exercise regularly and MIX IT UP (5X/WK)
Use sunscreen + moisturizer every day
Ride bike to work more often (3X/WK)
Get more sleep – Early to bed, early to rise
Stretch morning and night (esp. hamstrings!)

For years I have been making new year’s resolutions that have helped me to tackle the big goals I’ve had for my life – running a marathon, taking a trip around the world, and going to grad school to list a few. But this year when resolution time rolled around, I was feeling a bit lost because, with the exception of hiking the PCT, I’ve accomplished all of the big things I’d ever wanted to do. In fact, this whole past year I’ve felt a little like a ship without a rudder. It’s like I’ve finally arrived and now I keep asking myself, “Now what? Is this really it? Is this my life now?” While I should be content, I actually feel a bit of a panic deep down that I have missed something or that I’ve got to find something new to work toward because I don’t know who I am without mountains to climb and challenges to overcome.

So when it really came down to it to make a goal for this year, I decided on something small that actually is really huge for me: being content with where and who I am. It started with a few small goals – write more, learn to play guitar, study a new language, ride my bike to work, pay off debt – that I knew would make me feel happier every day, but it has now grown into a huge project. I’ve been tracking these early goals with a spreadsheet that I made and have been checking off my progress each day. One of my goals though, writing more often, has been really lacking, however, and so I am hoping to blog regularly about this goal. Hopefully, sharing my struggle to become more content with the everydayness of life will lead to some interesting discussions, as well as suggestions and tips from you to help me along the way.

Have any of you been working on similar goals? What are some of the things you do that make you feel happy?

The interwebs have been all abuzz over the Always ad “Like a Girl” that became a hit during the Super Bowl. The message has obviously resonated with many of us, myself included. After watching the full length version of the advertisement, I really got to thinking about all of my “like a girl” moments and how that phrase being used in a negative way has affected me over the years.

I mean, I think of myself as a pretty independent, strong woman, but if I’m being honest, even I cut myself down for being a girl in many areas of my life, especially in the sports arena.

One example is as a runner. I have been running for almost ten years now and am proud of how far I have come from the 25-year-old who couldn’t even run half a mile. But get me out running with my boyfriend and I suddenly become an apologist. “I’m sorry, I know I’m slow. It’s not my fault. I’m a girl. I’ll always be slower than you.” What? For years, my inner monologue has been all about how it doesn’t matter that I’m slower than other runners as long as I am getting out there and doing better each time I run, whether by running farther or running faster. Yet, here I am, 10 years in, and every time I run with my boyfriend I end up begging him to just run ahead of me because I hate the feeling that I am slowing him down. He just wants to run with me. He wants to spend time together. He doesn’t care how fast we go. But I just can’t let it go.

Another example comes from climbing. A few years back, before I started a year abroad, I began training pretty intensely as a climber. When people would ask me why I was training so hard, I would tell them it was because I was going to be traveling alone but wanted to climb, so I needed to be able to show the male climbers out there (because they are the majority) that I could keep up with them. I didn’t want anybody refusing to climb with me because they thought I was weak. Upping my climbing ability definitely helped in this area, but this fear of being seen as “a girl” made me do some climbs that really scared me. The worst part about this is that had something gone wrong, I could have been seriously hurt. Climbing is no joke. This was really brought home to me after an experience I had in Australia.

I was climbing in Arapiles with some newfound friends. Like I said, I was traveling alone, so I was always having to make friends if I wanted to climb. I was a pretty strong climber at this time, but I had never tried trad climbing before. On my third day there, one climber really wanted to try a multi-pitch route that interested me. He didn’t have a partner, so I agreed to follow him up. Everything was going OK, until we reached the first belay station, when the wind suddenly picked up and the temperature started to drop. As I was belaying him up the second pitch, I started shivering relentlessly and my hands were turning bright pink. No problem, I’ll warm up as I climb, I thought. But as I was climbing, each time I needed to remove a nut from the wall, I’d accidently jam my hands against the wall because I couldn’t feel anything. By the time I reached the belay station, I had a couple of bloody spots and a ton of scrapes. But whatever, I’m a “real” climber, it comes with the territory.

To this point, I was determined to continue. But then, as my partner headed up the third pitch, it began to rain. It was just a sprinkle at first, so he continued up, hoping it wouldn’t get worse. It got worse. By the time it was my turn to climb, it was raining hard and the wind was whipping against my face. I was shivering uncontrollably, and I was beginning to panic. As my partner started to pull the rope up so I could climb, I began to cry. “Cry now, so he won’t see you being such a girl,” I told myself. And then I sucked it up and I climbed. Again, I fumbled with the gear all the way up. I also began to strain my muscles because I was gripping everything so tightly for fear of slipping on the now wet rock. As I ascended, the panic in me continued to rise. All I wanted was to get off of that wall, but now we were 450 feet up with no repel station in sight. When I arrived at the belay station, my partner asked if I felt OK to continue despite the weather. “I really want to be brave and say yes. I don’t want you to regret having come up here with a girl, but I really don’t want to continue. I’m freaking out and I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep going. I’ll do it if you really want to, but I’ll warn you that you may have a panicked, crying girl on your hands by the end.” (Little did he know that he already had a panicked, crying girl on his hands). So we hooked in some cams, tied our ropes together, and repelled while praying we’d have enough rope to get to the first belay station, where there was a bolted anchor.

When we made it down safely, I apologized for making it so he couldn’t finish his climb. I’d known he’d really wanted to do this climb and he would be bummed not to have finished it. Surprisingly, he told me he was glad that I’d said we should come down. He had been afraid to continue also, but he hadn’t wanted to admit it. Later, when I told some other climbing friends about the incident and told them how embarrassed I’d been about panicking and wanting to go back, they also surprised me with their response. “Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. If you feel something isn’t safe, you should always say so. Nobody would say you’re afraid because you’re a girl – and if they do, you shouldn’t be climbing with them anyway. When someone literally has your life in their hands, you have every right to say that you think something is unsafe.” This statement is so true, and yet I’d let my fear of being seen “as a girl” almost put me into a potentially dangerous situation.

To put it mildly, I hope the “Like a Girl” ad and others like it can really change how we treat girls and women and think about how much words can really affect us. Sticks and stones and all that, but words really do hurt too. And they are so much more lasting than broken bones.

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