Books I’ve Read: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


Hello again! I have lapsed once more in posting, but alas, I have finally finished another book. Since probably around the time I posted last (January… ahem), I’ve been working on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It’s not a particularly long book, the font is fairly large in size, and it’s quite a casual read. I just have been cramming all kinds of things in and was reading slowly. Like one chapter a week on average slowly. Which is very slow for me.

The Happiness ProjectSome of you may recall that I’ve also been listening to podcasts which include Ms. Rubin’s Happier. So when I walked into work and saw The Happiness Project on our communal bookshelf, it was a no-brainer; I had to pick it up.

Happiness is such a buzzword lately, and there are so many different strategies to get there. Some say to focus on gratefulness, others say to drop all but your passion, and some say to just hang out with people more and invest in experiences. And Gretchen Rubin tried all of them. Over the course of a year, she charted myriad resolutions she pinpointed– through an unfathomable amount of research– that were supposed to make a person happier. She established rules, discovered secrets and truths, and found out a great deal about herself as she worked her way through this very disciplined endeavor. It was awe-inspiring.

It was also a bit daunting. The discipline required to do what she did has felt so far out of my reach since I graduated high school. The only thing I do on a daily basis is make myself a cup of coffee before work. And maybe (definitely) spend way too much time scrolling through Facebook. Endeavoring on a project with charts and gold stars and things just… so far out of my capabilities.

The nice thing is that none of the things she was working on were very big at all. She did not take a year off to travel the world, she didn’t quit her high-paying elite job to chase a passion into an uncertain future (she actually did… but not during this whole project). Instead, her happiness project consisted of small things like not nagging, clearing clutter, and embracing silliness. All of these things have been shown to increase happiness.

This all may seem too good to be true, but I can attest to the strategy behind it all, which is really “cultivating an atmosphere of growth.” As I mentioned in a previous post— and likely as demonstrated through the books I’ve been blogging about– I’ve really been focusing on improvement in a variety of areas. From health and wellness to professional development, I’ve been learning and expanding my experience. And I have to say that I really do feel happier than I have in quite some time.

Perhaps my favorite part is all the references Ms. Rubin provides. From classical poetry through to modern scientific studies, the resources for happiness theories seems endless and encouraging. The variety implies that there truly is a way for anyone to be happier, and that makes the concept all the more powerful. And not only does she provide all of her research, she’s also established her own resources like the podcast, a website with an example happiness chart, and even app, which I most definitely did not ( totally did– https://www.betterapp.us/share/1vV2QpTIckPnJBk-) download.

So of course, the question is would I recommend this book? My answer to that is that I’m going to be returning it to our communal bookshelf to pick up another of her books on the four personality tendencies (she talks about these in The Happiness Project; the next one is aptly titled The Four Tendencies, so keep an eye out for a blog on that in the near future).

Get happy, my friends.

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2018 Thus Far


We’re about a month into a new year now, so I figured it was safe to write about it without being cliche. As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted a book blog in a minute, but I hope you’ll understand why.

I feel like I’m in a period of major self-improvement. The books I was reading and reviewing were part of that, and they’ve really started to have an impact on my mentality and even some of my habits (though I can’t quite kick the snooze button habit in the morning… I’m going to really buckle down on that one at some point). Here’s what I’ve been doing lately.

Volunteering

I got involved about 2 years ago with a program in Cleveland called Seeds of Literacy, which is an adult literacy program helping people get their GED. In the Cleveland area, the functional illiteracy rate is 66%, meaning math, reading, and/or language skills are below a 4th-grade level. When I first heard this statistic, I was dumbfounded, and I wanted to do something. So one or two evenings a week, I go to their east side location, I sit down with adult learners, and I help them help themselves to a better life. It’s truly inspiring watching people gain skills that will open up the world to them. I had to stop going for a bit due to job changes and scheduling conflicts, but back in September, I decided it was time to get back in it. I’m so glad that I did. I invite everyone to check them out, whether as a volunteer or donor or to point someone who could use their services in the right direction.

Learning

Along with the books I’ve blogged about here, and future ones which will be up soon (I hope), I’ve been taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College. It’s been a slow process, as I have to find the time and money to be able to further my own education, but I think this is going to be a great semester. I’m looking forward to finishing up an associates degree with a focus on business by the end of the year (but don’t quote me on the time frame… life happens). This will hopefully put me on the path to some of my larger goals, which I’ll talk more about at a later date.

I’ve also been listening to podcasts, which I never thought would interest me; I hate talk radio and talk shows and all that kind of stuff. But I now have about 5 on rotation, two of which I listen to almost daily if I can.  I started with a podcast called Lore, which explores the origins of urban legends and creature tales. I find it fascinating, and the author/narrator Aaron Mahnke does a wonderful job of telling the story without judging the origins. In fact, he lays it out in such a way that it’s completely understandable how some of these outlandish ideas came to life. I’ve listened to similar podcasts since where the narrator was much more condescending to the originating cultures and peoples, so this was a wonderful first find.

The other one I’ve been listening to is Happier with Gretchen Rubin. This one may be a little more on the popular radar, as she is a bestselling author and quite a prominent figure on LinkedIn and the like. She and her sister dole out tips and exercises for living a happier, more fulfilling life, and avoiding negativity and bad habits. I’ve been trying to incorporate more of these kinds of activities into my own routines, and I’ve noticed a significant difference. If I could just work on the snooze button which Ms. Rubin protests vehemently almost every episode, I think I could achieve that much more.

Being Healthy

This one was somewhat prompted by the Biggest Loser competition we’re having at work, but it’s definitely an improvement over where I was. When I started this job, I was faced with an issue I’ve never really had: a sedentary work environment. All of my other jobs have had me on my feet– bowling alleys, food service, and of course, running around Cedar Point. Property management has me sitting in front of a computer all day every day, and it was really taking a toll on my physique. So in recent weeks, I’ve taken to focusing more on my eating habits, incorporating healthier food choices and also eating smaller portions. I’ve also been combining this with more gym time (though I’ve slowed down a bit the past week or two… 4 times a week was a little much after no gym time in weeks). My boss has also offered the opportunity to try out some really cool classes through Fitworks, such as kickboxing and a yoga/pilates combo. I never realized how out of shape I was until I started going to these classes with her. But it’s been such an amazing transformation. Combined with a new fitness tracker, I’ve been on a roll to a healthier me. I want to be able to keep this up more than anything.

Networking

I’ve been on a professional development kick as of late as well, brought on by both the realization of what I’d like to do with my professional life and a promotion. I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn reading all kinds of articles about business trends, company habits and tips for employee and customer engagement, etc. I’ve been requesting to connect with people in my intended industry to hopefully pick their brains about how to do what they do, and I’ve also been connecting with other professionals through an app called Shapr. You swipe through a few profiles of professionals every day, and if they want to connect too, then you can make plans to meet up or just message about your goals and how you can help each other. I will say that I’ve met a number of people in the network marketing industry, which I’m not so sure about just yet. But I’ve also connected with CEOs and traditional entrepreneurs with great ideas and insight. I recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to expand your network.

So this is where I’ve been in my absence from the WordPress universe. If you have any recommendations on things I should try next or any questions on the things mentioned in this post, just let me know in the comments. And keep an eye out for another book blog in the coming weeks. Cheers to a dynamic 2018!

Books I’ve Read: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


I feel like I’m going through a quarter-life crisis at the moment. Confused about my goals and purpose in life, flying by the seat of my pants into most things, juggling work and relationships and school and hoping to somehow throw gym time and cooking time and the ever elusive good night’s sleep into the mix. It’s fun.

I’m thinking more and more that this is why I’ve suddenly changed direction with my reading habits. Where I used to get lost in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, I’m not getting lost in The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. I’m looking for something, and I’m not quite sure what.

The Power of HabitMost recently, I picked up The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and found that to be rather intriguing. I found it fascinating how well it meshed with my last read, Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, with a number of similar themes though they were often applied to different spheres. However, the concepts in each could certainly be used to better oneself, career, or business. The Power of Habit is especially well suited to this, going a little deeper into why strategies that were also presented in Uncommon Service can be so effective.

I liked the anecdotal quality of Habit, with plenty of real-world examples of how cues, routines, and rewards drive anything and everything, from personal bad habits up to toxic corporate culture. I like that it demonstrates how those habits can be changed. It definitely helped that there’s was a decent amount of scientific research to support these ideas as well. The development of Febreze, the renewed success of two football teams under Tony Dungee, and a complete overhaul of an international company’s culture all came down to small habits, minute changes in routines and rewards that are triggered by a cue. These are just a few of the more impressive and recognizable stories about the power that habit has over our lives.

Would I recommend it? I think this is a great read, especially if you’re looking to change something in your life– getting healthy, eliminating vices, improving productivity, etc. It’s easy to get through and has some neat tips on identifying and adjusting habits. Definitely a good read.

 

 

Books I’ve Read: Brave New World Revisited


I first read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as a junior in high school. I was the only person in my class who absolutely loved it. I thought everything about it was fascinating. This was a world where everything we had ever learned to be taboo was completely acceptable and even encouraged– sex, drugs, designer babies, and mass discrimination, all under governmental control. I was floored. And I was extremely disappointed when we had to write a paper on Lord of the Flies instead. Yes, yes, the conch is a symbol of innocence and when it breaks, it signifies that their innocence has been lost. Groundbreaking.

I did enjoy reading the latter novel, but something about Huxley’s dystopia has stuck with me all these years. Occasionally, I’ll read an article about a scientific breakthrough or global leadership and see a scene from Brave New World in my mind. Talk about doing your job well.

But this isn’t about the original story, it’s about the author’s reflections decades later on if and how any parts of his creation are coming true. I saw it in a bookstore, Brave New World Revisited, and just had to buy it. After sitting on my shelf for a couple years, I’ve finally gotten through it. And once again, I am floored.

In Revisited, Huxley talks a great deal about dictatorships, propaganda, and controlling the population, themes that were laid on heavy in his novel. With these reflections, he has now seen the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Hitler and Mussolini as well as other dictators, and two World Wars; a second “police action” in full swing and civil unrest over Vietnam; and culture changing drastically with the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of “hippie culture” (in this case meaning drugs), and tremendous technological and medical advances– including birth control. Many parts of this landscape are the same factors that lead to the disturbing society of Brave New World.

This short but very heavy read is frighteningly relevant even today. More than anything, his analysis of how dictators (though really anyone in power or who would like to be) utilize media and language to gain, inspire, and mobilize followers against a perceived enemy makes me look at the current socio-political climate of the United States and shudder. Something written five decades ago with Adolf Hitler as the poster child for population manipulation should not be a reflection of current events, but as it stands in my eyes, this is the case.

I enjoyed reading how the author perceived his vision to be right or wrong, and the ways he worked in various philosophical and scientific ideas to support his analyses. More than anything, I was intrigued and a little scared at how science fiction of the past is slowly morphing into our present and future. There are definitely times where I wish we would consider the fiction of yesterday a warning against tomorrow. But alas, we do not seem to make the connection.

Would I recommend this book? On its own, likely not. But if you start with the novel, the essay is brilliant.

 

An Ode To My First


We always remember firsts. And my dear, you were wonderful.

The late night drives. The road trips. The moves. The karaoke sessions. You were fantastic through them all. We traveled so well together. You got along so well with my friends. You pulled me through some tricky situations. I didn’t always treat you the best; there were things I could have done so much differently. I know this now, and you have taught me how to do better as I go forward.

Many told me you weren’t worth it, I was putting too much time and money into you. But to me, you were everything. “You can do so much better,” they said, not knowing that in that moment you were what I needed, you gave me the ability and confidence to do so much, and I loved you. I couldn’t do better then because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to give you up, and I wasn’t prepared for better. I kept you until the time was right, and then we parted ways.

There were tears. It was hard. I still wasn’t ready emotionally; I wanted to keep you forever. But I was at the point that I needed to let you go. I had gotten all I could out of you, and though I know we could have stayed together longer if I had taken better care of what we had, it was time. We both needed to move on, you to someone else who you could help, who might treat you better, and me to something new, something practical instead of emotional, something else I needed to learn.

This new fling may offer more, may be less used and abused by the world, may be better suited for who I am now and last longer, but you were perfect for who I was then, and you will always hold a place in my heart as my first.

I will always love you, my beloved 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe. I miss you already. Thank you for all you helped me accomplish as my first car.

Books I’ve Read: You Are A Badass


I have been in a funk recently. Okay, probably for a while now. School, work, relationships, money, FOMO (that’s fear of missing out for those out of the loop), and so many other stressors have really impacted my mental state and my self-confidence. There’s been a lot of crying, anger, sadness, and stagnation.

I finally reached out to a counselor, and talking through some of the things I’ve been feeling has been helpful. But I’m definitely more of an introvert, and much more into helping myself where I can. So lately, I’ve been supplementing those sessions with various self-help methods– exercising and eating better, reading countless books and articles, attempting meditation and yoga, and exploring several spiritual paths (with little success, unfortunately).

I really feel like self-help gets a bad rap. Which is so confusing, because so does going to therapy or taking medication. There’s this stigma about mental health and stress, and EVERYONE has some sort of mental health issues at some point, yet we act like no one should. I’m convinced that even the most zen Buddhist monk has some stress at some point after they decide on that path. They just found a way to help themselves handle it. We here in the West are not good at that part, even though we’re great at creating the stress.

I decided to ignore all the judgment around self-help books and picked up You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. And I loved it. It’s a little out there, but it’s very real. It doesn’t read like the books that likely gave self-help the stigma in the first place. Yes, she uses profanity. But she does it in such a way that it sounds like your enlightened friend walking you through a break-up or getting laid off or amping you up for a job you really want but are absolutely terrified of going for. Stress can come from positive events too.

So what does she talk about? There are three big themes throughout the book.

She starts with the phrase “raising your frequency.” The first thing I thought when I read that was that I was getting self-help from a hippie yogi– not totally inaccurate. But this mystical phrase is merely a way of saying that positive people attract other positive people and things, whereas negative people attract negative.  A low-frequency person is just going through the motions, blaming the universe or others for the negativity in their life, and not doing what they want or what makes them happy. A high-frequency person is doing things to better themselves, engaging in activities that they enjoy and interacting with positive people, and understanding that life really is all about what you make it, that the only thing working against you is you. To feel better about yourself and get what you want out of life, you have to raise your frequency.

The second big theme is trusting The Universe. Again, some esoteric mysterious mumbo-jumbo– but it isn’t. What she’s advocating is pretty common in many religions, whether it be Buddhism, Wiccan, or Christianity. The Universe can refer to any number of things depending on your belief system. For instance, in the Christian system, this is the same thing as handing it over to God, praying over it and waiting for him to give you a sign or make it happen. Sincero advocates getting in touch with The Universe through meditation or prayer, really just sitting quietly and opening ourselves up to words from God or hints from our subconscious or whatever it is that we experience when we empty our minds of to-do lists and bank account figures and social media drama. This allows us to more easily surrender to forces that we cannot control. When we try to control every little detail, it becomes counter-productive to getting what we want.  It’s subscription to the belief that The Universe/God/your deity or driving force helps those who helps themselves. Take steps to reach your goal, but trust that there are things out of you control and that by doing what you have to, what you want will manifest itself.

The third and most prevalent theme is simply love yourself. Perhaps the most self-helpish phrase in the book, but ridiculously important. You can’t have a high frequency if you tear yourself down. You can’t do what’s necessary to let The Universe know you want something if you’re constantly thinking of all the reasons why you aren’t capable or deserving of a better job, a quality partner, a new car. We are not perfect, but dwelling on our flaws is such a disservice. We have so much power, and all we have to do is open up our eyes to how awesome we are to start using some of it. Let’s be honest. We are all pretty badass.

I reflect on many of the points Sincero discusses on a daily basis. I’ve started “meditating,” really just lying in bed at night or sitting if I feel so inclined, and focusing either on nothingness or on a specific goal. I fall asleep so much more easily, and I feel more focused the next day. I’ve reached out to people who are so much better than me at the whole “trusting The Universe” thing, and people who are very positive and doing their part to help themselves; it’s easy to see exactly how The Universe has helped them. It’s helped me to take steps toward letting go of control on things I really have no control over in the first place. I’ve got a long way to go, but I love what I got out of this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely.

America Is Not Free.


I am a patriot. I love living under the Red, White, and Blue. I love patriotic marches and songs. I tear up at the great things America has been and done. I am grateful to the soldiers that sacrifice so much. I’m proud of the ideals and the opportunities and the liberties that we have represented to the world for so long.

That’s why it’s hurting so bad to be an American right now.

We loudly proclaim to be the land of freedom and opportunity, equality and diversity. Then what do we do? We call for illogical limitations or deregulations that end up hurting more than helping. We demand closed borders  and the deportation of “foreigners” and refuse to fund programs that aid and better our society. We want to unite as Elitist Patriarchical Vanilla Believers who don’t want to help anyone who can’t/won’t help themselves or don’t fit into the mold we’ve created. We claim this to be the vision of our founding fathers but we’ve twisted and corrupted it seemingly beyond repair.

We have liberties we can take advantage of. But we are not free.

Freedom would be a government and society that allowed everyone the complete control of our own bodies, free from criminalization or judgement of how it’s used or packaged. Freedom would be understanding, compassion, and respect for all human life, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexuality, education, or economic status. Freedom would be a system of green, sustainable practices which helped rather than harmed the planet. Freedom would be complete affordable access to education, healthcare, housing, and food and water for everyone. Freedom would be equal rights and opportunities and pay across all spectrums. Freedom would be the combination of empathy and knowledge in coming up with solutions rather than governing with greed and personal bias and reintroducing or creating more problems. Freedom is living completely without fear of discrimination, starvation, bankruptcy, homelessness, disease, violence, incarceration, or limitation.

True and complete freedom is Utopia, Eden before the Fall, the Marxist doctrine on paper, a post-apocolyptic society that has actually learned from the past, perfection that can never truly be reached.

But we could at least try. We could attempt to do what is right not from a religious or economic standpoint, but from a humanistic one. We could take care of people rather than criminilizing, marginalizing, or dehumanizing them. We could put our money toward better education, better health care, a better food industry, more renewable resources, and redistribute the wealth. Do we really need to spend billions of dollars on weapons and debates that lead nowhere, or worse, backwards? Is it really wise and equitable in the grand scheme of things to have resources and power controlled by such a small group as they are right now?

Call me a liberal, a dreamer, a hippie, delusional, blasphemous, whatever. But I think we can do better– at this point, that shouldn’t be surprising.

So tell me. What’s stopping us from being the America we were originally supposed to be? Why are we stopping ourselves from truly being the land of the free?