You don’t know what makes you happy

If you could fast-forward to any moment in time what would it be?

Happiness is a strange thing. For a society full of happiness-seekers, we are actually terrible at knowing what will make us happy. Psychological research says that we are bad at estimating how much a bad event will decrease our happiness (we overestimate) and we ignore duration in assessing how happy an event made us (meaning we can rate an enjoyable 1 minute massage as making us just as happy as a 1 hour massage). We use all of this to then go forward and make surprisingly inaccurate decisions about our future happiness.

I remember the Christmas I wanted nothing more than a Password Journal. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Password Journal is basically a notebook inside this plastic contraption that had voice recognition, so you had to speak the correct password to it in order to access the journal. This was the early 2000’s, when voice recognition was in its infancy, and I wanted a Password Journal more than anything else.

Well Christmas arrived, and I received the beloved Password Journal. Shortly, however, I found that it was not all it was cracked up to be. As I said, this was early in voice recognition, and the voice recognition wasn’t so accurate in said Password Journal. Quickly frustrated with the journal’s failure to recognize my password, what was supposed to be a quick spoken word into my magical journal turned into hours of me angrily yelling “Rockstar. Rockstar! ROCKSTAAAAAAAAAAR!”

Needless to say, my estimation of what would make me happy and how happy I actually was were far from close. I think we all have moments like that. We put all of our eggs in the basket of a vacation, social event, or life change; sometimes it lives up to all of our expectations and brings us great happiness…and other times it doesn’t.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t look forward to big life events because they’ll be disappointing anyway?

No. It’s not that we overestimate the happiness events like marriages and births and graduations will bring us, but that the happiness we assume these events will give us relative to random moments causes us to overlook seemingly insignificant moments of total bliss.

Yes, the vacation to Cancun can give us total happiness, but so could a last-minute lunch date with an old friend, or a great afternoon reading a book we haven’t had the time to enjoy. We seem to “budget in happiness” for events that are obviously happy, like the wedding day or the first promotion, but when we look at our lives on a large scale, it’s a little harder to place a happiness value on moments unplanned or unanticipated. There are so many wonderful small moments in life that can bring us unimaginable joy. You might look forward to the moment of graduating college, but by skipping to that you might be skipping the moment your parents tell you how proud they are, the moment you really realize all that you’ve accomplished.

So, let me go back to the original question: if you could fast-forward to any moment in time, what would it be?

I’d just press play, because if I couldn’t unlock a Password Journal at the age of 7, I probably can’t unlock the secret to happiness.

Life’s Too Short to be Miss Photogenic

When I was compiling photos of myself for Fashion Tips from Tiny Taylor, I saw hundreds of pictures of me smiling wide, a total ham for the camera. Sometimes, I was in my Sunday best, but most times, I was a mess. My hair was all over, I had something on my face, and I was probably wearing clothes that didn’t match. I didn’t care. I was happy and I thought I was awesome and I loved getting my picture taken.

Today, I’m not that way at all. My sister always makes fun of me for the rigorous battery of rhetorical questions directed at my potential Facebook profile pictures. “Does this make me look weird? Is my makeup okay? I’m making a weird face here, right? Oh my gosh, this so gives me a muffin top. Does the lighting make me look washed out?” Sound familiar to anyone else?

It seems like we get to an age where photos stop being about capturing candid moments of life and start becoming all about capturing our best selves. We become self-conscious, and especially for women, photos become some sort of horrible freeze-frame mirror where we can spend hours picking out our flaws.

When I think back to some of my favorite and most photo-worthy adventures in life, I realize they are also the times I was probably far from “photogenic.” My best friend and I went to Costa Rica in high school, and the humidity about killed us. We were sticky, gross, and had the craziest hair. We took photos anyway, and when I got back, I remember looking over the photos and being upset about it. Ugh. Why couldn’t I have looked cuter? I thought. I WAS IN COSTA RICA. I got to zipline and hike through crazy rainforests and do a million other things. And I’d rather not have the photos to remember it than remember it with a messy me in the middle of it all? Really?

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One of my pics from Costa Rica. I don’t know what was happening here. But it’s a memory.

Let’s be honest, life happens. We might be making a weird face in our 21st birthday photo. We might not be having a good hair day during the New Years Party photos. But should that stop us from taking photos of the moments that make our life vibrant and memorable and sharing them? No. It should not.

Borrowing a line from Teresa Porter’s awesome article “So You’re Feeling Too Fat to be Photographed…“, NO ONE IS LOOKING AT HOW FAT YOU LOOK. Or how bad your skin is. Or if your hair is out of place. Your best friends are looking at that photo of New Years and remembering how much fun you were when you had too much champagne and started singing to the waiter. Your mom is looking at your family photos and questioning why she let your dad wear a Hawaiian shirt. You should be looking at your photos and remembering the moments they capture, not how you looked.

Hand-choosing only the photos that you look the best in or refusing to take photos at all isn’t improving your self-image. It’s simply allowing yourself to be absent from history. When your future spouse, your future kids, your friends look back on the time they’ve known you, you’ll be strangely absent from all of those photos of smiling faces and priceless memories.

Life is happening… it is happening right now and the only moment we are guaranteed is the one we are living. I shudder at the thought of leaving behind no pictures of my life with ME in it. – Teresa Porter

This is one of my now favorite photos of my senior prom:

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My boyfriend’s least favorite food in the whole world is lasagna. So to be silly and play a prank, I told him I’d personally made him dinner…frozen lasagna. And this is his reaction, and me cracking myself up.

It was a funny moment, but I’d say I look far from what I’d consider my best. If I’d chosen to delete this photo because my face was a little shiny or I had a weird expression, I’d have missed recording this candid moment.

And so the point stands: life is too short for you to be absent from all records of it! Whether you’re 5 or 50 pounds heavier than you’d like to be, or your face is a mess, there’s no time like the present, and no better way to be part of it than to spend your time living instead of primping.

On Why I’m not a Burberry Brit

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Growing up, I never thought of myself as the kind of person who would ever buy anything “luxury.” Bugatti, Tiffany, Armani, Fendi. These were all words that seemed foreign to me, for more reasons than just their language of origin. I knew Louis Vuitton was “a thing,” but certainly not for anyone I knew. In Wyoming, at least to my knowledge, luxury wasn’t even in the consideration set of most people.

If you talked Ariat boots or MissMe jeans, you could get people excited. But if I were wearing an Armani anything in Wyoming, I don’t know that anyone would have even recognized it. Even brands in general weren’t particularly important to me. If I could get it for cheap and make it look expensive, that was my goal. I saw people wearing A&F and I always wanted to be different. I wanted to make my own looks and find unique clothes. I loved hearing “where did you get that?”

When I came to Penn, I was inundated with brands. Hunter boots, Herschel bags, Calvin Klein clothing, and Tiffany jewelry. I quickly began to learn which brands were noteworthy, and which were absurdly expensive. I could pick out a Herschel bag from a crowd; I’d notice a Ralph Lauren Polo logo on a polo right away.

Whether or not I realized it, I found myself slowly beginning to put weight on these names that had before been on the very periphery of my awareness. While I thought of myself still as someone who didn’t care about brands, I secretly began to want those things that were branded. I became jealous of Tory Burch shoes and admired Elie Taheri dresses, hoping that some day my post-grad salary would let me have a taste of these finer things. I’d eye a Burberry scarf with a little envy.

A couple of weeks ago, an opinion article was posted in The Daily Pennsylvanian that made me really think about how I viewed things. The writer powerfully articulated his opinion that Wharton students slowly adopt a new religion and worship a new god: Money.

As I read, I began to wonder if I was the religion’s newest convert. Had I began to worship brand names and the wealth associated with them?

While brand love is high within the wealthy Penn bubble, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I’ve been putting more thought lately into why I like brands. Is it because I’d really like an Elie Tahari dress, or would I like to have other people see me wear an Elie Tahari? Do I think Tory Burch shoes are actually cute, or are they just a status symbol?

As a girl from a small town, I’ve always strove to stay grounded. My friends and family back home have never cared about whether or not my shoes are branded, so why should I? At the end of the day, the people who matter most to me couldn’t care less about if I’m wearing runway fashions. If I choose to buy something branded because I like the look, that’s one thing. But I know regardless my future is bright – even if it’s not dressed head-to-toe in Burberry plaid.

Photo courtesy of http://cheapthrillas.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

For most people, there is a time in their lives where they realize their own mortality. For many Americans, that moment was September 11th. When our national security was threatened and many were near – or knew someone near – New York, it began to sink in that our lives can be drastically altered at any moment. I, however, was in first grade at the time of 9/11, and didn’t understand the significance of what had occurred when it happened. For me, that moment was today.

Today, 13 at least were killed in a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. I heard the news. I visit Washington DC often, but I didn’t think much of it. I thought of the tragedy as most would – a tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless removed from ourselves. I felt great sadness for the victims, but there was no way for me to possibly understand the gravity of happened. My view changed when I received a text from my boyfriend, telling me that the shooting happened just blocks from where we were last weekend by the waterfront.

I learned last week in psychology that we as humans take things that “almost happened” much more seriously than things that probably wouldn’t have. I think I understand now. While I certainly wasn’t at the Navy Yard itself, or I wasn’t there minutes before the shooting, realizing that I had been so close to that random destination just a week ago made me think a bit about my own mortality.

Life can change in an instant. There is no way to know when or where tragedy can strike, no way to predict and mitigate risks. When I first heard about the shooting and realized that I, in some weird way, was connected to the area, I found myself trying to rationalize what had happened, to put it in a lens that made me feel safe. I found myself trying to formulate a thought of “see, that’s why we shouldn’t…” or “you gotta be careful of…” and I realized I couldn’t come up with one. This tragedy was unexpected.

At first, that thought scared me. How was I supposed to avoid tragedy if I couldn’t predict it? How can I ever feel safe?

The answer is, I can’t. I can’t ever predict tragedy. I can’t ever guarantee safety.

As dismal as this might seem, I see it as a powerful reminder that life is short. Life is too short to worry about what might happen. No matter how much I try, I can’t predict what will happen. Tragedies can happen in the most tragedy-prone of places, such as the battlefield, or in locales completely random, as happened today. I can never completely avoid risk.

With the acknowledgement of fear comes the power to set oneself free from it. By realizing what a scary place the world can be, I hope to live life aware but not gripped by my fear of the unknown, the fear of the dangerous, the fear of the unpredictable. America calls herself the “land of the free and home of the brave.” I hope to call myself free and brave too: free from fear, and brave enough to know what a scary the world place can be, and yet embrace the joy that can be found there, too.

I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the victims of the Navy Yard shooting and their families.