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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The LISTS // Art in my Heart

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If you keep up with the blog, you know my outside life has been a little crazy lately with design (more on that tomorrow). And because life-imitates-art-imitates-life, that's basically the inspiration behind this month's lists: art, design, and getting creative! I've got some finds I've been coveting lately as well as my ULTIMATE playlist. The one I put on when I want to get lost in work. First up, all the things!...

 

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Seriously, how much fun is this list? I don't know why I love that astronaut or those hand curtain tiebacks so much, but I do. I'm also loving the fun shapes on this Gorman necklace and Poketo planner. And don't you love how some retro things just never go away? Case in point: Converse shoes, a forever classic. I especially love them in this photo print called Motel Pool. Plus, how great is it that mood rings are a thing again (and again and again)? I thought this one from Olivia Kane was gorgeous. And in a real twist of retro-made-new fate, is anyone else dying for a Polaroid camera, mainly to make cool photo layouts like this one for Instagram? It's a little ironic, isn't it? Printing photos for a digital IG image? Regardless, I'm all about it. I'm still crazy about mud cloth prints, and thought this throw was extra lovely. I've also been dying for a letter board for my home. The possibilities for endless amusement are just too tempting. I think I'd use mine for rotating Kanye tweets, because why the heck not? The man is a comedic goldmine. Speaking of word art, how great is this candle? It's fig and tomato scented, which sounds so weird that I'm entirely intrigued. And lastly, have you all seen these lettering videos on IG by @kellycreates?! They put me in a trance and are major #lifegoals for me. So obviously, I'm going to need a set of brush pens, like these from Kuretake.

Now for the music! This is a snippet from my work.create playlist on Spotify and it's what I put on ALL. THE. TIME. It's pretty random. Some songs are new and some are old favorites. Some are slowier and moodier and some are full-on dance party songs. The only real premise for this list is that the songs have to make me feel something. I need to literally be inspired. On the full playlist, through this link, I've got over 70 songs and 4 1/2 hours of "get creative" music. And if you like it, let's connect! I'd love to hear what's on your radar!

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What are some of your favorite artists to listen to for inspiration?

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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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Hey, Hey, It's the (Year of the) Monkeys!

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runway images from Valentino pre-fall 2016

 

This past Monday marked the Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year, making it officially the Year of the Monkey.

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If your birth year coincides with the monkey, you are thought to be intelligent, clever, and one of the most innovative personalities within the Chinese zodiac. Those are traits of the monkey personality but, since it's the Year of the Monkey, they are also the overall theme of the year. According to tradition, that means 2016 will be an energetic and auspicious year full of reinvention for all of the zodiac signs.

 

To celebrate, I've rounded up some of my favorite designer items featuring this year's monkey motif.

sweater  |  tray  |  print  |  teapot  |  incense box  |  napkins  |  key chain  |  ring  |  bank  |  towel  |  earrings  |  pillow

 

Girrrrrrl, what's your Chinese zodiac sign?

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides! Day 4: The Entertainer

There is never a better time to show thanks to the perfect hosts and hostesses in your life than during the holidays. The folks who always have their doors open and some delicious food on hand. The ones putting in all the time and sweat to pull off the perfect holiday parties. Show them how much they mean to you with some of my favorite gift ideas to help them make entertaining a breeze.

 

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Are any of these gift ideas catching your eye?

Come back tomorrow to get some ideas for the animal lover in your life!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides! Day 3: The Techie

 

What's better than a great tech gift for adding organization, innovation, and overall ease into your life? Spread the techie love with some of my favorite finds for those on your list who are always looking for the latest and greatest.

 

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Are any of these techie finds catching your eye?

Check back in tomorrow for a gift guide geared at the party-throwing, holiday-hosting entertainers in your life!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides! Day 2: The Free Spirit

It's the second installment of The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides and I've got whole slew of beautiful boho gifts for the free spirit in your life. From the natural to the glam, if your recipient feels right at home in the 60s-70s era, they will love these gifts!

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I hope you loved these free-spirited finds! Make sure to check back in tomorrow, when I'll be sharing be favorite gifts for tech-lovers!

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5 Male-Approved Couples Costumes for Halloween

Hi, friends! Remember that girl that used to post all the time? Well, sorry for my little hiatus as of late. I'll have a little catch up post soon to fill you in on what I've been up to, but in the meantime let's talk Halloween! I know most of you probably have your costumes ready to go, but in case you and your boo (pun intended) are still at a loss for what to wear, I've got you covered! In theory, I love a good couples costume, but they can be tricky to pull off. For male-female couples it can be hard to find a balance between something you love and something he's also excited about. So when I was writing this post, I thought why not just go straight to the source and ask my better half, Zach? And that's exactly what I did! So, here are his favorite classic couples costumes. And the best part? With a little creativity and a few borrowed accessories, a lot of these looks can be pulled straight from your closet! Perfect for any last-minute plans!

 

1. Romeo & Juliet (90s Baz Luhrmann-Style)

This is at the top of Zach's list every year. I think he loves the modern, more casual, interpretation of such classically romantic characters and costumes. I mean what guy doesn't want to be a knight at least once in his lifetime? And what girl doesn't want her date to be Leonardo DiCaprio- am I right?

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romeo:  mask  |  armor  |  top  |  pants  |  sword

juliet:  dress  |  wings  |  sandals  |  necklace

 

2. Johnny & June

Not only do they have a historically epic romance, but I think the chance to be the original country music rebel (and wear all black) is appealing to a lot of men.

*(I know these are not the real Johnny and June, but I'm using pictures from Walk the Line mainly because of the photo quality. Plus those costumes are on point.)

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Johnny:  boots  |  shirt  |  belt  |  tie  |  vest  |  guitar  |  pants

june:  necklace  |  earrings  |  dress  |  bag  |  bumpits  |  microphone  |  shoes

 

3. Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde is always a classic couples costume, but with all the 60s-70s madness going on in fashion, the 1967 Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty version has never seemed more relevant. You'll get to wear this season's hottest accessory, the neck scarf, and your guy will love going as the historical gun-toting bandit.

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clyde:  tie  |  jacket  |  shirt  |  pants  |  suspenders  |  gun  |  hat  |  shoes

bonnie:  beret  |  scarf  |  bag  |  sweater  |  skirt  |  heels  |  gun

 

4. Kurt & Courtney

The king and queen of grunge will officially never be out of style, and I don't know about you, but I will personally never stop having a star crush on Kurt Cobain. Plus, with the 90s fashion overload from the past few years, you've definitely got some of these pieces already in your closet.

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kurt:  sunglasses  |  shoes  |  jeans  |  shirt  |  tee  |  cardigan

courtney:  dress  |  coat  |  shoes  |  lipstick  |  tiara  |  bag  |  tights

 

5. JFK and Jackie (or Marilyn)

According to Zach, JFK is "like the most stylish guy ever." Who knew, right? And according to Mad Men, every woman is either a Jackie or a Marilyn. So I say pick your alter ego, brush your guy's hair back (or grab a wig), and whichever girl is your go-to, you can step out as some of the most classically fashionable people in American history.

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jfk:  shirt  |  tie  |  pin  |  shoes  |  jacket  |  pants

jackie:  hat  |  necklace  |  earrings  |  shoes  |  suit  |  sunglasses  |  gloves  |  bag

marilyn:  earrings  |  gloves  |  bracelet 1  |  bracelet 2  |  necklace  |  bag  |  shoes  |  fur  |  dress

   

So Zach was obviously thinking in terms of me and him here, but what if you're in a same sex couple or going out with friends? Well, if you still need a few more ideas, I loved this A League of Their Own duo, thought Ace and Gary was a pretty hilarious idea, and why not just go ahead and be the whole Bad Blood squad?

 

Are you dressing up this weekend? Fill me in on all the details in the comments!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 11: The Music Buff

If you happen to be of the Christmas-celebrating variety, you officially have 5 shopping days left (6 if you're a brave the mall on Christmas Eve kind of person). But even though it's getting down to the wire, all hope is definitely not lost for anyone left on your shopping list. I myself still have one hard-to-shop-for recipient, but luckily so many companies are able to expedite shipping that you can still order virtually anything your heart desires and get it by the 24th. And if what you're looking for is a gift for that music-loving, crowd-surfing audiophile in your life, today I've got the goods!...

 

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So what do you think? Any of these gifts melting your face off? Shout it out in the comments!

 

And stay tuned, because I'm hitting you with a double dose of gift guides today. I've got a glam party-packed list coming soon!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 10: The Prepster

The holiday prep timeline has officially turned the corner and is quickly heading into full-on frantic territory. I hope for sanity's sake that you're where you intended to be at this stage in the game. But in case you're not, today's gift guide will hopefully help you out a little. Though the prepster style is a far cry from my own, I love these gifts because I think they work for so many different ages and also make great hostess gifts. And when in doubt, monogram it! All of it. :)

 

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I really love those cocktail napkins! What about you? Any favorites?

And don't give up on me just yet! I'll be tying up the 12 days with a gift guide for the music lover and the party animal, which will be loaded with NYE inspiration. Coming soon to a blog near you!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 9: The Artist

I'm hoping for the sake of sanity that you're pretty far along with your holiday shopping at this point. If you're not, however, don't scramble for the panic button just yet. I've got a few more gift ideas coming your way and today it's all about the artist. I think it's so much fun to shop for people who really appreciate art and design, and I kind of took that idea and ran with it! Check out my favorite artsy finds...  

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If you have any favorites, feel free to share them in the comments section! :)

And maybe you've got some classic prepsters on your list with absolutely no idea of what get for them? Well hold tight, ol' sport! Tomorrow I've got you covered.

Until then!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 8: The Old Soul

This gift guide is right up my alley. Whether we're talking about my favorite vintage earrings or the costumes in a period film, I've always loved anything that is of a different era. If you have a couple of like-minded old souls on your shopping list and still have no idea what to get them, here are a few of my favorite vintage-esque gift ideas. Enjoy!...  

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I'll take one of everything here, please.

 

And dear readers take note: the 12 Days train isn't making a stop anytime soon! I've got awesome gifts for the artist coming your way, so stay tuned! :)

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 7: The Athlete

A true fitness fiend can never have enough equipment and gadgets to support their healthy habits. So why not be a true enabler by gifting them with some of the best gear this season? Whether you're shopping for a gym rat or just your friend who hates to change out of their yoga pants (who said that?), here are some of my favorite stay fit gifts...  

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Have a fitness find that would make a great gift? Feel free to share it in the comments!

 

And if you have a vintage-loving old soul on your list, make sure to check back tomorrow for my favorite gift guide of all!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 6: The Homebody

Ooh, I looooove today's gift guides so much I feel cozy just looking at them! One of my favorite things ever is the moment in my day when I change from my normal human shoes to my ridiculous furry slippers and crawl under a blanket. I love it so much that the second I transform into my "inside" persona, I can literally feel my brain switch to its happiest place. And the funny thing about it all is that as much as I love being in this comfort zone, my lounge clothes are some of the rattiest specimens the world will never see. I think when you're trying to stay on a budget, it's just too hard to rationalize spending on things like eye masks or bath truffles when they certainly can't be considered necessities. That's why I'm crazy about the idea of giving really luxe comfort items as gifts. They're so relaxing and yet also entirely indulgent, and really isn't that exactly what a great gift should be?  

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So now I really need to know, would you ever buy your guy a onesie? I'm voting yes, if only for my own comedic entertainment. Tell me what you think in the comments!

And tomorrow we're switching gears and talking gift ideas for the athletes, so don't miss it!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 5: The Animal Lover

Have you ever seen that e-card that says something like, "My favorite thing about people is their pets"? Well, I've got a few people on my shopping list that would 100% side with the e-card in the whole people v. animals dispute. And if you do, too, you're in luck because today I have some awesome gift ideas for pets and proud pet owners alike. Let's dig in!...  

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I'm no animal expert myself, but I do hope you were able to get some good ideas from these gift guides. And if you have any favorites, please share with me in the comments section! :)

Still need some more gift ideas? Hey, girl, gifters gotta gift. That's why I've got you covered, and in the next 24 hours I'll be hitting you with the coziest, most comfortable gift guide around.

Until then!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 4: The Entertainer

Today's gift guide is all about the hosts and hostesses who know how to have the perfect dinner party, who make holidays like arbor day an all out fête, and who, overall, just make your life a whole lot more fun. Here are some of my favorite gift ideas to thank the people in your life who help make every day worth celebrating!  

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I'm OBSESSED with those snakeskin s'mores- they'd make a great gift for just about anyone! What's your favorite host/hostess gift idea?

 

Check back in tomorrow to see my top picks for animal lovers!

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The 12 Days of Holiday Gift Guides... Day 3: The Techie

Tech-savvy friends can be difficult to shop for, because it takes a lot to keep up with their ever-growing list of gadgets. And I admit, this area of shopping can be a bit tricky for me, too. So I've scoured expert gift guides to put together some of the newest, most stylish tech goodies on the market this year. Here are some of my faves that your techie is sure to love.  

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Aren't some of these just completely amazing? I love seeing the crazy new things the geniuses of the world invent every year. Like that amazing smart ring, that looks like a cocktail ring but will glow or vibrate to alert you of the incoming notifications you choose. So you can put your phone out of sight at events, but still get those important updates from your boss/sitter/whoever you choose. Or how about the 3D printing pen? I still can't believe things like 3D printing not only exist, but are accessible for the masses. It blows my mind!

What are your favorites? Make sure to share them in the comments section.

And stay tuned for tomorrow, because I've got gifts for the hosts with the most in your life!

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