Month: July 2013

Happiness

Happiness has been on my mind a lot lately. This is partly because we’ve had quite a few changes in our household routine–new jobs, new schedules, hopes that weren’t fulfilled and unexpected happy surprises. All of the ups and downs and whoop-didn’t-see-that-one-comings of life can really put a wrench in my plans for how my life should be going, where I should be at, whether I’m measuring up at this point in my life. If things don’t go according to plan, I can feel unhappy.

There’s also the constant thought in the back of my head: is this the right path for me? Am I doing the right thing by skipping a traditional college degree and career path to pursue what I’d really love to do in life? Will that make me happy in the end–even if I don’t succeed? Will I be happier doing what seems like the safer route, or will I always wonder what might have been?

And then there’s just the day-to-day drag. I start my mornings by opening up my web browser to sort through e-mails and scan the news headlines, and there is always–without fail–something depressing waiting for me. Someone has died, there was an accident, the economy is tanking, etc. Dropping into some circles of acquaintances leads to more bad news; you know how some people just love to find the negative side of every situation in life, no matter how big or how small?

I need to remind myself of this all the time.
(image via Pinterest via ironystory.socialdoe.com)

One more thing got me thinking about my personal levels of happiness. Before I went on my vacation last month I received an sponsored post offer from a company that basically works to make people happier, through a combination of training coaches, community activities, quizzes, and more. You know there’s a serious lack of happiness in America when someone founds a whole company based around teaching people to be happy!

I browsed briefly through the company website and read a couple of blogger testimonials. Something about the whole enterprise bothered me, though I couldn’t say what. But since I was going on vacation and didn’t have time to take on another sponsored post, I filed it at the back of my mind and forgot about it.

Fast-forward to today, and there’s another e-mail from the company, once again inviting me to test out their product. I gave the site another once-over, still trying to figure out what felt so “off” about the whole thing. And finally it hit me:

Be happy
(image via Pinterest via dyingofcute.tumblr.com)

I don’t believe happiness is a goal to be reached through five-minute activities, quizzes, and group exercises. It’s not something you can study for and earn after a set period by completing a certain number of exercises and getting a high enough score. True, those might be good ways to help someone learn to think more positively or practice more positive life behaviors, but they’re not going to magically transport you to your destination, because happiness isn’t a stop at the end of the line. It’s something more subtle that evolves and ebbs over a lifetime.

I think there are lots of studies out there that show people are more or less happy if they do certain things, like hang out with large groups of friends or meditate on a regular basis. And if those things work for you, fantastic! Keep on keepin’ on. But trying to follow a set of guidelines to become a happier person is a hit-and-miss proposition. For some people, sitting alone at home with a pile of books might make them a much happier and more contented person than hitting the social scene. (*cough, raises hand, cough*) I don’t think shoehorning yourself into a twelve-step happiness program is a sure bet or even wise.

Why not? Because it turns happiness into one more chore, one more box on the to-do list, one more thing we need to achieve or have in order to be…happy. Do you see where I’m going with that thought? You can get so focused on achieving that elusive state of happiness and so stressed about getting there that you become profoundly unhappy.

(image via Pinterest)

Please understand, I’m not trying to knock the company or their mission. But the drive to be happier makes me think of the drive to become stress-free. There are lots of things that can reduce your stress levels, and I think they’re great and try to practice them often–yoga, self-pampering, drinking tea while listening to Enya and sniffing scented candles. But if I’m pushing myself through a scheduled list of “stress-relieving” activities, guess what–I usually end up more stressed than when I started. If I’m just going through the motions because I’m “supposed to”, I derive no benefit from them.

Happiness is a journey and a state of being. It’s a developed habit. That’s why it’s hard to teach: it’s a continual mindset. Because once you step away from the computer, or the support group, or whatever tool you’re using to make yourself “happier”–what do you have left? The term is real world application and without it, all those motivational slideshows count for moot. If you want to be happy, you have to be able to maintain that attitude toward each situation without being prompted, and I think you can only learn how to do that by…being.

Happiness involves learning to live in the moment–not in a distant memory or an as-yet-unfulfilled future–and embracing each small thing that brings you joy. Happiness is not a one-time task, it’s a life attitude. It’s not something that can be earned through a course, it’s an awareness that is cultivated through living. Other people can help you learn how to cultivate it but if you’re stressing out about checking off the “happiness to-do list” in the pursuit of happiness then you’re missing the point.

So true.
(image via Pinterest via bitsoftruth.blogspot.com)

Again: I’m not dissing the company. I think their product might help some people, and that’s cool. I just think it’s misunderstanding the nature of happiness and trying to conveniently box it up in a pretty package.  I think we want someone to tell us how to be happy because that’s much more concrete than accepting happiness as an evolving, shifting thing, and humans in general like concrete, solid, secure things.

Okay, so we’re all zen and happy now. What about when the s*** hits the fan? Who’s happy now?

(image via Pinterest via blog.zerodean.com)

That’s another thing about happiness: I don’t think you have to have a happy day every day of your life in order to be a happy person. For starters, that would be too easy and boring as hell, and boring things don’t make me happy. Also, it’s not realistic; not every day is sheets fresh out of the dryer and surprise cards and a cat snuggled up to me in the morning. Some days are piles of dirty laundry and unwanted bills and a cat puking on my clean work clothes. When I struggle to find happiness in my day or I start to wonder whether Ive made a mistake and I’m missing out on something better, I tell myself:

wisdom.
(image via Pinterest via classy-in-the-city.tumblr.com)

Sometimes you’ve just gotta curse at the cat, treat yourself to the double mocha so you don’t smack anyone, and accept that this day is shot–and then move on to the next, ready to have a better day. It’s fine to have a crappy day. Don’t pressure yourself to live every day full of magic and rainbows. I don’t know how many times someone has said that I seem unhappy and I’ve growled, “I am happy, dammit!” You can be happy overall and still have a bad day. It is allowed. Don’t let someone tell you otherwise.

There’s another thing: what makes us happy changes. I’ve realized this in my own life after being turned down for promotions or job transfers that, to be blunt, later turned out to be assignments from the depths of hell. You have no idea how thankful I am that those doors slammed shut when they did, even if I (bitterly) questioned it at the time. Was I unhappy then? Yes. Would I have been more unhappy if things had gone according to my plan? I think so, and I’m happier now that I encountered the “plot twists” that I did.

You can’t move on if you’re bogged down in the coulda-shoulda-wouldas. And I don’t think you can be truly happy if you’re constantly second-guessing what will make you happy! Will some of your decisions not work out, or some of the things you wanted not come to you? Yes, but that doesn’t mean your life and your happiness are wrecked. The less I worry about whether I’m doing the right things to be happy, the happier I am overall. It’s kind of cyclical.

I guess the point of this very long and rambling post is that I’ve finally realized two things about happiness:

  • First, that you can’t measure your happiness by another person’s benchmark, any more than you can by a dollar amount or a list of achievements. Define your own happiness! Letting go of the pressure to hurry up and be happy can be incredibly freeing!
  • Second, that happiness doesn’t mean constantly walking around with a smile plastered on your face. Some days are more happy and some are less so. Some are downright crappy. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed the game–tomorrow is a brand-new day.

Let’s stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be thrilled to bits with life. The more you try to get to that magical pinnacle where everything is rainbows and sunshine, the more disappointed and unhappy you’re going to be. Instead, accept happiness as an ongoing journey–a lesson learned by living, if you will–and revel in the small joys. Sometimes, they’re the most important.

remember this...
(image via Pinterest via inspirationisbliss.com)

And in case you’re wondering…no, I won’t be test-driving their happiness curriculum or blogging about it. I think I’m happy enough as I am. :)

 

Ten on Tuesday: Back to school and “baltering”

1. I am so excited that my sort-of/unofficial godsister starts high school this year–it means she’ll finally be out of uniforms and able to go shopping for back to school clothes! And you just know who’s going to be overseeing that operation.

annasophia-excited.gif

2. I’m sad that summer is nearly over already–where did the time go, anyway?!–but I won’t miss the summer heat.

3. You know what is awesome about fall though? Pumpkin donuts. I must find a way to veganize these.

4. Unfortunately, as we head into fall…I know that the long, long holiday season is right around the corner. Seriously, it seems to start on Labor Day now! I’m not ready for that nonsense yet.
5. After six months of watching, we finally finished all five seasons of Fringe. As strange as the last season was and as happy as I was to see how it all wrapped up, I’m still bummed that it’s over. You know it’s a great story when it’s hard to move on afterward.
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6. I don’t even know what this is, but it’s one of the few times someone has said “OMG watch this you’ll die laughing!!!!!!!!!” and I actually did indeed laugh out loud.

7. Look! There’s a word for what I do!

8. It kind of looks like this.

http://writergirlm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/rock-n-rolla-funny-dancing-o-300x127.gif

9. I’m trying so hard to be good and stick to a healthy diet but dammit, it’s so hard.

http://writergirlm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tumblr_m2l0tlEXI21r3e62yo1_500-300x164.gif

10. Finally…your music for the week.

Product review: Essence LE Floral Grunge Hair Dye Powder

After I picked up the Essence Floral Grunge blush (which I’ll be reviewing this week also), I went back and grabbed the hair dye powder that was also part of the display. Since these are limited edition items I wanted to get the reviews up this week in case you’re looking for these products, since they’re hard to find and you’ve got to snatch them up quickly!

The product: Essence Floral Grunge Hair Dye Powder; $3 at drugstores.

The claim: Rub on for a temporary dose of color; wash out with shampoo.

Ingredients: Polyester-3, talc, mica, synthetic fluorphlogopite, zinc stearate, dimethicone, zea mays (corn) starch, polymethyl methacrylate, methylparaben, propylparaben, red 6, yellow 7, orange 5, red 28.

Ingredient notes: Essence does not test on animals. This product is vegan. It does contain mostly synthetic ingredients and two kinds of parabens but since it’s not staying on the hair for long, that doesn’t concern me too much.

I tried it: You don’t get a ton of product in the pot–maybe enough for a few uses. The best way to use this is to comb out a section of hair to be striped, sprtiz with hairspray, rub the chalk into the hair, then spritz again with hairspray to set. Unfortunately, it’s very messy–the powder will get all over your work area and your clothes (you can kind of see the pink powder stains on my shirt in the below picture). The chalk rubs off on your fingers, too, which can make styling hair kind of messy. I pulled mine into a ponytail to minimize the mess.

As you can see in the above picture, the chalkiness is apparent and it’s difficult to get nice, even stripes. I think it would be easier on lighter hair, since you wouldn’t have to work so hard to make the color show up. Also, this color really doesn’t look good at all in my hair–it’s dyed such a deep shade of cherry that the coral stripes kind of look like an at-home highlighting kit disaster, as opposed to cute peachy stripes. In person they showed very orange against my hair!

I’ve linked here to a review of this hair dye powder by Serena of Beauty Lab (the blog is in Dutch, so you will need to use Google Translate if you want to read it in English). She tried out the hair dye powder on both blonde and medium brown hair, and had much better color results.  I wanted to include the link so you could see what the stripes look like on someone with lighter, non-red hair, since it really does look cute on those hair colors.

One last note: you’re going to need a lot of shampoo to fully get this out of your hair (I lathered up twice), but it doesn’t stain. I do recommend using a good hair conditioner afterward, since it seemed to be a bit drying.

My final thoughts: It’s a cool concept, it just doesn’t work out that well in real life. I wouldn’t mind putting a little work into it, but it makes such a mess that it just doesn’t seem worthwhile.

What’s in my…toothpaste? Product comparison (Tea Tree Therapy vs. Tom’s of Maine)

Today I have a slightly different post for you. At last week’s #greenchat with +Ana Green (follow her blog here or find her on Twitter), the topic was greenwashing. Loosely defined, greenwashing means that a product or company portrays themselves as very natural and “green” while in fact the products contain plenty of synthetic ingredients, harsh chemicals, etc.

It’s an interesting topic and one that I’ve tried to learn more about, since there are no regulations on how a company uses the terms “natural” or “organic” and the burden is really on the consumer to know what they’re buying. This means understanding the ingredients list on the product. I would be the first to admit that I’m still learning what all of those strange terms on my products really mean, and the #greenchat sent me off on a quest to unravel some of the more puzzling labels in my bathroom cabinet.

I was thinking of doing a little review on these two tubes of “natural” toothpaste we’ve been using anyway, and I thought I might as well compare the ingredients in the two at the same time (since a toothpaste review alone seems like a weird feature for a beauty blog!). If you’d like to see more posts like this one, let me know, and I will do some ingredient comparisons for shampoo, body wash, etc.

Here are the two toothpastes: Tea Tree Therapy Toothpaste with Baking Soda and Tom’s of Maine Whole Care with Fluoride. Tea Tree Therapy is an independent company; Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, which is not green and tests their products on animals. This might not seem like a big deal but if you’re trying to be very, very green, you’ll probably want to stay away from products owned by non-green giant corporations. Both of these products are vegan-friendly and claim to be “natural”, and they both retail for about $5, so let’s see how they compare. If an ingredient scores higher than a zero in the Skin Deep database for possible toxicity/allergens/other, I’ve listed the number (on a scale of one to ten).

Tea Tree Therapy lists the following ingredients for their toothpaste. This product contains no fluoride or artificial sweeteners:

  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • sorbitol — thickener/preservative that can actually have a laxative effect
  • water
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • sodium lauroyl sarcosinate (3) — a foaming, synthetic surfactant
  • flavor
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • titanium dioxide (1-3, depending on usage) — a nanoparticle used as a white pigment
  • melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil (1) — has antiseptic properties but can be an allergen/irritant
  • carum petroselinum (parsley) seed oil — freshens breath
  • helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil — natural cleanser

Tom’s of Maine lists the following ingredients:

  • sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.13% w/v fluoride ion) — fluoride was once used as an insecticide and still has poison warnings on it for over consumption. There is also debate over whether it really helps keep teeth clean and healthy.
  • glycerin — can “coat” teeth and prevent them from re-mineralizing, which can weaken them and cause issues with sensitivity and cavities
  • water
  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • xylitol — a “natural” sweetener that has been widely touted as helping to prevent cavities, but do you know how it’s typically sourced? From GMO corn. Surprised? So was I! It can be derived from birch bark, but it’s much cheaper to get it from GMO corn (of course), so if you don’t see a “non-GMO” label on the package it may be something you want to avoid. If you’d like more info, The Healthy Home Economist has an interesting blog post here talking about why xylitol is not quite as sweet as it seems.
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • spearmint leaf oil and other natural flavors
  • sodium lauryl sulfate (1-2 depending on use) — a foaming agent that can be corrosive and irritating
  • sodium bicarbonate —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • zinc citrate (3) — anti-plaque agent

It’s really interesting to see the difference between these two products. At first glance they both seem really similar, and the Tea Tree toothpaste isn’t 100% free of ingredients that could possibly cause an issue. (However, I don’t think any product is 100% free of such ingredients.) However, the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, which looks very natural, has fluoride, glycerin, xylitol, and a sulfate–not quite as “green” as it looks! That one kind of surprised me.

As far as performance, I don’t see much of a difference between the two. My teeth seem no whiter nor my breath fresher using the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. The Tea Tree Therapy does have a very strong taste but overall I would say it makes my mouth feel fresher. However, I did read that the presence of glycerin in toothpaste is what causes your teeth to feel gummy and I think that my teeth definitely feel less gummy and icky throughout the day with the Tea Tree toothpaste, as opposed to using a conventional paste. So that was kind of an interesting find!

My natural journey is obviously far from over, and I’m learning as I go, but I have to say that it’s really eye-opening to look up the individual ingredients and see what they are, where they come from, and what they do. (Time-consuming, yes, but so worth it!) I don’t know if I’ll buy the Tea Tree Therapy paste again but I probably won’t repurchase the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, now that I know ore about the fluoride and glycerin.

Any natural toothpaste recommendations for me? Have you ever bought a “natural” product and then found a really strange ingredient in it that just didn’t fit?

Sunday confessions: 7/28/13

Once again I’m linking up with Alyx for Sunday Confessions! This week, I must confess that…

1. I got way geeky yesterday when I found out that one of my favorite fashion bloggers (aka ModaMama) will be starring in an upcoming sci-fi film that is not only full of strong female leads but–wait for it–wait for it–all about time travel.

Oh, I’m sorry…have I never properly conveyed the level of adoration I have for any story involving time travel? I must confess: this was basically me after I opened that blog post.

30 Rock

The film is called Synchronicity and right now they’re in the middle of their Indiegogo fundraising campaign, so it will be a little while until the film hits screens. But I’m still super-stoked.

2. I can’t believe July is over already. I’m still working on my June projects! Yes, my time management skills need some work. But I’m getting better.

3. I hung a dress one size too small in the office doorway so that every time I’m tempted to sit in front of the computer and nosh, I’ll turn around and go work out for a bit instead. I realize having too-small clothing in the house is what every single health guru tells you not to do, but the dress is so darn cute that I think it really might just be the kick in the butt that I need to get back into a workout routine. I guess we’ll find out whether bucking the conventional wisdom will work this time!**

**Totally not trying to get on a skinny kick there, so please don’t take it as such. I just know for me, I feel my best when I’m exercising more and not eating so much junk food, and it’s easier to stick to that plan if I can gage it by a physical measurement like fitting into a favorite piece of clothing, as opposed to the generic “you’ll feel so good” motivation. Because you know what else feels good? Mint chocolate chip ice cream and a couple of hours of Pinterest. Oh yeah.