On Happiness

I’m curious about happiness. About joy, inner peace, and how it works. What does it really mean to live a happy life? Society tells us about all the things we should want to have. A job, a spouse, a family, a house, a car. Most of us aspire to have those things in some shape or form, and many of us feel depressed or inadequate if we have none or only a few of those things. Maybe we have a good job, but feel incomplete if we are single. Or maybe we have a good relationship, but feel like failures because we don’t have our careers figured out.

Some people have all of these things, and they are still not happy. They achieve all the things that society approves of, but they still find they are not satisfied. Why is that? And what does that mean for those of us who are still working toward being “successful” adults? I know that you can have everything and still not be happy, but I still feel miserable over all the things I don’t have yet.

This kind of unhappiness stems from constantly being in a state of pursuing something, and feeling unsatisfied because it feels so out of reach. But how can you pursue goals, especially those you need to achieve (like getting a job) without feeling depressed about not having one? I guess the answer is to focus on the process and not the outcome, and to appreciate the things you have that are within your control. I think most spiritual ideas are also verbs. Love is a verb. It requires action. Happiness does, too.

If I think of people who I look up to who seem to live joyous lives, not many people genuinely come to mind. I think of people like Ellen DeGeneres, who dedicates her life to inspiring others. She eats healthy, exercises, meditates, and practices kindness. I think of Oprah, who continues to give back and inspire people through her many platforms. In many ways I think of Miley Cyrus, who also devotes much of her time to helping others, and loving animals, eats healthy, and practices yoga. Marie Forleo, who inspires others through her TV show. Evanna Lynch who inspires others, eats healthy, and loves animals.

Rachel Platten who inspires others through her music. The common theme here seems to be people who spend their time being kind to others, and also being kind to themselves. And those who are able to incorporate that into their life’s work. I think these are also people who don’t worry about the status quo. They don’t care what others think of them, but they do care about where they are on a spiritual level.

So maybe it’s not my purpose to get a job, get married, get a house, and have a car, even if those are things I try to pursue. But maybe it’s my purpose to be kind to others, and to myself. I also think you can’t help others unless you are connecting to your own source of light and inspiration, and I think for many people that comes from connecting to God, a higher power, nature, or the universe. And there are many things, many windows and doors through which we can connect with that.

Whether it’s through music, books, film, conversations, prayer, nature, or stillness. Like Audrey Hepburn says, “we have one hand for helping others and another hand for helping ourselves.” I do think it has to start with us though. I think the idea is that if you get inspired and find your source of light, peace, and joy, you’ll be able to share that with others. Because you’ll shine.

So maybe life is really about pursuing not things, but moments. Moments where we pause and enjoy nature, or just take the time to smile or drink tea. Moments of peace.

While I do think that people who help others is a common theme for a joyous life, it is also possible to do this only to be burnt out. Sometimes people forget to be kind to themselves. I think one reason children tend to be so happy is because they are given so much joy by the caring people around them. We make sure the messages they receive are positive and affirming.

The world is not always so kind, the older you get. You have to find that support for yourself. And I think we need to support each other.

I certainly don’t have the secrets to a joyous or peaceful life. They say you should spend your money or experiences, not things. Maybe life is like that, too. We should be pursuing experiences, not things.

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#MyThoughts

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Sun-Kissed Dreams

Feel the warm sun
And the breeze through your hair
The dewy grass beneath your feet
Be in the world without a care

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Let go of fears and take courage
Be the person you want to be
Pursue your dreams, live in the moment
Spread your wings, for you are free.

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#poetry

Enough

[Society tends to glamourize the overnight success. Here’s a friendly reminder that it’s okay to go at your own pace.]

Running, sprinting toward a destiny

That slips through your fingers like sand

So you run faster, chase harder, your prayers

Become desperate whimpers. Everything feels

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Out of reach, as though the steps you take

Are leading you nowhere fast. There is so

Much desire to speed and keep up with the life

That everyone else is displaying on social media

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Every time you bump into someone you haven’t

Seen in a while, they ask the same questions. Have

You climbed this particular mountain yet? Have you

Checked these tasks off of your to-do list, all the things

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That will make you socially acceptable? You respond

With few words and give even fewer fucks. You want to

Hold up a sign that has its middle finger up. But instead

Of being angry you go to your own space. And you breathe

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You give yourself a quiet moment with tea and a good book

Or maybe you listen to your favorite singer while you gaze

At the dim stars and setting sun. You remind yourself that

Your duty is not to fulfill society’s expectations. No, your

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Duty lies in relentless self-love. You love yourself enough

To go at your own pace, to pursue the things that make you

Feel enthusiastic about life. You know what matters to you

Each small step is progress. Each small step is enough, just like you.

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#poetry

Time To Rest

Take some time to rest

I know you’ve tried your best

You’ve made it through hard days

You’ve figured out the ways

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That you can make some sunshine

By digging through the mine

To break through all the rough

To find diamonds that are tough

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They glisten in your hand

And others may not understand

The little hope you’ve found

In places tiny lights abound

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A tiny bit of hope

Brings you to climb upon the slope

That leads you to a better day

This bit of light is here to stay

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That guides you when the night returns

Your hope, something so soft that burns

You know that you will be okay

For now, please rest, your light will stay.

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#poetry

 

What Is Confidence?

[Hey! So I wanted to make this post because I feel like confidence can be kind of a confusing topic. It’s something we hear a lot about, but aren’t always told about concrete ways to get to it. This post is kind of long, so I broke it up into chapters. Hope you’re having a super awesome day  ❤ ]

Contents:

Chapter 1: Examining the Definition

Chapter 2: How Do We Become Confident?

Chapter 3: Examples From My Own Life

Chapter 4: My Tips  For How You Can Grow Your Confidence

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Chapter 1: Examining the Definition

mountain climber

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, confidence is defined as “a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something.” Even with a textbook definition, this can be a hard concept to understand. We are always told from a young age that confidence is an important ingredient for success, but it is seldom clear how one actually gets it. This is especially true for young adults. When so many things in our lives are yet to be figured out, how can we ever know if we are really confident or not?

Let’s start with the definition. I find it interesting that it is defined as being a “belief” or a “feeling.” I think using these two words almost interchangeably is part of the reason that trying to be confident can be so confusing. If it is a feeling, that can be troubling. Feelings fade. Who feels good and secure about who they are all the time? Probably no one, because feelings change. They come and go, and this is especially true for people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness.

As I’m sure most of us would agree, your emotions are not always within your control. Sometimes we get sad, lonely, scared, or overwhelmed. And when you’re feeling all of those things, who has time to think about confidence? No one. You’re too busy trying to find the will power to brush your teeth or make toast. On the other hand, I’m sure most us also have moments where we do, in fact, feel confident. And that’s an amazing feeling!

It’s that moment when you know you’re gonna do well on an exam, or that moment when you’ve rehearsed a piece of music so much that you believe you can perform it well, or when you wake up knowing you’ll have a good day at your job. Or even when you know you can make a loved one happy.

Next, let’s look at “belief.” I see belief as being something that’s a little easier to understand, but it can also be just as intangible as feelings are while also being somewhat vague. While feelings come and go, I see belief as something that is more like solid ground. It’s much more consistent.

A belief is something that is more in your control because you can choose to believe in something. It’s like the little engine that could. You have the ability to tell yourself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” And it actually makes a difference. If you allow yourself to believe that you are capable, smart, and strong, you’ve given yourself the proper foundation to take action, grow, and become better.

This is great! But if beliefs are basically within our control, and if they do help us to move forward and get things done, why can confidence still feel so elusive to us? The reason for this is, we run into obstacles. And that obstacle is doubt. You know how when you were little, and you believed in Santa Clause, until you started asking logical questions?

Like, how does he fly around the world in one night? How does a big, jolly guy fit into a tiny chimney? How on earth does he manage to eat all of those cookies? How could he make toys for every child in the world? If I live in an apartment that doesn’t have a chimney, how does he get inside? (I didn’t believe in Santa for very long).

Believing in yourself is great, until your mind starts playing Santa Clause with you. You want to become a rock climber, but then you start assessing the situation. It could be dangerous, and you don’t have a lot of upper body strength, so you start thinking it’s a bad idea. Or you feel good about doing your math homework, until you remember you are not really a “numbers person,” and will probably get everything wrong anyway. This is where belief becomes essential. Your doubts challenge your confidence, but you also have the ability to challenge your doubts. Believing in yourself is worth the investment because you are here, you matter, and you have potential.

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Chapter 2: How Do We Become Confident?

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So, how do we become confident? Where do we begin? Again, I want to start with feelings. While our feelings are not always within our control, finding ways to feel good about things is an important practice for us. Meditation is one way for us to experience a moment of peace and calm. This won’t necessarily solve all our problems, and it doesn’t mean sad feelings won’t come back, but having a moment of feeling at peace can remind us that life may not be as overwhelming as it feels. And it gives us a chance to be centered, especially on those really hard days.

Prayer can also help. Whether you are talking to God, the universe, or whichever higher power you believe in, if you connect with that and trust that you are loved and cared for, it can help to make you feel at peace as well. These practices are good because they don’t require any material possessions and they don’t even require you to get out of bed. They allow you to start from within.

I mentioned earlier that one way one might experience confidence is when you know you’ll do well on a test, or when you’ve rehearsed a piece of music enough to know that you can perform it well, or even if you know you can make a loved one happy. One key aspect of feeling confident in our abilities is preparation.

If you want to be confident as a musician, the best thing you can do is rehearse. If you want to feel confident in school, the best thing you can do is study to the best of your ability, and over time. If you want to feel confident in your relationships, the best thing you can do is practice kindness and be a good listener. How well you do something tends to depends on how often you practice it.

I think feeling confident depends largely on knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and the best way to do that is to spend time getting to know yourself. If you want to be confident as a runner, the most important thing you could do is start running. It’s not about how fast you are or how you’re doing compared to other people.

You need to get to know your own body, and how the process feels for you. Are you more comfortable as a sprinter or a long distance runner? You can only know this if you practice and listen to your body. If you can get to know yourself, you will be more confident in your abilities and in what you want.

Next, lets look at belief. I think a lot of people associate belief with religion. With believing in God or a higher power, or even in angels, ghosts, or spirits. In this sense, a lot of people may want nothing to do with belief. They prefer cold, hard facts, and I think this is especially true for people in the science community. And from many perspectives, it makes sense.

Why bother believing in things? The earth revolves around the sun, stars eventually burn out, we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon monoxide. If you toss an apple into the air, it will fall because there is gravity. The world is, in many ways, a logical place. There is cause an affect. Blue and red make purple and leaves are green because of chlorophyll. There are things we can learn, things that will always be true. And we can take comfort in those things.

The problem with confidence is that it requires uncertainty. I don’t need to be confident that gravity exists because I know it exists. It’s kind of like courage. In order to be courageous, you must first experience fear. A climber who is comfortable with heights is not brave for climbing a tree. It’s just a normal, nonchalant activity for them. But if a person who is afraid of heights climbs a tall tree to rescue a cat, that person has found courage in themselves.

There is a quote in the Princess Diaries (shout out to my Anna Hathaway fans 🙂 ) that says, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the knowledge that there is something more important than fear.” I think confidence works in a similar way. It isn’t that you don’t have doubts, it is knowing that there is something more important than doubt. It’s the ability to invest in yourself because you know you are capable of small and great things.

Facts are great. But the truth is, you have no way of knowing one hundred percent that you will do well on that performance, or if you’ll ace that test, or if you’ll be able to make someone smile. Because no matter how much you know about the universe, most of us cannot predict the future.

We can prepare the best we can, but after that, all we can do is hope. If you can hope, then you can believe in yourself. And if you can believe in yourself, you can have confidence. In the Bible, Jesus says you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. Which is basically a biblical times way of saying that you only need a tiny bit of faith. I think confidence works in the same way. You only need a little for it to make a difference in your life.

Now, do I think that having a positive attitude will necessarily make or break your ability to perform well or do well on a test? My answer to that is no. I’ve done well on exams I felt completely negative about, and I’ve done poorly on exams even if I went into them thinking, “I think I can, I think I can…” In the same way that love is not just a feeling, but a verb, I think confidence is largely defined by action. To me, a confident musician is someone who goes out there and performs no matter how unsure she may feel. A confident student is someone who goes into an exam and takes his time answering all the questions, even if he’s not sure he will remember everything.

So, where does this leave us? I mentioned earlier that feeling confident is often about preparation. And that belief is about trusting that things will work out, even if you can’t know for sure. The thing feelings and belief have in common is they require you to take action. In that way, confidence is not about your image, outward appearance, or even about your feelings. It’s about what you do.

Chapter 3: Examples From My Own Life

typewriter

Let’s look at examples in my own life. I consider myself to be a somewhat confident person, but I also acknowledge that I don’t embody the image that comes to my mind when I think of confidence. Because what I picture is someone who:

Talks loudly

Stands with their shoulders back

Dresses nicely

Smiles

Fakes it till they make it

I think a lot of us associate confidence with image, which is why it can feel so out of reach and even unrealistic or fake. I am an introvert, reserved, don’t care much about my appearance, and don’t always feel sure about myself. So, why do I consider myself a confident person? This is why:

I know what I stand for

I know what I value

I know what I’m good at and pursue those things

I don’t mind being bad at something

I know that other people could always use my help

These things are very different from the image I had of a confident person as a teen. But for me what it ultimately comes down to is that I know what’s important to me, and my actions reflect that.

For example, I am confident that I am a good writer. This isn’t about comparing myself to others, or even thinking I am good by other peoples’ standards. But because it’s something I care about, I do a shit ton of it, and pretty much every time I write, whether it’s a poem or an academic paper, I try to make it as good as it can be.

I feel confident that I’m a good friend. This one is a bit trickier isn’t it? Because other people may have different opinions about that. But this comes from a place of acknowledging that I value my friends and family (I feel every good, real and honest relationship you have with a person has to be rooted in friendship on some level). And I am someone who struggles with social anxiety and feeling accepted by others.

So why do I feel confident in this area at all? I put the effort into reaching out to my friends when I can, asking how they are doing, and ultimately wanting them to know that I care about them, their dreams, and my relationship with them. Again, it comes down to action. I know what I value and I practice it.

I feel confident about my spiritual life. This one can also be tricky. I’m not currently active in a church, which is already something people might turn their noses up about. I’m also queer, which can cause it’s own issues because many people say hateful things around that topic. I don’t read the Bible every day. I’ve found religious environments to sometimes be constricting and involving a certain amount of peer pressure.

So, why do I feel confident in my spiritual life? I love prayer. Connecting to my higher power has always been a big part of my life, even when “being religious” wasn’t. There are people in my life who I trust who I can bond with over religion. I want to do kind things and lift others up in whatever way I can. I value spirituality and faith, and those things are reflective in my actions.

For me, a big confidence killer is worrying what other people think. Another is when I compare myself to others. The thing is, you build confidence by your own actions, not by other peoples’ opinions. It’s okay to do things your own way. Know what you value and let your actions reflect those values. If you practice something, you will grow, and if you grow, you will feel good about your own abilities. Your confidence has to come from within and it has to start with you.

Chapter 4: My Tips For How You Can Grow Your Confidence

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So, how can you become confident? Society may tell you to make a lot of money, buy a big house, marry an attractive partner, dress nicely, and basically look really great from the outside. (much like the recipe they give us for happiness, no?). Here’s what I say:

Know what you value. A great place to start is knowing what is important to you. Make a list. Think of it like that exercise where they ask you in elementary school, “If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island, and could only bring what would fit in your suitcase, what would you bring?”

You can really only value a few things in life, things that stay with you that you want to really grow in. Of course they can change, but I find mine are usually pretty consistent, even what want in life is always shifting. It can be anything from music to family to religion to fitness. What do you want to carry with you on this journey that is your life?

Do little things that align with your values. For me that can mean working on a poetry book, saying a prayer, spending time with loved ones, or eating a healthy snack. It’s not about having a set plan or setting huge goals. It’s about doing little things and letting them build off of each other.

Don’t compare yourself to others. They say “comparison is the thief of joy,” (and I’m not quite sure whether this comes from Theodore Roosevelt, the book of Proverbs, or Buddha). Whoever it is, they’re right. Social media makes this even harder. When you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s, walk away. Find your center, meditate. Breathe. And then focus on your own journey.

Do something that you value. Something that involves taking care of YOU. Also, go encourage someone else! Because we all feel inadequate at times and need support. (Including the person you’re comparing yourself to!)

Tell yourself you’re beautiful inside and out. I have a habit of giving myself compliments. I tell myself I am beautiful and brave. It may just seem like less concrete, mindset/ perspective advice (trust me, I can’t stand that stuff). But this really has helped me. When I was in high school, I knew that body image issues affected many people, especially girls. I wanted to make sure I felt good about my body, and giving myself compliments was one way I was able to do that.

I’m petite, not very athletic, and never got big boobs (seriously, those puberty books lied to me. Mother Nature made sure I got my period though). Like anyone else, I had things that I maybe thought weren’t great about my body. But you know something? I really do love my body exactly as it is. What I care most about is being healthy and taking care of myself the best way I can. I think being able to compliment myself early on really helped with that. You should try it. It’s never too late to start 🙂

Have role models. Not people you may be envious of, but people you genuinely admire and feel you can relate to. For me, certain celebrities are big inspirations for me, especially those who are down to earth and don’t care about image or money. People whose values line up with mine. This gives me hope because I know many of them, like me, have bad days, do their best to work through them, enjoy creating things, and embrace their imperfections. Demi Lovato inspires me through her strength and living with mental illness. There are many people I look up to, and that helps a lot.

Wake up each day knowing you can practice your values. I think it all comes back to this. If you know what matters to you and how you can take small actions around those things, you will wake up each day with a part of you loving life. It’s when I don’t make time for the things that matter that I am the most miserable. It’s easy to get caught up in my obligations (applying for jobs, learning to drive, working). If you feel like your life is revolving around the things that don’t truly matter to you, of course you won’t be happy!

Be true to yourself. Whether you are an introvert or an extravert, an artist or an athlete, a good dancer or a terrible one, know that it’s okay to be exactly who you are. Express yourself, live your truth, and be kind to others with the faith that it will be returned to you. This is your ONE LIFE and you matter. Start acting like it! 🙂

These tips reflect what confidence means to me. This is a topic that can feel confusing. Most of us are told to be confident, but we are not usually told how to get there. I hope these tips are helpful. Tell me in the comments. What do you value? What does confidence mean to you?

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Lastly, I leave you with an appropriate song by the one, the only, Demi Lovato! ❤

 

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#MyThoughts

 

 

 

 

A Letter of Encouragement

Dear Reader,

You are wonderful and amazing. You deserve all the love and happiness that life has to offer. Each day is a second chance, and I hope that you start each day knowing you can achieve something small yet great.

I don’t know how 2016 is going for you so far. Maybe it’s going great, and maybe it isn’t quite going as planned. I hope that you can look back and realize that you have achieved many things in your life. Many little things that have added up to bigger things.

And you have overcome obstacles that, at the time, may have seemed impossible to get through. But you did it because you are strong and have a purpose. Take time to be proud of the progress you’ve made and the little things you have accomplished.

Be proud of yourself. Don’t worry about what others think of you, but be kind. Be loving and when possible, find your inner joy. You are worthy of love and you are worthy of life. Take some time to breathe and smile.

-Ashley

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#MyThoughts

 

Big Trees, a Bigger Universe, and an Even Bigger God

tree 1

I stood next to a tall tree and looked up to see how it towered over me. For the first time in a long time, I felt truly small. I felt the cool wind blowing and thought about the vastness of the universe. It made me think about how, compared to the rest of the universe, our Earth that seems so big to us is really very small. If one could travel far enough through the stars and galaxies of outer space, the Earth would not even be visible to the naked eye. It would be nothing more than a speck.

If the Earth is small, then that means we are smaller still. This feeling of being small might sound like a bad thing, but I didn’t feel bad at all. I felt at peace. Acknowledging how small I am in this huge, vast universe made me feel like I am truly held in the hands of a God who is far bigger than I am. It reminded me that I am part of a larger universe, a larger story that is interwoven and connected with people and animals and stars and planets and a Creator.

If the universe is that much bigger than me, than I know that God is that much bigger than my problems.

The truth is, feeling big can be exhausting. Sometimes it can feel like there is a lot of pressure to be perfect, to always be chasing after something, and to accomplish a million different things at once. Our world can begin to feel small, and when that happens, life doesn’t feel like a miracle anymore, it only feels like a burden. We will always have responsibilities, but none of those responsibilities will ever be bigger than the universe, and none of them will ever be bigger than God.

I think that our lives matter in the way that stars matter. The universe is so much bigger than us, stretching far and wide in every direction, but we each have the power to shine and to make it all the more beautiful. Astrologists study the stars. They give them names, seeing them all as individual entities. There are countless stars in the sky, but if one of those stars were to go out, it would be deeply missed.

God values us so much more than we value the stars.

There might be times in life when we feel small in a bad way. We might feel helpless and unable to change our circumstances. When that happens, try taking a walk in nature. Stand underneath a tree and see how it towers over you. Remind yourself that this tree is bigger than you. The universe is bigger than your circumstances. And God is bigger than your problems. He can carry you through anything, because even in a universe where we are only a tiny speck, we are a very big deal to God.

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#Inspiration, God, Love, MyThoughts