Our 'Last Days of Summer' Happiness Challenge: FIND MORE FUN!

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I feel like a broken record, but life for me and Zach has been pretty crazy lately. We moved out of our place in Columbus and into a temporary place (for a few months) in Dayton. After which, career moves depending, we'll likely be moving farther south to Cincinnati, but that's still a little up in the air, which is an unsettling place to be, to say the least. Our schedules are thrown, my work resources are scattered, and I'm frazzled at best. But you all have moved, you know this. It's STRESSFUL!

We had been really enjoying keeping up with our monthly Happiness Project goals, but last month came and went and, amidst the chaos, we did absolutely no work on the chapter. I thought about trying to throw the post together, riddled with apologies. I thought about completely skipping it. I even thought about quitting the project altogether. Especially since the current month's "work" is all about taking time to play. Play?! How do I possibly find the time for that right now?! But, in fact, because of all the stress, I think that's possibly why it's more important than ever to find time to fit it in. We could both use a few fun mental breaks during this time.

So we've made a plan! We took the aspects that stood out most to us in the chapter and picked some things we'd both like to focus on. Some together, some separate. If you'd like to take these prompts and put together your own little challenge to have some fun over these last few weeks of summer, I'd love to hear about it! You can tell me your goals in the comments and even check back in the beginning of September to share your results!

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1. Find fun in the everyday.

Fun does not have to be a week-long Disney vacation. There are lots of ways to enjoy yourself even on the most mundane of days. Whether you like to do the daily crossword in the paper, spend time gardening, or even organizing your sock drawer- hey, whatever floats your boat! Figure out something simple that you truly enjoy (not something you wish you enjoyed) and find a way to notice it and practice it more in your everyday life.

For Zach and myself, we really like to be creative, so we're opting to take more photographs everyday. It's an effort to notice beautiful moments we may be overlooking.

2. Be a kid again.

Think back to your 10-year-old self, what did that child LOVE to do? If it was building model cars, roller skating, or belting out show tunes, it's safe to say that your adult self still loves this activity (or at least a version of this activity).

For me, when I think back on my childhood, it seems like I was always either jumping on the trampoline or making choreographed dances with my sisters and friends. So I'm choosing to dance more and Zach picked playing basketball. Both of these are also exercise, so I'm going to go ahead and give us like 1000 bonus points. Feel free to do the same.

3. Start a collection.

I can't say either one of us is much of a collector. I appreciate it from a novelty standpoint, but definitely not from a clutter standpoint. According to Rubin, however, a collection "provides a mission, a reason to visit new places, the excitement of the chase, a field of expertise (no matter how trivial), and, often, a bond with other people." Looking at it that way makes it seem a lot more appealing to me.

I had gotten a vintage merkabah kind of decorative object, similar to this, for two or three dollars at Goodwill, and I really love it. I'd like to make it a point to keep my eyes open for more things with those geometric and vintage qualities and start, what I'll call for now, an "orb" collection. Zach's idea is a bit more sentimental and I'll share more about it when we recap in September.

4. Challenge yourself.

These first three fun prompts have value: they're relaxing, they inspire creativity, they promote positive energy, etc. However, when you really get down to it, taking on the category of challenging fun is the most rewarding. It's also the most taxing, because it requires time, hard work, and planning ahead. Plus, it can lead to more frustration, anxiety, and the fear of possible failure. In this, however, lies the key. Because we must put more into challenging fun, we will also get more out of it. It can lead to better relationships, mastery of a craft, and important personal growth.

So think of something that you know you enjoy but have a hard time devoting yourself to, be it from fear, lack of commitment, whatever. That should be the focus of your challenge goal. For me that's illustrating. I hobby I consider both incredibly rewarding and almost impossible to actually sit down and do. And for Zach it's writing, of which he has similar feelings.

Are you inspired to take part? You can work on one of these categories or tackle all four.

Share the ways you're challenging yourself to have more fun in the comments so I can cheer you on! Plus, make sure to check back in early September for our recap!

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OUR HAPPINESS PROJECT // Month 4 Recap: Family Traditions

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Hi friends! Are you feeling happy? I'm back again with the monthly update of Our Happiness Project, where Zach and I have been following along chapter-by-chapter with Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. Last month we worked on chapter four, which is all about family. I would certainly recommend this chapter to parents. It's loaded with simple and effective advice for communicating with your children. I especially loved the part about acknowledging the reality of others' feelings. But even if you don't have children, like us, I think a lot of the chapter's talking points can be applied to all relationships.

Zach and I were particularly interested in creating traditions and capturing memories, because it's an area in which we undoubtedly fail. To say we are "non-traditional" is an understatement. In fact, I don't even know our anniversary (I know! I'm the worst.) and thus we don't really have one. We have no holiday decorations. We take very few pictures. I've just never been horribly sentimental and it's like the core of my being wants to reject most aspects of tradition. At the same time, however, as we are becoming more and more of a family unit, I know if we put in the effort for some sense of tradition, even though it's not always my style, it would make us happier in the long-run. Here are a few ways we're trying in the hopes of adding some more sentiment into our lives.


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1. Take More Pictures

This one is hard, because it's always been my belief that if you're putting everything you're doing all over social media you're not really enjoying it in the moment. I do think that's true, I mean, who likes eating dinner with someone who's on Snapchat the whole time? I definitely do not. So I've been trying to find the happy medium. The Fourth of July, for instance, is my family's big get-together holiday, so Zach and I both made it a point to take more photos that weekend. I thought it was really fun getting behind-the-scenes shots, but I realized when I was back home that we had taken zero pictures of ourselves together. I also didn't get any pictures of my mom. Moral of the story, there is some progress to be made, but it's a step in the right direction.

*Sidenote: I think I avoided this for a long time because I don't particularly like photos of myself, but I'm really trying to focus more on the importance of preserving memories and less on the vanity aspect of it. If you are a fellow photo-avoider, I'll tell you it gets easier and better. My sister even told me after this weekend I've gotten more photogenic. She was obviously lying, of course, but it was still nice to hear. Maybe, if anything, with practice I have become a little less awkward, which I'll count as a win.


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2. Smashbooking

Have you heard of smashbooking? It's basically like scrapbooking but much simpler and a bit artsier/messier (right up my alley). Zach and I have been collecting concert tickets for years. It is, in fact, the only actual collection of anything we have. I'm very fond of the fact that we've kept all these stubs, especially since it's out of the ordinary for me (I tend to be a little trigger happy with getting rid of things). I've realized that I do love this little collection and it's not like it's taking up any real space in my life, so I started thinking about how to branch this idea out. I've started picking up mementos, like the program and my backstage pass from the Alternative Fashion Week show, and am really excited to continue collecting and start smashbooking. And by "smashbooking" I really mean taping things in a notebook and scribbling little extra notes. The goal is to keep it simple so that it's something I'll want to continue.

*Is smashbooking something you're interested in learning more about? Let me know if it is, and I'll share some ideas/progress in a future post.


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3. Mini-Anniversaries

I mentioned above that we don't have an anniversary, which is totally true. I've never been a calendar date person, even for events by which I was hugely affected. I remember the feelings, I remember the details, I simply don't care as much about the actual day it occurred. Because of this, I actually don't even know when we started dating. In fact, don't even agree on the year, so clearly this is not an area of strength for us. Somewhere down our relationship road, I began sort of wishing we had one, so we made up the idea of having monthly anniversaries. They were on the 7th of every month, just like both of our birthdays. It was really fun- I'd wake up and sing some made up song about it and we'd just be really nice to each other and have a little date. Simple yet, as far as the happiness meter is concerned, horribly effective. Somewhere along the way, our schedules got the best of us and that tradition fell off completely. So this past month we decided to reinstate it and I'm really happy about it.

*If you're thinking about something similar, I just want to throw it out there that we almost never spend very much money on these anniversary dates. It's basically like any other day as far as extravagances go. It's much more about the thought put into it and just the general feel of it being "your" day. So try not to let things like time or money get in the way. They're very real hindrances, but an occasion can be made special even when there isn't much of either.


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4. Holiday Traditions

If you're still with me at this point, you know what's coming: we don't have any real holiday traditions. And our entire holiday decor storage consists of two stockings. Literally. I have a friend that thinks this is a very sad thing but it's never really bothered me because we are always spending holidays out of town visiting our families and taking part in the larger, extended family traditions. But still, I got to thinking this past month that it might be nice to actually start making some traditions of our own. One tradition we started, really on accident, came from an only half-serious idea of Zach's. He wanted to eat giant drumsticks while we watched the Game of Thrones season finale and be like a barbarian (this is a common goal of his, with or without tv finales). I was a little less on board with the Renaissance Fair food, but we settled for rotisserie chicken. We had some ice cream for dessert, because "Winter is Coming," and the idea of themed season finale dinners was born. It's silly, but we love to watch series together, so it kind of just adds another element of fun. I'm already thinking of an all-A dinner for when I make him watch the Pretty Little Liars finale.


Do you have any weird/awesome family traditions?

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This month we're working on chapter five is all about being serious about play, finding time to have more fun, and appreciating silliness. If you want to read along with us, I'll be sharing our recap Monday, August 1st!

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Our Happiness Project // Tip #4: Acknowledging the Reality of People's Feelings

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Zach and I have been working through chapter four of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, which is essentially about parenting. Since we don't have kids I wasn't sure going into it how it would translate to our lives. Happily, I've noticed that the advice in the chapter, while especially useful for parents, is really more about families and loved ones and is applicable for all relationships.

One thing that really struck me, and it's something I've been personally working on for a while, is the importance of acknowledging the reality of other people's feelings. It seems like a simple enough concept, but it's much harder to actually apply to real-life situations. Think about it for a minute, how do you respond when someone shares feelings like anger, fear or shame? Do you dismiss them with suggestions like, "Oh, don't be silly, of course they like you," or, "You always try to get out of plans. Just go and you'll end up having fun"?

I'd love to say I avoid these pitfalls, but the truth is I'm often dismissive and corrective when I'm faced with an emotional scenario. It's with good intentions. I usually start out being understanding, but then the temptation to fix creeps in and takes over. I'm a researcher, a studier, a self-improvement junkie, and it can be almost painful not to offer my own suggestions regarding other people's feelings.

This chapter shed light on something I've been learning more and more as I get older, that this form of "help," while coming from a good place, can actually feel disrespectful to the person on the other end of the conversation. It's important for me to realize that it's not my place to judge, fix, or dismiss someone's feelings. As Rubin notes, experts agree that denying bad feelings intensifies them, while acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return. The simple act of listening to someone's feelings and acknowledging them shows that you appreciate their point of view. This is often enough in itself to bring peace to bad feelings.

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My oldest friend (since Kindergarten) is a true living example of this, and thus, she is my favorite person to go to when I did to get the feelings out. Zach and I, many years back, had a period of about six months where we broken up. And to me, this meant done forever and I was devastated. I felt like I had no control over the situation or myself. I called my friend sobbing and she just said, "I know it hurts so much. It feels like you can't breathe. This is going to be really painful for a long time until you're through it." Now, that might not necessarily sound uplifting, but as I was floundering in a sea of, "You just have to get back out there," or, "I never thought he was right for you anyway," or any of the other one million well-intentioned-though-very-unhelpful anecdotes I heard during this time, this simple acknowledgement of, "Yeah, that sucks." felt like I was being thrown a life preserver. I felt understood and supported and, most of all, I felt like I was free from the pressure to feel happy anytime soon and she would be just fine with that. That was the real gift.

I'm definitely not as good as she is when it comes to this, but I'm working on it. For me, it's easy to be understanding in the midst of some overwhelming, traumatic feelings. It's harder when it's the everyday small things. It can be a challenge not to offer up a bright side to a colleague's gripe or suggest ways to cheer up to a friend in a funk. It can be a struggle not to want to fix the feelings of others.

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If you can recognize any of these dismissive behaviors in yourself, here are a few approaches from the chapter that I think are helpful in trying to be more understanding when someone is reaching out for emotional support.


  1. Don't disagree with someone's feelings. I would like to make the argument that telling someone about our bad feelings is something that no one really wants to do. It's hard to be that vulnerable. So if someone is sharing their vulnerability with you, try to respond without being dismissive ("It's not that big of a deal"), judgmental ("I think you're over-reacting"), or trying to fix the feelings ("You'll feel better in no time"). These reactions can cause the person who is having the emotion to feel defensive, like no one is hearing them. Even if you don't necessarily agree with them, you could say something to the effect of, "Yeah, I can see that that frustrated you." As Rubin notes in the book, when talking with children it can be as simple as not using the terms "no" or "stop," changing a response from, "No, not until after lunch," to, "Yes, as soon as we're done with lunch." The simple switch from negative to positive can help them feel heard.
  2. Admit that something is difficult. Like my story of my friend above, when I was hurting, I really needed someone to acknowledge that it was, I guess, normal or acceptable to be that upset. We need our feelings validated. A simple statement like, "Wow, that does sound stressful," can be music to the ears of someone feeling overwhelmed at work. While on the other hand, saying something that seems helpful like, "Don't stress. It'll be easy for you," can do the opposite by adding pressure to perform quickly and calmly amidst what feels like chaos.
  3. Don't feel like you have to say anything at all. Silence, especially in the face of emotional hardship, can be a real blessing.  Zach's pretty minimal when it comes to his daily word usage, so for this he is a perfect example. Whenever I'm really struggling, I'll often unload all of whatever I'm stressing about onto him to which he almost always says something super simple to the effect of, "Sorry you're dealing with that," and then hugs me or just kind of stays around me. I've realized over the years that a lot of times, that was all I needed- to be heard and supported- and then I'm fine. I didn't need advice or I would have asked for it. I didn't need him to weigh in on anything. I just simply needed heard. So sometimes if you don't know what to say, just go with that. Offer a hug, offer your company, whatever. Simply being there is a highly underestimated quality.

 

Do you agree that having your bad feelings acknowledged helps you to feel better?

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Our Happiness Project // Month 3 Recap: Reach for the Stars

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Another month, another attempt at changing habits and improving our overall happiness! If you've been keeping track, you know that Zach and I have been making our way through Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, reading and working on one chapter each month. Last month we worked through chapter three, which was all about aiming higher at work.

Happiness at work is incredibly important because the majority of us spend most of our days working. Not to mention the fact that happiness is proven to improve work performance. As noted in the chapter, happy people outperform the less happy. Also, even though they tend to work more hours, both at work and in their free time, happy people tend to be more cooperative, less self-centered, and more willing to help other people. The work/life happiness cycle is basically on a never-ending loop, each continuously contributing and strengthening the other.

We're both very work-focused in this stage of our lives, so this was our favorite chapter yet. Today we're sharing a few things that stuck out to us and the tools we've learned to continue bettering our work/life balance and overall happiness.


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Work Dare #1: Try Something New

Z: Reading this chapter made me feel energized and motivated. In the book, this idea of trying new things at work was manifested through Rubin launching her own blog. When I read about this, I realized I had really missed writing for fun. I've been trying to set aside time in the morning for creative writing and, although it doesn't happen every day, it has helped me to feel more calm and focused throughout my work day.

A: To this same idea, I've also been trying to illustrate in the morning while Zach writes. This has been a long-standing goal of mine that I never seem to prioritize, but I've found that sharing the time with him has helped me to make it more of a priority. I think expressing myself in another medium has also helped me to feel freer in all areas of my design work. Again, there are a lot of days that our schedules have gotten in the way and we haven't been able to have our creative morning time, but I hope it's something we continue to improve upon in upcoming months, because I do really love it and I agree that it sets a calm and focused tone for the day.

 


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Work Dare #2: Learn to Enjoy Failure

A: Oh boy, did I embrace failure this month! I was excited to be asked to interview for Fashion Week Columbus and, even though we weren't even close to ready, my design partner, Shiree, and I worked around the clock to get sample pieces ready to show the judges. After the interview, we found out we had placed in the top ten out of all the designers who interviewed, so that felt really great. The bad news, however, was that they would only be choosing seven to actually show at the finale runway show. So we took to Instagram and participated in a "likes" race against other designers, some of whom were way more established than us and had thousands more followers than us, in hopes to get that coveted 7th spot. We campaigned our faces off and some days were in the lead, but ultimately we ended up losing to a Fashion Week veteran. This seemed fair to me. He's been building a brand for years, whereas I am still a week away from the official launch of mine. And as much as I believe that, losing was still a bit of a bummer. I honestly don't think I've ever put myself out there quite like that, especially when I had a good feeling that it was going to end in a loss. It was a totally valuable experience for me because, for one, I made some great networking connections and gained new followers and supporters of the brand. But more importantly, I realized how much support I already had in my life. I had so many people sharing posts and tagging friends and really working hard for my dreams. This, cheesy as it may sound, was actually way more valuable than winning that last designer spot. Plus, I've still got Alternative Fashion Week coming up (so soon!) and as far as Fashion Week Columbus, there's always next year, right?!

Z: I didn't really put myself out there in quite that way this month, but I definitely feel like I rode that ride with Ashley. She has to put herself out there all of the time with work and it always makes me really proud of her. I think this was the first time she's done that and had it not work out in one or another and, really, in some ways that is even more impressive, because she had a good attitude about it and has put even more into her other projects since then.

A: My main takeaway from all of this was that I want to try and remember the good feelings that came with trying and failing. It makes it easier to think about pitching to a brand or publication or other things I want to do but make me nervous. When it comes to professional networking, even the rejections can lead to positive connections or opportunities for the future.

 


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Work Dare #3: Work Smart

Z: One of the challenges this month was to try and work more efficiently, which for me involved putting my phone down. Between reading news, checking social media, and playing Madden, I realized that screen time was killing my productivity. Ashley's been on me about this for a while, but I didn't really notice that it was such a problem until I forgot my charger one day and was phone-less for the entire workday. I was so productive that day that it made it hard to deny the impact it was having. Now I'm more conscious of it and try to limit phone use only to breaks and put it out of sight when I'm working on other things.

A: For me, I put some extra attention into managing my time throughout the day. I have been working on a collection for Alternative Fashion Week in Columbus and the finale show is THIS SUNDAY (Agh!), so a lot of my days lately have been eaten up by things I absolutely have to get done at that moment for promo events. But on days when I have had more time-management options I've been trying to utilize block scheduling. I can have a really hard time focusing on one thing for very long, but I know that if I can actually push through and just work on one thing for the set amount of time, my block, my productivity is like night and day compared to when I bounce back and forth between projects. After the show this weekend, I hope to really commit to this for a while and plan to share a bit about the process here soon.

Have you read The Happiness Project? What did you like about this chapter? What tips help you stay happy and productive in life and work? Let's chat it out in the comments! :)

 

 

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For June, we're focusing on Chapter 4, which is all about lightening up, specifically when it comes to parenting. So parents, if you want to join in, you can pick up your own copy and work through the challenges with us, or simply make sure you're subscribed to blog posts to stay up on tips, tricks, and what we're learning. We obviously do not have children but it's hopefully down the road at some point, so I'm still looking forward to this chapter. And fortunately, as I've been reading, I'm realizing that this is a good chapter for all relationships in general. So whether you're a soccer mom or a bachelorette, we'll be wrapping up next month's chapter with kind of a different twist to hopefully relate to everyone.

Happy reading!

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Our Happiness Project // Tip #3: The Importance of Self-Knowledge and How to Gain More of it

Zach and I are in month three of Our Happiness Project (we're following along with Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project) and this chapter is all about aiming higher at work. In addition to our monthly recaps, each month I also like to share one tip or piece of information that really sticks out to me and has helped to either change a habit or perspective in regards to improving happiness. For me this month that was reading about the importance of self-knowledge over self-esteem. I have been working on my own personal theory about this for a while and was just talking about it with my sister last month, so reading it from Rubin with expert wisdom to back it up was like a giant "Hallelujah!"

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Throughout The Happiness Project, there are regular references to Rubin's Twelve Commandments of Happiness and right at the top of the list is "Be Gretchen." Not to be the best, or smartest, or fastest at anything, but just to be herself. To be perfectly honest, in the past I have sometimes fought with the concept to just "Be Ashley." I grew up the middle child, and as all you middle's know, you're basically born into a role of mediator, appeaser, and overall compromiser. Being agreeable becomes sort of a survival skill for yourself as well as a necessity in a larger family to avoid constant chaos. Anyway, because of this I was often considered "the shy one" or "the nice one," and neither of those categorizations made me feel particularly great. It's not because those qualities are inherently good or bad- in fact I love Zach for being both shy and nice- I just didn't really feel like they described me very well. Though I do tend to be pretty reserved and don't require much attention, I'm actually quite outgoing. And while I like to consider myself thoughtful and caring, "nice" isn't really horribly accurate either. To me it implies someone who is sweetly modest, but I'm a bit of a rule-breaker. I'm also sarcastic, opinionated, and very direct, so there's a bit of disconnect with that term as well. These are small problems in the grand scheme of the world, but still, I felt like I wasn't completely being seen for who I am. It was kind of a 2-D representation of myself.

As a teen I totally rebelled against those inherited personas. I worked really hard to prove people's ideas about me wrong. I became the life of the party, I tried to act fearlessly, and decided I was unaffected by the cares or concerns of people around me. I dressed loudly, lived loudly, and basically wanted to be anything other than "nice" and "shy." From an outside perspective I may have seemed confident, and in some ways I was, but I wasn't very authentic or self-knowing or even whole.

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Here's the point where you might be thinking, "Who cares? Every teen feels like they don't know who they are." And I get that. But the problem is, a lot of us carry that into adulthood. As referenced in the book, Erasmus observed, "The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is." Simple as that. However, our society is so invested in social extroversion or status masked as self-esteem that some of us go through our entire lives under a veil of false self-esteem without really understanding the depths of who we are, without ever really reaching authenticity or happiness.

Self-esteem is a result of self-judgment. It is literally a self-estimation, an appraisal, of our personality traits against a perceived standard of value. Because of this, self-esteem is conditional and unstable. If we meet a certain condition of worth, we have self-esteem. If we don't, we have a lack of self-esteem. According to Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. for Psych Central, "This dichotomous, dualistic, conditional view of self cuts us apart and fragments our wholeness." Self-esteem is conditional and always changing. If I get a promotion, my self-esteem will soar; however, if I get laid off, my self-esteem will plummet, even though I remain the same person.

Self-knowledge is different because it is unconditional. Where self-esteem is measured through comparison of others, constant evaluation of oneself, and other always changing variables, self-knowledge is the acceptance of who you are at any given time. It is an acknowledgment of the reality that you are a full person, with strengths and weaknesses, living a life that is in progress. Your evaluation of worth, therefore, is circumstance-free.

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Why does any of this matter? Well if you want to be happy in work and in life, you have to understand who you are and what you're meant to be, perceived flaws and all. Not who you wish you were or who you think you should be, but who you actually are. For me this means accepting everything I am as much as the things I am not. I am empathetic, though I am not very sentimental. I am driven and adventurous, but I am also a worrier and I don't care for the outdoors. I am funny and friendly, but I'm definitely not one of those people who is just naturally charming or always "on." I love books, art museums, thrift shopping, and "bad" tv. I have realized that I really don't like politics or sports all that much and I'm much too picky to ever be a foodie.

I spent a lot of time and effort throughout my 20s to get to a place of understanding who I am. I sought counseling in college when I couldn't pick a career path. I loved going to my counselor, where I was given tasks like creating a mood board about who I am and what makes me happy. I was also given the task of asking five people close to me to assess my biggest strengths and weaknesses. That exercise was a little unnerving but also eye-opening and informative. If you, like I was, are in a place where you would like to seek more self-knowledge, here are a few places I would recommend starting.

 


1. Seek Out Feedback (and Listen)

Much like the strengths and weaknesses task above, understanding how you are perceived is a powerful step towards understanding who you are. Asking people you trust questions like, "Could I have handled that situation differently?" or "How do you think I could improve in this area?" can shed some light on how people view you. When doing this, be prepared to be surprised and potentially hurt, but try not to be defensive. If you can take this criticism productively, you can help remove limits that may hold you back in the future. That being said, we are talking about judgments made based on the value system of others, so some thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, if someone thinks I'm insecure because I don't like taking photos, that doesn't necessarily make it true. I'm just simply not great at it, so it's not my favorite activity. However, I can choose to look at that as something that I need to work on so that I don't appear insecure to others who might have an influence on my career and potentially miss an opportunity in the future.


2. Seek Out Personality Assessments

While I don't think taking Buzzfeed's "Which Dead 'Game of Thrones' Character Are You?" quiz is going to give you any information actually useful to life, there are several online tests that are worth looking into for gaining self-knowledge. The acclaimed Myers-Briggs test is my favorite because it gives very detailed, and in my opinion very accurate, information into how to most effectively use your personality type in the world. The official test can be pricey ($50-$100), but there are lots of free abridged options online. Other free tests that I like are the Princeton Review Career Quiz, the RHETI tool based on the Enneagram concept, and the Keirsey Temperment Sorter (which, by the way, told me I am driven by a quest for self-knowledge- ha!).


3. Test Your Limits

Once relationships are established, human beings are very adept at morphing their behaviors to fit the situation. This is an important social skill, but like my middle child story above, adaptation can cause us to lose sight of who we are at the core. It can be as elaborate as solo overseas travel or as simple as training for a 5K. Anything that pushes your limits, mentally or physically, will help you to realize that your boundaries aren't fixed but temporary, and that your situation does not encompass the sum of your being.


Finally, I just want to state that increasing self-knowledge is not about changing who you are. If you're becoming increasingly aware that a personal blind spot may be causing you to make bad decisions, feel depressed, etc., that's a good signal that it is in fact time for a change. But for the most part, it's more about making realizations or shifts in perspective that allow you to be more understanding and accepting of yourself so that you can have true confidence. As always, I hope this offered some insight into the things I study and work on in my own life, but please know I am coming to you as a continuing work in progress. I don't presume to have it all figured out, these are simply some of the methods that have helped me to make progress. If you have any other input in ways that you've increased your self-knowledge I'd love to hear them in the comments!

Make sure you're subscribed to keep up with the series! Zach and I will be back with our monthly recap on Monday, June 6th!

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Our Happiness Project // Month 2 Recap: All About the Love

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For those of you who have been keeping up around here, you know that Zach and I have been working our way through Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, doing one chapter each month. Last month we worked through chapter two, which was all about love and relationships, both romantic and with family and friends.

I'll admit, this month was really difficult for us. We have just both been so busy with work that thinking about things like a date night or leaving a little note to each other just really wasn't taking priority. But then that's part of the reason we're doing this in the first place, because we need more of a work/life balance. So while I can't say we hit every challenge out of the park, it was nice to have these topics in mind throughout the month. What we're sharing today are a few of the points that kind of changed our perspective, provided a little a-ha moment, and will hopefully stick with us for months to come.

 

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Hugs Powered by Science

Z:  One thing I thought was cool in this chapter was the concept of the seven-second hug. Rubin references research that says six seconds is the minimum necessary hug time "to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin, mood-boosting chemicals that promote bonding." Focusing the hug and actually counting the seconds adds another layer of tension release and helps me ease my mind. It's calming to take that time to connect, especially in moments of stress.

A:  I really liked that he grabbed onto this concept, because I actually didn't even remember reading this particular part. Then one day when I was stressed out, he just hugged me and was counting. When he was done he just said, "It's science." (He can be a man of few words.) I thought this was really funny so every time it's happened since I have a little happy memory to go along with it. That plus the legitimate power of the longer hug has actually really been a really helpful way to combat stress this month.

 

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No Dumping, No Snapping

A:  So I actually don't think we have any super serious problems when it comes to fighting. Not that we don't fight, but in my opinion, it's pretty normal relationship conflict. We also don't have kids yet, and I know that can really be a game-changer, so I'm prepared to eat my words when that day comes. One thing I didn't realize I already do with Zach is try to employ what Rubin refers to as "no dumping." Basically, I just can't expect Zach to be my partner, my best girlfriend, and my therapist. According to the book (and basic human observation), women have more empathy than men do and both men and women feel more intimate in relationships with women. So when I'm looking for an understanding ear, I try to go to Zach with only one very specific thing. If I do this (especially if I can do it calmly), he is always a big help. However, anything else and he gets overwhelmed, I end up hurt, and nothing is accomplished. And really, I can't blame him for that. After all, "It's science." ;)

Z:  It can feel overwhelming to get dumped on, so I definitely like it when we're focusing on just one problem at a time. For me, I chose to focus on not snapping at Ashley. I carry a lot of work-related stress, so I really tried to be mindful of how things like my tone of voice when I'm feeling overwhelmed can have an effect on both of our feelings.

 

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Be a Love Mirror

A:  This was my favorite part of the chapter and something I hope sticks with me in the future. The concept is simple but carries a lot of impact: in order to show love you need to understand how a person wants to be treated. To understand this, it is important to look to how they act rather than what they say. Rubin talks about planning a party for her mother-in-law, and to explain this point, I am also going to use my parents as examples. When asked what they would like for their birthdays, they always say (as most of us do) that they don't really care. However, if we're trying to do better than this, we should put a little thought into figuring out what they actually do want. My mom, for our birthdays, tends to keep celebrations simple, but also beautiful, thoughtful, and with a few extra-special treats. So this helps me to know what she would like for her own birthday. A small and relaxed gathering with beautiful touches and something a little indulgent, like a pretty cupcake and some new jewelry, would make her feel happy and loved. My dad, on the other hand, loves to surprise people with elaborate, well-planned gifts and has even thrown a few surprise parties for others. He's a "the more, the merrier" kind of guy. So I know that when it's his birthday, something with a surprise element is the way to make him feel appreciated. Something like a big cookout with friends and family he hasn't seen in years would really make his day. Everyone places value in different kinds of acts of love, and a great way to figure out where another's values lie is to look at how they show love to others. It's kind of obvious, but I'm going to make a special point to try and actively think about this when celebrating others in the future.

Z:  I'll be honest, I hadn't really ever put thought into "how" to show someone I care about them. It has been pretty eye-opening how this concept is so simple and doesn't necessarily require more work, but the result can be so much bigger and so much more thoughtful. I can see how this could be useful in all types of interpersonal relationships. I feel like it's also a good guide for men who might struggle with connecting with others because it's such a straightforward way to understand someone. You don't have to have the answers, you just have to pay close enough attention and be more observant. If you are will to be receptive, people will show you how they would like to be treated.

 

 

Have you read The Happiness Project? Did any of these tips resonate with you? Were there any we haven't covered that you particularly liked? Let's chat it out in the comments! :)

 

 

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For May, we're focusing on chapter three, which is all about "Aiming Higher" at work. Like I said earlier, this is pretty much always the main focus in our household these days. We also both are in transitioning periods with work, so I'm excited that it's coming at such an opportune time. Some topics covered include launching, embracing failure, asking for help, and working smarter. If you'd like to join in, grab your copy, read up, and check back in with us on the first Monday in June! (I also do a mid-month tip from the book, too, so make sure you're subscribed to receive new posts!)

 

Are there any areas in your professional life in which you would really like some tips? Let me know in the comments and I'll try to gear a future post around what I learn!

 

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Our Happiness Project // Tip #2: How to Stop Nagging

If you're a regular reader, you know now that Zach and I have been working through The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Chapter One was great for us as we worked on adding more routine into our lives and began tackling things that were weighing on us. Chapter Two is all about relationships and focuses on topics like fighting right, showing proofs of love, and, the one I felt I most needed to work on, quitting nagging.

Zach is a really wonderful partner. He's masculine but also very sensitive and romantic, a combination I know not to take for granted. He never judges me or asks me to change. He never sets expectations for me to live up to or thinks I should look or behave a certain way. This list is what matters most to me and why I know he's my perfect match. On the other hand there is another list of things he does that are a lot less perfect, such as not noticing messes around him and not doing any housework unless prompted, often many times. That list is obviously less important, but it can make managing a household with him incredibly frustrating, hence my transformation into the nag I never thought I would become. When he was sweeping me off my feet in the first few years, I never imagined having a full-on crying fight about the still unclean bathroom, but it has happened more than I'm proud to admit.

So what's one to do? Well, according to the book, on some degree, I should let it go. I should stop nagging, stop making demands, stop being let down when my expectations aren't met. After all, Zach doesn't do that to me, and that's one of my favorite things about him. To stop nagging is much easier said than done, though, isn't it? It's something I am most definitely not going to win at every single day, but I can try. If this is a topic that's been on your mind, too, I'm sharing a few tips from the book to help to ease up in the name of love.

 

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  • Find ways to suggest tasks without talking. When you think of nagging, you picture a shrill, annoying voice, am I right? And let's be honest, no one wants to deal with that. If you can find ways to communicate that involve less talking, or even no talking at all, the prompt is often better received. Rubin gives an example that she leaves mail that needs to be dropped off on the ground by the front door. Since her husband knows the system, he just picks it up and goes. No nagging, no problem. Zach usually takes out the trash for us, but he often lets it pile up for longer than I would like. By simply saying, "Trash!" as he's on his way out the door, it gets taken out and everyone is left unscathed.
  • Realize that tasks don't need to be done on your agenda. Just because I think the kitchen needs cleaned now doesn't mean Zach feels like sharing in the work right now. If he's agreeing to split the responsibilities, sometimes I need to accept that in whatever time frame it's going to happen. The same goes for how exactly a task gets done. For instance, I think cleaning the toilet involves making the entire thing sparkle, but Zach thinks it means cleaning the bowl and calling it a day. It's like this on a lot of tasks because he (and, frankly a lot of people) are not as obsessed with details as I am. If he's going to clean the toilet bowl, I need to take that as it is and not gripe to him that there's still dust on the tank lid.
  • Take responsibility for your own expectations. This one can be more simply summed up as, if you want something done, do it yourself. I knew about Zach's aversion to cleaning before we even started dating, so is it really fair to expect him to get up on Saturday morning and immediately start scrubbing? No, not really. He needs to help because we are a partnership, but as long as he's helping, anything more than that is my own responsibility. When we moved in, I hung his shirts in order by color and sleeve length. I then explained the system to him so he could maintain it himself and he literally laughed out loud. "You can't really expect me to keep my shirts color-coded," he said. And you know what? I can't. It makes me happy for the closet to be like that but he could care less. So I take it upon myself to hang up his shirts. I don't mind it, the closet stays neat, and at the end of the day we are all fine.

And because all of this talk about cleaning makes it sound like Zach doesn't carry his weight, I feel like I should take a moment to explain that he deals with a lot of the more horrifying aspects of our life, like the time there was a dead mouse in our kitchen and I hid until it was over. He also pumps our gas because I don't like to do it and he cooks at least half of the time. My point in all of this is not to point out his flaws but to give examples on picking your battles.

After all, I've started being more aware of nagging and trying to do it less of it, and I've had some interesting realizations. First of all, absolutely nothing is worse. Our household hasn't crumbled without me being on top of his every undone chore. A lot of it is the same. He is, after all, not going to become a completely different person, and I wouldn't even want that. And, most importantly, some things have really improved. We've both been overall much happier. He's even gotten up early and cleaned on a few occasions without prompting.

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What's your take on this topic? Is "stop nagging" a pipe dream or the path to romantic bliss?

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Our Happiness Project // Month 1: Boost Energy

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I'm going to go ahead and lead with a disclaimer on this post: it's a loooong one. If you've been reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and would like an in-depth look into what the first month has been like for me and Zach, please continue reading. Even better, tell us about your own first month in the comments! (As brief or as novel-esque as you would like.)

If you usually come here for art, fashion, fun collages, this post may not be the one for you. But don't fret, I'll have a whole lot of that for you this week, too.

So if you're still with me, here's how it goes: We basically follow along almost exactly with the book, focusing a little more or less in certain areas depending on what we want to work on most. If you'd like to join in with us, we read a chapter per month (April will be chapter two) and recap on the first Monday of every month. I also talk tips mid-month, so make sure you're subscribed to receive blog posts in your email if you'd like to keep up with those.

And now, let's talk happiness, changing habits, and for the love of god, going to bed on time. :)

 


 

On Choosing to Take on a Year-Long Project of Happiness

Zach: My goal with this project was to find more work/life balance. I wanted to try this project to see if a good mood/happiness was achievable for me even in the midst of a seriously over-packed work schedule and dealing with life stressors. I think focusing on happiness is absolutely important , though I realize I wasn't making a conscious effort before. So many things are affected by mood and perspective and I've realized that when I'm actively trying, happiness is achievable even when things like work demands and financial pressures seem overwhelming.

Ashley: I agree. We both definitely needed more work/life balance. I also was interested in the project because I thought it would help Zach and I find more of a common ground in certain aspects of our relationship. I am very much one who thinks "more" is the key to happiness- more effort, more planning, more work, etc. will lead to greater achievements, better self-esteem, and more overall happiness. Zach is definitely on the "less" team- less structure, less obligations, less worries. He has a very laissez-faire approach to his free time. And while I think there is value in both of our belief systems, it's almost like we were magnifying those beliefs because of the imbalance. We were often arguing about how to spend our time and what and how certain things should be approached when I think what we really need is to build a bridge between both ideas.


On Going to Sleep Earlier

A: When I saw that Gretchen Rubin's first task in The Happiness Project was to "go to sleep earlier" I knew that this was going to be my white whale. I put most of my focus this month into this one task because regular sleep is something I've struggled with my whole life. A combination of insomniac tendencies and a creative lifestyle means I'm often staying up way too late (like birds chirping the next day late) and then sleeping right through my alarm. These sleep habits, or I guess lack of sleep habits, have definitely had a negative effect on my mood lately because not having control over such a basic life function leaves me feeling immature, irresponsible, and just overall bad about myself. Whenever I sleep late I would wake up in a panic, however, when I wake up early, I am in such a better mood and have so much more energy.

It seems like with such strong results it would be an easy habit to change, but the physical struggle on this is so real. I don't feel tired at night, like even a little bit. As a creative, too, there is so much appeal in staying up after everyone is asleep and just working away into the calm, silent abyss. There's a romantic notion that this is how artists work, but the only people I've ever heard of who actually make their living off of their creativity live with so much structure and maintain very regular work hours. So I know that there's a lot of myth to the work-at-night appeal. I know I'm more productive and focused in the morning. At night when I'm feeling the urge to pull an all-nighter, I have to remind myself that I will have the hours to work in the morning and literally force myself to go to bed. The appeal of an iced coffee and a podcast waiting on me in the morning helps, too.

Z: Being on a more regular sleep schedule has been nice for both of us. I've always been pretty gifted at falling asleep wherever and whenever I want, but that can be a blessing and a curse. I had developed a bad habit of resting in the living room after work and almost immediately falling asleep in my work clothes. I would eventually wake up and go to bed, but I would feel sore and unrested from an interrupted sleep cycle. I started this month by focusing on a set bed time of midnight and forcing myself to go to bed at this time.  When I put more effort into having a nighttime ritual and actually changing, brushing my teeth, and getting into bed, I wake up feeling so much more rested and refreshed. Over the course of the month, my energy levels have changed tremendously, which has had a huge effect on my daily mood, especially in the mornings.


On Exercising Better

Z: I've never really been in a regular exercise routine and I would say the major hurdle, especially in the past few years, is time. As a business owner, I work long hours six to seven days a week. I would always intend to exercise and help with housework when I got home at night, but most nights I found it impossible to have the energy. I realized that the key for me is to complete these tasks in the morning before work. This one simple switch has made it so much easier and, even though I'm getting up earlier and adding more tasks into my schedule, I have found that when I stick to this, I have much more energy and my days are more enjoyable.

A: I'll be honest, I didn't want to change anything about my workout routine. I follow the Blogilates workout calendars and I love them. One thing I did change though, and this is really the opposite of Zach, is that I gave up on the idea of becoming a morning workout person. I always try to structure my day around working out first thing. Then I wake up and don't want to do it, fail, and inevitably feel crummy. The truth is, at this point in my life, I only like to workout in the afternoons or early evenings. So I've just embraced that and let go of the idea that I am going to be some morning workout goddess. That girl just doesn't exist right now and as long as I'm getting through a pm workout, that's okay. The freedom from my own expectations, I believe, is a move towards happiness.


On Getting Organized and Tackling Nagging Tasks

A: I focused a lot less on these goals this month because, like I said, changing sleep habits was my main priority. I did manage to get a few extra things accomplished, like reorganizing my jewelry and accessories. I also went through a waist-high pile of jeans that, despite wearing the same pair almost every day, I hadn't brought myself to get rid of yet. Now that I actually have so many pairs to toss, I'm planning on making one of these DIY denim rugs this spring and I'm pretty excited about it.

Z: My nagging tasks actually were the organizing tasks, starting with cleaning out my work bag that was full of documents, paperwork, and a lot of other things that were unnecessary to be carrying to and from work. When I finally organized my bag it felt liberating- I had literally lightened my load. The energy I got from this task snowballed into other areas that needed organized and cleaned at work. I've realized that the key is just to tackle tasks like this as they come to mind instead of letting messes grow and weighing on you.


On Acting More Energetic

Z: My first reaction to "acting more energetic" as a prompt is that is was such a simple thing to do that it would be dumb not to try. It actually ended up having a really big impact on my mornings. By acting like I was happy about being awake and having to work out and clean, I actually started appreciating the time I had to do these things. My overall mood and energy level every morning has improved.

A: It really has! He's been so awesome in the mornings. I have to do this every day, too, because I never want to work out. I know, however, that every time I muster up the energy to exercise, I always feel so many uplifting and energizing benefits afterwards, so I try to remind myself of this when I'm faking my pre-workout enthusiasm.


Biggest Takeaways this Month

A: Going to bed on time and waking up early can be a luxury rather than a punishment. I am so much happier when I have that extra time in my day.

Z: Happiness is a conscious effort. It doesn't just happen, you have to work on it. I recognized things I was putting off were much easier than they seemed.

 

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After all of this talk about schedules, tasks, and organization, I have to say I'm really looking forward to next month's topic: Love! (Cue studio audience swooning "Wooooo.")

April relationship goals include:

Quit nagging.

Don't expect praise or appreciation.

Fight right.

No dumping.

And give proofs of love.

I'm definitely excited to work through this next month with Zach. He's excited, too, because he's pretty sure he's got me beat on this one. We'll see. ;)

 

Now tell me, how did your first month of The Happiness Project go? Do you work on these topics in your life? Have you found any methods that bring great results? Do you wish I would quit asking questions? Great!

Tell me about your happy in comments section!

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Our Happiness Project // Come Join Us!

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The idea for this post series, or really personal experiment, came the other day when my sister, Angie, was talking to me about Gretchen Rubin, as she's currently reading her book, Better than Before. I told her I've been wanting to read that but I still haven't gotten around to reading Rubin's other book, The Happiness Project, even though I've owned it for years. In case you haven't heard of The Happiness Project, it chronicles the author's year-long test-drive of everything from ancient philosophical wisdom to scientific studies to lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

'Why exactly haven't I read that until now?' I began to wonder. It is very, very unlike me to have an unread book at all, especially one of this nature. I love a good self-exploration read and when it comes in the form of a checklist, a challenge, a plan- well, that's pretty much the dream.

So I dusted off and cracked open my copy, quickly remembering why I've put it off for so long: Chapter 1- January. JANUARY! Rubin's own happiness quest starts at New Year's and focuses on a different aspect every month, wrapping itself up with a perfectly neat bow by the end of December. I never remember this fact until it's too late and thus have put it off for years. The appeal of doing a perfect month-by-month year of happiness is just too strong to settle for starting imperfectly in spring, right?

Wrong. I know this all seems silly, but the struggle on this one is very real for me. In fact, my first instinct was to set a reminder on my phone so as not to forget about it come January 2017, when my perfect year of happiness could finally begin. But that is ridiculous and I know it. My word of 2016 is "now" specifically because I have to fight this instinct in myself. It's supremely silly, not to mention a complete waste, to procrastinate in the name of perfectionism, especially when the outcome could be eye-opening and life-enriching.

So anyway, I decided I'm just going to dive in. Even if it is during the perfectly imperfect, very non-January-like month of March. In fact, Zach and I are both diving in, as he's agreed to go through the book with me. You see, with him being a small business owner and myself being an obsessive creative, we've got a major work-life balance problem going on here. He regularly works 60-hour work weeks and I often work through dinner and then stay up until the sun rises working on more projects. While I would say we are certainly "happy," our sense of normalcy, routine, and overall enjoyment of life could use some major work. I'm hoping this will help us to implement more structure, thus creating a little more freedom, a little more wiggle room in the schedule, or at the very least, a reminder to relax and appreciate the joy of the moment.

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So here is how it's going to go down.

We are working on Chapter 1 all throughout March.

Yes, it's killing me to do January's chapter in March, but the focus is on energy and vitality and this is something I can definitely get behind. Tasks include going to sleep earlier, exercising better, organizing the home, tackling nagging tasks, and acting more energetic.

These are things that are kind of always lingering in the back of my mind, but can be difficult to implement into day-to-day life. We're excited to use some of Rubin's ideas and techniques and see how they work for our lives.

We will be recapping the chapters on the first Monday of each month.

We will talk about what was hard, what worked well, etc, as well as talking about the next month ahead. If you're interested in working through the book yourself, you can download a sample chapter here or purchase here. And if you are interested in taking part with us each month, we would love to have some happiness partners in crime! If this is something that sounds fun to you, please let me know in the comments so I can cheer you along! :)

Here's to HAPPINESS!

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