September 29, 2011

Maybe I'll Move to Bhutan

...Okay, not really, but it's an interesting thought.

Bhutan is dwarfed by China and India, to be sure
Remember back in my first post when I mentioned I sometimes fill my head with thoughts of the happiness situation in Bhutan? That wasn't a joke, I really do think about the relatively small country in the heart of the eastern world.

A while ago, I was watching a video on, my favorite source for fascinating videos and new ideas, and I couldn't help but smile when Chip Conley began speaking about the little plot of land full of Buddhist monks and beautiful views.

Back in the 1970s, a teenage king, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, came up with a rather revolutionary idea for measuring a country's success: why not measure success in gross national happiness as opposed to gross domestic product or some such other material measurement. This is no easy task, of course, because how does one go about measuring happiness? It's such a subjective topic, so defining happiness and what creates it can be difficult.

Think about it, though, what does really matter in life? Is it the fancy new car, or is it perhaps the cute little girl sitting in the back seat singing along to her favorite Sesame Street song? Is it the mansion on a hill, or is it the beautiful family you've built who lives in it?

Me? I'd take the family and love over a new car and huge home any day. After all, what good are those things when you have no one to share them with?

This is a photo of a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan...
That's a view I could handle every morning!
In the video, Conley mentions an author who suggests happiness is the difference between having what you want, and wanting what you have. I love this. Try asking a child where they see themselves when they're grown up. What do they typically say?  "I want to be an astronaut, and I will be married and have lots of kids." They don't usually say, "I will be a senior accountant making lots of money so I can buy myself an iPad and end up divorcing my husband (or wife), then engaging in a nasty custody battle over our kids who drop their expensive toys all over the house."

Ok, maybe I took that a little far, and I'm certainly not suggesting that all senior accountants feel that way or that everyone ends up in such a rut, but how often do you hear of that situation these days? 

It's certainly interesting that the GDP takes into account how many nuclear warheads a country has as well as air pollution and TV shows that glorify violence, but doesn't account for the integrity of our public officials, health of our children, or the strength of our marriages. Do you think that's a little off? I do.

So maybe I'll move to Bhutan, or at least dream about it. Here's to happiness, may we all end each day with a smile. 

September 27, 2011

Good News, Coffe Lovers!

It's no secret that one of my biggest weaknesses in life is coffee, so it's no surprise that I love finding studies that show the many benefits of caffiene.

Today's research comes from the Archives of Internal Medicine, and shows a correlation between drinking coffee and lower rates of depression among women.

Here's where the psychology enthusiast in me would like to make a quick interruption: please, please take research the media reports with a grain of salt. Journalists tend not to accurately report the implications of results because of the way they are written. There is a very big difference between cause-and-effect relationships and correlational relationships. Cause-and-effect relationships are so very rare, but there are often strong links. End rant.

I'm sure you can imagine the internal happiness dance I did while reading the article by BBC News this morning. It appears that women who drank one cup of coffee a day showed a "15% decreased risk of developing depression."  Granted, other factors may be at work here, such as getting more sleep (caffiene is a stimulant, so consuming it may prevent quality sleep),  but it's an interesting result nonetheless.  It's hard to control for other variables here, such as amount of sleep, family crises, emergencies, economic concerns, etc., which could contribute to depression rates. However, I'll take this added reason to keep drinking my cup or two (sometimes three...) a day.

Combine that with other studies which have shown among coffee drinkers  lower suicide rates, lower incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight, and I'm ready to brew a pot (by the way, my favorite is hazelnut coffee...and yes, I go with Free Trade coffee. Paired with a bit of Divine dark chocolate, it's a delicious Free Trade party!)

Today is a day to rejoice, my dear fellow Coffee Lovers, now quit reading this and grab a good cup o' Joe!

September 25, 2011

My Island of Happiness

Sometimes people really bug me. I mean really, really bug me.

You see, I expect a certain amount of decency, respect, and courtesy from everyone. In return, I display the same when I encounter other people. If I'm having a bad day, I make a conscious effort not to snap at people, or treat them with anything but a smile,  no matter how much I'm stewing inside. Why? I believe that no matter what is irking me, it's really not their problem and I'm not going to force them into dealing with it by treating them poorly. Needless to say, when I see people engaging in rude, short, or temperamental behavior, I become irritated quickly.

Also, I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "there are no stupid questions." I am here to tell you that, yes, there are stupid questions. In fact, there are very stupid questions. Those bug me too. Such questions include, but are not limited to, questions which have been repeated several times, not for lack of understanding, but for lack of listening to the answer when it was originally offered. It not only suggests the disregard for courtesy as I previously mentioned, but it is really just not smart to blatantly display the fact that there was no courtesy by asking the question.

People who argue incessantly about things that have no right, wrong, or mutually agreed upon answer drive me crazy. Things like religion, politics, music choice, or really anything involving opinion will probably never be subjects with a general consensus of opinion by the human race, so please, for sanity's sake, stop arguing about it. Come to a compromise and drop it so that I don't have to hear about it. This means everyone will have to give a little, but in the end, agree to disagree or find the least objectionable option for all parties and let the rest of us have some peace and quiet.

I've been doing some thinking, and I've decided I'm going to run away. Far, far away. Specifically, I will be running away to a lovely tropical island that has not been placed on a map...all by myself. There will be no bridge to my island, and I will spend my days in peace, alllll by myself. Happy. So happy.

I will have no visitors. I'll come visit you. I can't have people knowing where to find me, after all. That defeats the purpose of my island, which primarily serves as an escape from the mindless babbling of the human race.

I will come off of my island only to refill supplies and possibly to work just long enough to save some money in order to purchase said supplies. Otherwise, I will be on my island indefinitely. And boy, will I be happy.

It's perfect.

September 22, 2011

Cleaning Casualties

A horrible, awful, terrifying thing has happened just now. You're lucky; you're the first to know.

I've just sustained my first injury from cleaning out my closet. I managed to chip a tooth.

How, one might ask, does someone manage to chip a tooth whilst cleaning out a closet? I remind you that I am incredibly, impressively accident prone. I constantly amaze myself at the odd injuries I bring upon myself, from a nasty concussion after running on a football field to a large gouge taken out of my leg during a "friendly" game of tag.

So here's the story. I had only just begun to clean this portion of my room when I decided a few things could fit on the top shelf. They happened to be posters from my college years that I intend on framing later (they're the classy, black and white photo types, so they'd work well in an entertainment room), but for now, they have been rolled up quite efficiently. I was fairly certain that I could maneuver the poster around a particularly large water bottle I received as a party favor from my senior prom in high school (I know, I really should get rid of that, huh?).

I had just begun to think I had secured the posters behind a few boxes (and the water bottle) when all of a sudden, CRASH! In a completely uncoordinated, bumbling moment, I knocked the water bottle from it's spot on the shelf and attempted (and failed miserably) to catch it using my elbows as my hands were still holding the posters in place. The bottle plunged down from the depths of my closet and found it's target: my two front teeth. I was left swearing (sorry, Mom!), gripping my mouth, and bleeding. Further investigation revealed it wasn't my lip that was bleeding as I had originally thought (though it was throbbing to the beat of my heart), it was, in fact, my gumline. 

A moment of panic ensued in which I had convinced myself my teeth were about to fall out, only a handful of years after my entirely embarrassing braces were removed. Thankfully, they did not fall out, though there is a small chip on one of my teeth near the gumline, which will probably go unfixed as it is apparently completely imperceptible to others (my sister didn't believe me, she thought I may have walked into a door...), but I will know, and oh how I will despair.

That's the last time I clean my closet. Or at least I'd like to think so.

September 20, 2011

Dancing Through Decades

Tara is on the far right.
This Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend the Grand Rapids Ballet Company's production of Company B, a WWII era-inspired ballet choreographed by Paul Taylor and featuring the music of The Andrews Sisters. My good friend Tara is a real, live ballerina, and she's an amazing one, at that. She's been dancing ever since I can remember, and she's the only one out of us that stuck with it all these years. I quit somewhere around age 5.

Erica, Tara, and I have been friends since
we were just little tykes.

I am by no means an expert in the art of ballet, but I thought the performance was fantastic. Granted, I've always been fascinated by WWII, and I have a thing for big band music, but I thoroughly enjoyed Company B and I think I would have even if I wasn't able to sing along with the music. The dancers were perfectly in sync and they made the twists and turns look effortless. Tara had a flirtatious solo for the song "Rum and Coca-Cola," in which she uses her feminine wiles to transfix the men far from home in Trinidad.  

The ballet was a far cry from our days of prancing around onstage with the Dancin' Fun program from the Flint Institute of Music when we were kids, but those of us who have been lucky enough to know Tara since those early days are so proud of how far she's come (she's even danced in China!). 

Congratulations, Tara, on a beautiful ballet!

Next on my list of things to see is the Nutcracker, my all-time favorite ballet and one that I try to see every year just before Christmas. We've got under 100 days to go, and I'm prepared to start celebrating Christmas now! Is anyone else a fan of ballet? What have you seen or what do you want to see??

September 16, 2011

A Little Inspiration

Easily one of my favorite icons is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I find her ability to remain ever-humble in a world where millions looked up to her, to be nothing less than saintly. I have been reading a few quotes by Mother Teresa each day, and I found one recently that stuck out to me as an ideal way to live life:

"Joy is very infectious. We will never know just how much good a simple smile can do. Be faithful in little things. Smile at one another. We must live beautifully."

A few things struck me as I read this particular passage. Notice how much emphasis she has placed on finding happiness through the simple things. She is consistent with this idea right down to her sentence structure, using just a few words in each sentence, but in such a way that the meaning is clear: our actions, however small, have a ripple effect. Why spread anger when it is so easy to simply smile?

I am just as guilty as the next person of sometimes letting my frustrations get the best of me. Heaven knows I have snapped at people who certainly did not deserve it when I was under stress. I believe it is fair to say this is one thing that is easier said than done at times, but the importance of common courtesies, as well as a simple smile is overwhelming. In fact, it can get you pretty far in life.

The view from the hotel parking lot--the whole town had
recently been destroyed by a tornado
A quick example: In May, Cameron and I were headed to a good friend's wedding in Arizona, which is a bit more than a stone's throw from my beloved Michigan. After driving all night and day, we landed in a tiny town at the end of Kansas, quite exhausted and unkempt after about 19 long hours of driving. The couple ahead of us was quite rude upon discovering that no, this hotel did not have presidential suites, as they had just rebuilt after a tornado wiped out the entire town not long ago. The woman at the front desk of the only hotel for at least 70 miles gave us the price of a room, which was a bit more than we had wanted to spend for a few hours' sleep. I thanked her for her help and Cameron and I quickly discussed whether we should bend the budget a little. The woman heard our situation, and offered to give us a discounted rate. We of course gladly accepted and thanked her profusely for her help. We ended up loving the experience we had there, right down to the Hot Pockets we ate for dinner from the local gas station since the restaurants had not yet been rebuilt.

Life's little lessons often stick with people, and I think that on that day we learned that simply by being kind, we were able to enjoy a great night's sleep in a state-of-the-art and green-friendly hotel, for less than we would have otherwise. It's a simplistic example, yes, but at the same time, it fits.

Regardless, I am very much enjoying this collection of Mother Teresa's quotes, and it has certainly helped give me a new appreciation for the world around me, even just a friendly smile. It really is the simple things, isn't it?

September 14, 2011

Beyond My Years

Recently, I came across a letter hidden in the back of my desk. It was a letter to myself that I had written at the end of elementary school as one of my last assignments. I received the letter in high school when my 5th grade teacher passed away after a battle with cancer. I had been so surprised that she had kept the letters, but then, I wasn't surprised at all.

When we wrote the letters, she told us she would mail them to us when we were in high school, so that we wouldn't forget who we were as kids. I should have known that of all the people to follow through on their word, it would be her. My teacher was an incredible woman with the patience of a saint, and I am so grateful for the words she left with me, not least of all being the small note she had attached, reading, "Elizabeth-a quiet, thoughtful girl with a gentle spirit..." along with a few other memories from our class. I only hope if she were here today, she would think the same of me.

After a few moments of reflection on her class and my childhood, I opened the letter and began to read. It was all I could do not to laugh. The letter began with this:

"Dear Elizabeth,
I hope you are doing well. I hope you are happy. Are you behaving? Are you doing drugs? If you are, you should stop. They are very bad for you. Be nice to your sister. I hope you are getting good grades..."

Wow. I must have had some really high hopes for myself as a high schooler. It's nice to know my 10-year-old self didn't have much confidence in my future character.

Granted, since I was young, I was always accused of being "motherly" for my age. I acted as a miniature mom to kids who were crying in preschool, bringing them tissues and giving them hugs (or so I'm told; I don't remember this). After my sister was born, I was convinced I knew exactly how my mother should be raising her, and I shared my opinions on her upbringing freely. (Disclaimer: my mom has always been an amazing parent to my sister and I--as has my dad-- and always made us feel loved and cherished) I'm not sure why I felt I knew better than they did how to be a parent.

Regardless, I'm happy to report that, no, I am not doing drugs, nor have I ever. Oh, and yes, I am aware of the dangers of drugs. I managed to keep my grades up, even though math has always been my enemy. I don't have much hope with physics either. I am happy, thank you very much, and other than my old lady knee that creaks when I go up a set of stairs, I am doing well.

September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Today, please take a moment to reflect on those who passed on this day ten years ago.

Many communities have organized memorials and many police and fire stations have acquired a piece of the Trade Center to display. Check your local newspaper or online local news to find out if your community has anything planned to remember the day.

I'll be spending the day surrounded by family and those I love. Life is fleeting, as we saw so obviously on September 11, 2001. I plan on reminding everyone how much they mean to me, because we are never promised tomorrow, we only have the present. In my family, we make an effort to always say, "I love you" before we leave, and hugs are plentiful. I encourage you to do the same, because life can be taken so quickly, and there is no more obvious reminder of that than the gaping hole left in the hearts of Americans, indeed the world, ten years ago. That wound has never and probably will never completely heal, but those affected have memories to get them through. I, for one, want to always leave a positive memory.

To read my story of September 11, click here.

Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind." - Winston Churchill

If you'd like, please share your 9/11 story below. I believe that as Americans, but more generally as supporters of a peaceful, compassionate humanity, we are all connected by that day. Together we mourned, watched in disbelief, and together, we have begun to rise above the ashes of the Trade Center once more.

September 10, 2011

Oh, But The Leaves

I have an announcement.

It's hugely exciting.

Are you ready??

The leaves are turning color!!! I love this time of year. It's beautiful here in Michigan during the autumn months, and even more exciting is the fact that fall means winter is just around the corner, and do you know what that means? Christmas. I love absolutely everything about Christmas. The lights, the music, the gently falling snow glistening under the street lamps, the hot cocoa by the Christmas tree..everything.

My boyfriend took this photo on Michigan State
University's campus last year--beautiful!
I'm getting ahead of myself. Fall. As a kid, I looked forward to packing up all my new school supplies, unpacking, and then repacking them and heading off to school in the morning. Fall also meant my birthday had arrived (even though now it means I'm getting older, apparently), and that provided an excitement all its own. Plus, what's more fun as a kid than raking up the leaves into a huge pile and promptly throwing yourself into them, effectively destroying the newly raked lawn?

This year, fall meant a new beginning for me, in a way. It felt a little strange not packing up my possessions to move back into a cramped dorm room, but not doing so also began to solidify the thought that if I so choose, I could be done with school forever. Very strange feeling, indeed.

I'm officially not a student now, though I believe I will always be a student at heart. New things fascinate me, and I thoroughly enjoy soaking up the information contained between the binding of a brand new book. The amount of books I read increases tenfold as the weather turns cooler, I think. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than being surrounded by the beauty in nature with my nose in a book, curled up in a cozy blanket, and something warm to drink. Ah, perfection.

September 7, 2011

Another Year Older

Tuesday was my birthday, and what an interesting one it was.

You see, it began with a visit to the doctor's office, which is not exactly my idea of a good time on my birthday. I was there for a routine check-up, but decided to mention that lately I have been wheezing after some time on the treadmill. Odd, right?

After a breathing test (don't ask me the technical term) and an EKG, what did the doctor report? Perhaps I'm just getting older. Excuse me??OLDER?? I'm just into my 20s! I've only become a real adult in the last couple of years! How could that possibly be a real explanation? This is supposed to be the best shape I'll ever be in...and if this is what it's like...well, it's just not a good sign at all.

This came on the heels of an elementary student inquiring about my age, and responded with, "you're over halfway to 40!" Thanks, Kiddo, you know just what to say.

Later on, I was blessed to celebrate with my family and boyfriend after what seemed like the longest birthday I've had. They know me all too well, of course. From my boyfriend, I received a few essentials for my growing bar collection including new martini and shot glasses, as well as some handy tools to go with them.

My family gave me things dealing with Duchess Catherine (or Kate Middleton, as some still say). A new book and a magazine? Awesome.

All in all, it was a pretty good birthday, and I'm grateful to be surrounded by so many well-wishers. Honestly, I'm excited about what I can accomplish between now and my next birthday...even if it means I'm getting older.

September 3, 2011

Who's Ready For Football??

Shhh..What's that sound?

Some of favorite sounds of the fall, of course! College football season has officially begun, and the fans are out tailgating, and announcers are making cheesy comments. 

I am happy to report the Spartan victory over Youngstown State on Friday. Granted, Michigan State had it relatively easy playing the Division II school, but least we didn't suffer the same embarrassment as the University of Michigan in 2007 when they lost to Appalachian State. The only thing that would've been better is if Michigan had played Slippery Rock again and lost to them. Talk about karma.

My first game at the Big House with my boyfriend
and our good friend Chad!

Personally, I'm getting excited to see the Michigan vs. Michigan State game this year, especially after State's win last year. It was my first time at the Big House in Ann Arbor, and even though I'm not a Michigan fan, I will admit it was pretty cool, even though I did the unthinkable: I wore a Michigan shirt.

I promise it wasn't mine, I had to borrow it. I still maintain I did so for safety reasons since I would have been pretty outnumbered in MSU gear in the middle of the UM student section. Yikes!

We had awesome seats, too. We were on the Michigan 20-yard line, and only about 15 rows up. Can't get much better than that!

If you ever get the chance, even if you're not a Michigan fan, go to the Big House for a game. The atmosphere is incredible. There is so much energy from the fans (of course, the closer to the student section, the better!), and the approving roar coming from the stadium after each touchdown is overwhelmingly satisfying.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to perching in front of my T.V. with a bowl of popcorn on Saturdays (Yes, Mondays, too!), turning the volume up, and obsessively checking my Fantasy Football team's stats.

September 2, 2011

Lead With Responsibility

Recently, I read an article about members of Congress feeling that they don't receive enough pay.

Before I share my opinion on the matter, let's take a moment to remember that the members of Congress enjoy "$174,000 annual salary, generous health care and pensions, and perks for things like travel and mail."

I'm sorry, how many people enjoy those perks and benefits? Not many.

Let's talk about how many people live under the poverty line. According to the University of Michigan, that number was 14.3% of US citizens in 2009. Do the math. That's about 43 million in poverty. That doesn't include the number of people struggling to get by who live just above the poverty line. In 2010, 52 million people were without insurance.

Ok. Now tell me your insurance, pensions, and pay aren't quite enough.

It's called financial responsibility. If these Congressmen (and women) are living paycheck to paycheck as some claim to be, perhaps it's time to look at the mortgages, car payments, and credit card bills. Downsize, people. Heaven knows millions of Americans have had to do that in the last few years, especially.

For some, becoming a member of Congress meant a pay raise. What gives? How were you living before? Looks like it's time to go back to that lifestyle if you want to save up more money.

They have kids to put through college? So did my parents. I guarantee you they did not make that much money.  It's called student loans. I've got 'em, and so do millions of other twenty-somethings.

I'll admit I don't know their full stories, but honestly, I don't think this is the time for them to be asking for a pay raise. Remember that little thing called a default? That almost happened. Too soon, folks, too soon. Remember all those people who are unemployed? What about the people without power or homes because of hurricane Irene? Maybe it's the time to work on those issues.

After all, that's why they were elected, right? Too look out for our best interests? Hmmm...

Call me a cynic, but I'm a little annoyed at the irresponsibility of the government, and I suppose I don't have a lot of pity for them right now.

To read the original article click here.

What are your thoughts on the matter??
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